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Short People Have Less Cancer and Diabetes

Posted: Sunday, February 27, 2011

A 22-year study of abnormally short individuals suggests that growth-stunting mutations may stunt two of humanity's worst diseases, diabetes and cancer.

The study raises the prospect of achieving similar protection in full-grown adults by other means, such as pharmaceuticals or controlled diets.

The international study team, led by cell biologist Valter Longo of the University of Southern California and Ecuadorian endocrinologist Jaime Guevara-Aguirre, followed a remote community on the slopes of the Andes Mountains.

The community includes many members with Laron syndrome, a deficiency in a gene that prevents the body from using growth hormone. The study team followed about 100 such individuals and 1,600 relatives of normal stature.

Over 22 years, the team documented no cases of diabetes and one non-lethal case of cancer in Laron's subjects.

Among relatives living in the same towns during the same time period, 5 percent were diagnosed with diabetes and 17 percent with cancer.

Because other environmental and genetic risk factors are assumed to be the same for both groups, Longo and his team concluded that -- at least for adults past their growing years -- growth hormone activity has many downsides.

"The growth hormone receptor-deficient people don't get two of the major diseases of aging. They also have a very low incidence of stroke, but the number of deaths from stroke is too small to determine whether it's significant," Longo said.

Overall lifespan for both groups was about the same, with the abnormally short subjects dying more often from substance abuse and accidents. The study did not include psychological assessments that could have helped explain the difference.

"Although all the growth hormone deficient subjects we met appear to be relatively happy and normal and are known to have normal cognitive function, there are a lot of strange causes of death, including many that are alcohol-related," Longo said.

Longo noted that any treatment for preventive reduction of growth hormone would have to show fewer and milder side effects than drugs used against a confirmed disease.

But he added that any preventive treatment would target adults with high growth hormone activity in order to bring it down to average, and not to the extremely low and potentially riskier state observed in Laron's subjects.

If high growth factor levels "become a risk factor for cancer as cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases," drugs that reduce the growth factor could become the new statins, Longo said.

Source: http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10546&catid=53&Itemid=8, Science Translational Medicine, Feb 2011.

 
 
 
 
 
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