Study: Shorter men may live longer

May 9, 2014 3:07 pm 1 comment

Bradley WillcoxShort height and long life have a direct connection in Japanese men, according to new research based on an anti-aging study conducted in Hawaii.

“We split people into two groups – those who were 5-foot-2 and shorter, and 5-4 and taller,” said Dr. Bradley Willcox, one of the investigators for the study and a UH Mānoa Professor at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). “The folks that were 5-2 and shorter lived the longest. The range was seen all the way across from being 5-foot tall to 6-foot tall. The taller you got, the shorter you lived.”

Researchers at the Kuakini Medical Center, JABSOM and U.S. Veterans Affairs worked on the study, which was based on the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program (HHP) and the Kuakini Honolulu-Asia Aging Study (HAAS). Results were published recently in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The researchers showed that shorter men were more likely to have a protective form of the longevity gene, FOXO3, leading to smaller body size during early development and a longer lifespan. Shorter men were also more likely to have lower blood insulin levels and less cancer.

“This study shows, for the first time, that body size is linked to this gene,” said Dr. Willcox. “We knew that in animal models of aging. We did not know that in humans. We have the same or a slightly different version in mice, roundworms, flies, even yeast has a version of this gene, and it’s important in longevity across all these species.”

Dr. Willcox noted that there is no specific height or age range that should be targeted as a cut-off in the study, in part because “no matter how tall you are, you can still live a healthy lifestyle” to offset having a typical FOXO3 genotype rather than the longevity-enhancing form of the FOXO3 gene.

The Kuakini HHP started in 1965 with 8,006 American men of Japanese ancestry born between the years 1900 and 1919. The lifestyles and health conditions of these men were closely followed and studied by the researchers through the years. The Kuakini HHP is the only longitudinal study of Japanese-American men that has included epidemiological and clinical data of the cohorts for almost 50 years. From a worldwide perspective, it is the only research program that maintains a comprehensive, longitudinal database of demographic, lifestyle and medical information, as well as biological specimens collected, from such a large cohort of aging men.

“One of the reasons why Honolulu is perfect for this kind of study is that we have the longest-lived state in the country, combined with a population that has remained, for the most part, in Hawaiʻi. This has helped us maintain one of the longest-running, largest studies of aging men in the world, in the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program,” Dr. Willcox said.

Approximately 1,200 men from the study lived into their 90s and 100s, and approximately 250 of those men are still alive today.

Facts at a Glance

  • Study Conclusions:
    Shorter men live longer, according to new research based on the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program (HHP) and Kuakini Honolulu-Asia Aging Study (HAAS). Those men, all of Japanese Ancestry, were followed closely for over 40 years. The findings by researchers at the Kuakini Medical Center, UH John A. Burns School of Medicine and the U.S. Veterans Affairs are published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed medical journal. The researchers showed that shorter men were more likely to have a protective form of the longevity gene, FOXO3, leading to smaller body size during early development and a longer lifespan. Shorter men were also more likely to have lower blood insulin levels and less cancer. The researchers suggest that more study is needed to verify the findings and determine whether they can be generalized to other ethnic groups or populations, beyond Americans of Japanese Ancestry.
  • Study participants:
    8,003 American men of Japanese ancestry, whose health conditions were monitored closely for almost 50 years. The men were participants in the Kuakini HHP and Kuakini HAAS (note that the overall count for HHP is 8,006 participants, but three of those did not participate in this study).
  • Funding:
    The National Institutes of Health: The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging. With support from the Office for Research, Kuakini Medical Center, and Development Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Complete Researcher Affiliations:
    Kuakini Medical Center Department of Research; Pacific Health Research and Education Institute of the Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System; Department of Geriatric Medicine, John A. Burns School of Medicine; Department of Public Health, UH Mānoa; Department of Human Welfare, Okinawa University.
  • Link to journal article:
    http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094385

The UH John A. Burns School of Medicine Department of Geriatric Medicine is located at the Kuakini Medical Center. Kuakini is one of the medical school’s key community-based partners in training the next generation of physicians, and providing care which is enhanced by rapid access to the latest research and treatment methods. For more information, visit: http://blog.hawaii.edu/uhmednow/

Courtesy University of Hawaii at Manoa/Kuakini Health System. Photo courtesy Kuakini Health System.

1 Comment

  • I have studied longevity and height for about 40 years. My work has found an advantage for shorter people. I found shorter men live longer among baseball players,
    football players, basketball players, celebrities and US veterans. A few years ago, Salaris, Poulain and I published a paper on the longevity of men in a remote village in Sardinia. We found that shorter men lived longer than taller men by 2 years. Their genetics were similar, as were their diet and lifestyle.

    A number of biological mechanisms are at work to promote longevity for smaller people. These include:

    1. Fewer cell replications allow a reserve of cells for use during old age.
    2. Insulin and other growth factors are lower and low levels are related to greater longevity.
    3. Smaller left ventricular mass of the heart is related to reduced heart failure and all-cause mortality.
    4. Lower levels of C-reactive protein, homocycteine, and glucose reduce mortality.
    5. Lower blood pressure.
    6. Lower damage to DNA.
    7. Lower free radical generation with reduced cell damage.
    8. Higher sex hormone binding globulin (low levels have a variety of harmful effects.)

    The above assumes similar economic status, lifestyle, and body proportions.Of course, tall people can live a long time and many
    can reach 100 years if they have good genes and follow a healthful lifestyle and diet.

    For more information on how our physiology, performance and impact on resources and the environment change with increasing body size, see http://www.humanbodysize.

    Tom Samaras, San Diego, Ca

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