Women with short legs may have a higher risk of liver disease, with both probably caused by diet or other factors early in life, British researchers reported.

Their study of 3,600 women showed that the shorter a woman's legs were, the more likely she was to have signs of liver damage. The findings fit in with other studies linking leg length with diabetes and heart disease.

Adult liver function is affected by early life environmental exposures as reflected in leg length, and this may suggest common childhood influences on liver development and adult risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Fraser's team looked at women aged 60 to 79 who were taking part in a larger health study. They measured their leg length as compared to trunk length and also measured four liver enzymes: alanine aminotransferase, gamma-glutamyltransferase, aspartate transaminase and alkaline phosphatase.

Each of these markers reflects a different aspect of potential liver damage. Leg length can point to how well a person was nourished in early childhood. "In particular, evidence shows that breast-feeding, high-energy intake at four years and childhood affluent socioeconomic position are all associated with longer adult leg length," Fraser's team wrote.

The findings held even when Fraser's team took into account smoking, drinking and other behaviors that can damage a person's liver.