December 4, 2007

Publication: Irish Daily Mail

Date: Tuesday, December 4, 2007 Page: 34



Longfingered, bald or round-faced? How physical characteristics can predict your long-term well-being WE ALL know lifestyle plays a major role in our risk of developing certain illnesses. But what we're born with is also important not just those 'faulty' genes which are known to trigger certain diseases, but also the physical characteristics determined from birth. Here, ANGELA EPSTEIN reveals what our bodies tell us about our future health.

BALDNESS HEALTH RISK: PROSTATE CANCER, HEART DISEASE. MEN with a bald patch on the crown ('vertex' baldness) are twice as likely to suffer prostate cancer as those with a receding hairline ('male pattern baldness'). It's thought testosterone levels during puberty may be to blame. American researchers found that a man's lifetime risk of prostate cancer may be linked to the amount of testosterone in his body from as early as puberty. The hormone is also connected to vertex baldness, which may explain the link between the physical characteristic and the disease. Hair loss on the crown may mean a man is also at higher risk of heart disease, according to a major study by Harvard University. Researchers analysed the link between hair loss and those who suffered heart conditions such as non-fatal heart attacks, angina or chest pains. Compared to men with a full head of hair, risks for such events increased by 9 per cent in those starting to lose hair on the front of their heads. This risk rose to 23 per cent for those whose bald spot appeared on the crown. When all hair had been lost from the top of the head, the risk rose to 36 per cent. Again, hormones are thought to be to blame: scientists suspect that these contribute to both atherosclerosis, a build- up of fatty deposits in the arteries, and thrombosis, a susceptibility to blood clots.

LONG FINGERS HEALTH RISK: DEPRESSION MEN with long fingers are more likely to suffer depression, with the longer a man's fingers relative to his height, the greater the susceptibility, according to research by the University of Liverpool. The key to this link appears to be the surge of testosterone produced from week eight of a pregnancy. This testosterone plays a key role in the development of male genitalia and the central nervous system, as well as the development of fingers and thumbs. Excess testosterone may affect the nervous systems, and ultimately a man's susceptibility to depression. During the study the length of men's and women's fingers were measured; the researchers then used the Beck Depression Inventory, system used to measure depression, to identify those who suffered from the condition, and to score the severity of their illness. The results showed that in men — but not women — a high depression score correlated with long digits, particularly the fourth finger (the ring finger).

SHORT LEGS HEALTH RISK: HEART DISEASE SHORT limbs puts you at greater risk of heart disease, according to studies on both men and women. The protective effect of tall stature is thought to be due to environmental factors from birth up to puberty such as being breast-fed or having a healthy diet which affected growth of the bones and also had a long-term protective effect on heart- disease risk. In a separate study of 2,500 men, researchers found that a condition called insulin resistance a precursor to diabetes was more common in the 25 per cent who had the shortest legs, even if their overall height was normal. Men with short legs also had more heart problems more likely to have raised levels of fat and a blood-clotting substance called fibrinogen both of which are linked to an increased risk of heart disease). It could be that those with short legs had poor nutrition in childhood which affected their bone development; when the quality of food intake improved in adulthood, the body was unable to do anything with the extra calories except deposit them as excess fat tissue — therefore raising risk of heart problems.

SMALL FEET HEALTH RISK: DIFFICULT LABOUR THE size of a woman's feet can correlate with the size of her pelvis. Having small feet can mean a narrow pelvis, and increase the risk of an emergency Caesarean when giving birth. As gynaecologist Or Jenni Byron, explains, it's not hip size which determines the space a baby must navigate through the birth canal, but rather the pelvis width and shape. Meanwhile, women who weighed less than 5lb 12oz at birth are also more likely to have pregnancy complications. A Swedish study of 6,000 women born underweight, who had later given birth themselves, showed a 60 per cent higher chance of suffering pre- eclampsia. Left untreated the condition, which causes high blood pressure, can develop into eclampsia. This can be fatal and the only treatment is an emergency Caesarean. Scientists, however, are yet to establish the exact connection between low birth weight and the condition.

WIDE, ROUND FACE HEALTH RISK: SLEEP APNOEA A FULLER face may mean you're more likely to suffer with sleep apnoea, a condition characterised by the narrowing or even blocking of airways at the back of the mouth during sleep. As a result sufferers can stop breathing hundreds of times a night from seconds to as long as two minutes and intermittently wake up. As well as causing chronic snoring, sleep apnoea can lead to cardiovascular problems or accidents associated with inattention due to sleep deprivation. People with the condition may complain of excessive daytime tiredness, which results in falling asleep at work, during a conversation or even while driving. Other symptoms include irritability, restlessness and morning headaches. Apart from this, the condition may also be linked to high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio concluded that people with wide, short heads have shorter airways, which can become more easily obstructed.

CREASED EAR LOBES HEALTH RISK: HEART DISEASE SEVERAL studies have found that a distinctive diagonal crease on the earlobes could signal an increased risk of developing heart disease, according to research in Japan and the United States. It is thought that a creased earlobe is a result of inadequate nutrients in the womb—the small blood vessels become blocked and creased. This, in turn, could indicate blocked vessels elsewhere in the body, including the heart.

BLUE, GREEN OR GREY EYES HEALTH RISK: MALIGNANT MELANOMA, BLINDNESS PEOPLE with blue, green or grey eyes are more likely to develop melanoma in the eye than those with brown eyes. Melanoma, a ' form of skin cancer, is usually associated •: with the growth or spread of moles on the surface of your skin. However, it can also occur in the eyes, as it develops in the cells that manufacture the protective colour producing pigment melanin. The pigment plays a part in protection against the sun, so the darker the eye the greater the amount of melanin, and the higher the level of protection. Pale eye colour also increases the risk of age-related macular degeneration the leading cause of blindness in the UK as a light-coloured iris may allow more damaging light into the back of the eye. However, a new Australian study has found that people with brown eyes are more likely to develop cataracts, a condition which causes the lens to become clouded and, if untreated, can lead to sight problems. It is not clear why.

LOWER SPERM COUNT MEN with symmetrical hands  the mirror image of each other and long ring fingers, are more likely to father children, according to research from Liverpool University. These men tend to have a higher sperm count. The researchers examined the hands of 60 men and 40 women attending an infertility clinic. Twelve of the least fertile men, producing almost no sperm, had the least symmetrical hands,
with differences of over one-sixth of an inch in some measurements. The link might be explained by experiments on mice which found that a single gene, called Hox, affects the digits as well as ovaries and testes. In women, a longer index finger is associated with higher levels of oestrogen and luteinising hormone, both of which are known to play critical roles in egg production.

TALL STATURE HEALTH RISK: BREAST CANCER AMAZONIAN women among us have a higher risk of breast cancer, according to a Dutch study. Scientists at Maastricht University studied more than 340,000 cases of breast cancer and found that the risk of developing the disease increased by 7 per cent with each 5cm increase in height for post-menopausal women. So a woman of 5ft 6in is 7 per cent more likely to get the disease than a woman of 5ft 4in. It's thought this is because taller women tend to reach puberty earlier, and so were affected by sex and growth hormones, linked to cancer, for longer than shorter women. A new report by the World Cancer Research Fund has also found there was a 'probable' link between tall women and pancreatic cancer, pre-menopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer. They suggested that height was a 'marker' for genetic, environmental, hormonal and nutritional factors affecting growth from the womb to early adulthood.