Understanding How Our Fingers Can Predict Health Problems

2011-05-12 | |
Last updated: 2013-09-27

Pointing to Obesity

One such medical condition affected by these hormone levels is obesity. In a study published in 2005, researchers from the University of Goettingen and Northumbria University determined that men with low levels of androgen exposure in the womb were at a higher risk for obesity. In terms of finger lengths, this means that the risk is higher for men the longer their index finger is in comparison to the ring finger.

Given the obesity epidemic facing many nations, this observation provides a simple way for doctors to estimate risks for a patient. At the same time, the researchers also pointed out that the same factor contributes to a higher risk of coronary heart disease.

Pointing to Osteoarthritis

While men are at a higher risk of obesity from low androgen levels, women can face the greater risks when androgen levels are high. In research from the University of Nottingham, researchers found that women with ring fingers longer than their index fingers were roughly 3 times more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the knees when compared to women whose index and ring fingers were of the same length. These women also had a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis in the hips.

In the same study, the risk of knee osteoarthritis was 1.5 times higher for men with longer ring fingers.

With more than 580,000 knee replacements and more than 190,000 hip replacements performed each year in the US alone, knowing who is at most risk is very important. In some cases, doctors can advise patients at risk so they can take steps to better protect their knees in advance. This can mean surgery is deferred or that less extensive surgery is required.

Pointing to Prostate Cancer

While lower exposure to androgen may have risks for men in terms of obesity and heart disease, not all of the effects are negative. Late in 2010, researchers from the University of Warwick reported results from a 15-year study that showed that men with lower levels of exposure to androgen had lower risks of prostate cancer. In terms of finger length, men with index fingers longer than their ring fingers had a 33% lower risk of developing prostate cancer.

With prostate cancer being responsible for 1 in 20 cancer deaths, knowing who is most at risk is important for allocating scarce treatment resources most efficiently.

Pointing to ALS

In addition to low androgen levels in the womb offering reduced prostate cancer risk, lower androgen levels also offer lower risk for developing ALS. In recently released research from King’s College London researchers observed that patients with ALS had ring fingers that were longer in comparison to their ring fingers.

Because ALS is a rare, fatal degenerative disease, the information is not so much beneficial in predicting future illness as it is in helping to understand how the disease works. The fact that higher androgen exposure in the womb can lead to the disease later in life is one more piece to eventually lead to treatment for the disease.

Although much modern research effort is directed toward understanding genes and disease, the ability to look at a patient and know that they are at increased risk of disease is still a useful medical tool. Until such time as everyone’s genes are on record and all our disease risks have been noted, our physicians will still need tools to quickly assess our risks of illness. So, don’t be surprised if your doctor asks you to hold out your hand when you go for a physical.

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Category: Disease Prevention, General Health, Health Risks, Medical Research

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