Upward Trend

Being taller may have a downside relating to poor diet and increased health risks
The extreme changes we are seeing in our nutritional intake patterns have brought forth rapid advances in many unwanted health challenges. You've heard them all before....various metabolic disorders and related conditions, ranging from expanding waistlines, elevating blood pressure, increasing blood fats, rampant diabetes and cascading incidences of cancer. Add to this litany an expanding list of both male and female hormonal problems and it is clear that the quality of our nutritional approach as a whole in the Western world has been on a slippery slope of decline.

With the quantity of research and general media coverage disseminating the message that our diets often suck, it is not surprising that we have little trouble recognising the link between a bad diet and poor health consequences.

So perhaps it is a little surprising to consider that, when presented with the fact we happen to be getting taller with each recent successive generation, the usual explanation is simply that we have better nutrition than our predecessors.

Indeed, the average height back before the turn of the 20th century was 10cm shorter than today - but they also had hardly any metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer compared to the epidemics of today.

Can you see the paradox? How can it be true that we have better nutrition, if indeed our poor diets are responsible for causing so much ill health and disease? Could it be that the recent increase in height is related somehow to the fact that our diets tend to be less healthy than those of previous generations? Is increasing height a symptom of pathological changes in our health as a generational population?

While starvation is obviously bad for your health and will definitely stunt the growth of those exposed to the continuously low levels of macronutrients and micronutrients associated with such deprivation, the greater accessibility and intake of food we see today is surely not completely beneficial. Even more so when we consider most people's low levels of physical activity on a daily basis.

Indeed, caloric restriction is now touted as an effective means of slowing the body clock to extend longevity and prolong a disease-free state of wellness. And while prolonged caloric restriction may make us live longer, as is often cited as a causative factor for the extreme longevity seen in the aged population found on the island of Okinawa, in southern Japan. Need I point out that Okinawans are not noted for their exceptional height? In fact, the opposite is true - Okinawans tend to be shorter and lighter than mainland Japanese and, according to research, when Okinawans move away from their traditional island home and diet and their eating patterns take on a more modern calorie-dense diet, richer in sugars and refined starches, their health and growth patterns also change to that of their new adopted society.

So was it just the caloric excesses of modern living that has contributed to the ascending average height in recent years? According to research by prominent expert in Palaeolithic nutrition, Professor Loren Cordain, Palaeolithic cave men ate more calories than modern man, yet they were about 10cm shorter than today's average.

The clue to answering the question of why we are getting taller may lie in the fact that the Palaeolithic diet, while higher in calories, was also significantly lower in sugars and starches. These are the foods that have taken a major role in the diets of so many people today. And it would seem the insulin-inducing effect of these foods is what is causing the increase in height, along with the greater risk of cancer and heart disease that seems to come with being taller.

While earlier studies did indicate that taller people suffered less cardiovascular disease than shorter people, further research has indicated that the poor and inconsistent quality of the initial studies provided misleading conclusions. Subsequent studies have actually indicated that shorter people tend towards better health, with significant advantages, such as better strength to weight ratios, agility and athleticism. It has even been suggested by some researchers that the shorter stature of women compared to men may be related to the lifespan difference between the sexes, with men being on average 8% taller and having a life expectancy at birth 7.9% lower than females at birth.

The chronically increased blood levels of the peptides insulin and Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (I-GF1), in response to insulin resistance from a diet rich in insulin-inducing high glycaemic foods, is involved in the growth of various cancers, hormonal disorders, dementia and that common unwanted health problem today, unsuccessful girth control. It would seem the better view from the top may not be worth the asking price after all.

Good Health, Jeremy Hill

Jeremy Hill (Diploma of Natural Therapy) is a qualified naturopath