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Famine May Be A Cause For Schizophrenia

Babies born during famine face the risk of developing schizophrenia later in life//, says a study in China.

David St Clair at Aberdeen University and his colleagues at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China looked at the incidence of schizophrenia among those born before, during and after the 1959-1961 period of extreme famine in the badly affected Chinese province of Anhui.

Although birth rates during the period plummeted by 80 percent, the death-adjusted risk of schizophrenia for those born in 1960 was 2.3 times higher than for those born before or two years after the famine, reports

The findings are consistent with those of a small Dutch study, which found a twofold increase in schizophrenia for those born during a war-imposed famine in Holland from 1944 to 1945, called the Hunger Winter.

But since this study featured just 20-25 cases of the condition, those findings were only of modest statistical significance.

The Chinese study, on the other hand, examined psychiatric assessment data from the Wuhu region of Anhui, which has a population of 62 million, and so included thousands of schizophrenia case records.

The findings show that starvation experienced during the critical stages of early gestation alters brain development, producing mental health consequences years later in adulthood.

Schizophrenia occurs worldwide in about one percent of the population. But in individuals who received inadequate fetal nutrition, the risk may be as much as 2.3 percent, say researchers.

"We don't yet know what the component of the nutritional deficiency is, or what the biological mechanism is that takes place in the brain resulting from the deficiency, although pre-natal folate deficiency has been implicated in neural defects in the past," says Feng Zhang at Aberdeen University, one of the study's authors.


Medindia on S chizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disease. Although schizophrenia affects men and women with equal frequency, the disorder often appears earlier in men, usually in the late teens or early twenties. The cause of schizophrenia is unknown. There are various theories to explain the development of this disorder.

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