Born under a bad sign

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Born under a bad sign? 27 January 2007 From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues. Alison Motluk THE star you were born under influences the person you become. Not something you expect to hear from scientists but, incredibly, it seems to be true. There is firm evidence that the time of year you are born affects not just your personality, but also your health, specifically your chances of developing serious mental illness. But don't expect to find clues in your horoscopes. The star in question is the star we were all born under - the sun. Being born at certain times of year gives a small but significantly increased risk of problems such as depression, schizophrenia and anorexia nervosa. The question is no longer if the seasons affect mental health, but how. Pinning this down could yield vital clues on how to intervene to prevent mental illness. The effect was first noticed as far back as 1929, when Swiss psychologist Moritz Tramer reported that people born in late winter were more likely to develop schizophrenia. We now know that for people born in the northern hemisphere in February, March and April, the risk of developing schizophrenia is between 5 and 10 per cent greater than for those born at other times of the year. The effect has been replicated numerous times over the decades and is far from trivial. According to a study carried out at Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark, the increased risk of schizophrenia that comes with a winter birthday is almost twice the increase in risk linked to having a parent or sibling with the disorder. Season of birth seems to be linked to other conditions, too. A recent study of more than 25,000 suicides in England and Wales found that 17 per cent more people who had committed suicide had birthdays in April, May and June than in the rest of the year. That's late spring and early summer in the northern hemisphere. Similarly, people with anorexia in the northern hemisphere are 13 per cent more likely to have been be born between April and June than in other months. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's best to be born later in the year, however. Autumn birthdays are associated with an 8 per cent increase in the likelihood of suffering panic attacks, for example, and a small but significant increase in alcoholism in men. Finding out just how the changing seasons change the risk of certain psychiatric conditions is proving a daunting task for epidemiologists. Until recently, the leading hypothesis on why winter and spring births increase the risk of both schizophrenia and anorexia centred on the health of a mother during pregnancy. Perhaps a viral infection in the mother at a key stage of the baby's development could somehow interfere with brain development or damage early brain tissue. Several studies in the 1980s seemed to have found spikes in the number of schizophrenia cases in people born in the months following outbreaks of viral diseases such a flu and measles. But several large studies, in particular
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Born under a bad sign - HOME | NEWS | EXPLORE BY SUBJECT |...

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