Fast growth during puberty linked to long-term health conditions


Monday, 20 May, 2024

Fast growth during puberty linked to long-term health conditions

A research team led by the University of Surrey and the University of Pennsylvania recently set out to investigate if genetics play a role in pubertal growth patterns and lifelong health conditions. Growth during this period can be hereditary, but the specific genetic factors underlying growth trajectories remain largely unknown.

To address this knowledge gap, the researchers used a growth curve analysis on 56,000 people from diverse ancestral backgrounds containing their height measurements from five years old into adulthood. Such data gave researchers a comprehensive view of growth patterns across different populations and time periods.

The researchers identified 26 genes associated with various aspects of pubertal growth, including the scale, timing and intensity of the growth spurt. Investigating further the lifelong impact of genetic variants associated with pubertal growth trajectories, the researchers also analysed genetic correlation and phenotypes (observable characteristics of an individual) on data from the Penn Medicine Biobank and the UK Biobank.

Using this data, the team found the genetic relationships between paediatric height growth and a wide range of health outcomes across a person’s lifespan. Being taller at early puberty and experiencing quicker pubertal growth were associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation — an irregular and abnormally fast heart rate — later in life.

They also found that individuals with a faster tempo of pubertal height growth have high levels of bone mineral density, higher levels of insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and lung cancer. Their results were published in the journal Genome Biology.

“Our findings challenge the notion of a one-size-fits-all optimal growth pattern,” said Dr Anna Ulrich, formerly of the University of Surrey. “Instead, they underscore the complex interplay between genetics and health, highlighting the importance of personalised approaches to health management.”

“This study represents a major step forward in understanding the genetic basis of pubertal growth and its far-reaching implications for lifelong health,” added Surrey’s Professor Inga Prokopenko, senior researcher on the study. “As we unlock the secrets encoded in our DNA, we move closer to a future where tailored interventions based on individual genetic profiles revolutionise health care.”

Image credit: iStock.com/Highwaystarz-Photography

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