Published On: Tue, Jul 3rd, 2012

Kitty litter linked to an increase in female suicides

A small subset of suicide attempts may be linked to an infection that starts in the litter box.  A new study suggests an association between Toxoplasma gondiiand suicide attempts among women.

Interesting finding, to be sure, but how does one even begin to test a theory like this? Why in the world would anyone posit that kitty litter could be related to suicide attempts?

Photo/Vantey 十字花剑 via wikimedia commons

As it turns out, about one-third of the population is walking around right now with latent toxoplasma infection.  Most people will never know they have it – and most will not attempt suicide as a result of it. But the presence of T. gondii among women who attempted suicide raises interesting questions.

Those questions led senior study author, Dr. Teodor Postolache, to find out more. Postolache said he was at first puzzled by studies suggesting low-grade activity in the immune systems of suicide victims.

“We were puzzled,” said Postolache, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  “We wanted to know what could contribute to that activation.”

As he later discovered, T. gondii is associated with schizophrenia and, in other studies, associated with suicide.

So he and colleagues decided to take a closer look at a group in Denmark, where they already had an ongoing allergy study, and where patient data is meticulously kept.  Their T. gondii study was conducted among 45,788 women in Denmark between 1992 and 1995.

What Postolache and colleagues found is that women infected with T. gondii had one-and-a-half times higher risk of attempting suicide when compared with women with no infection.  According to the study, published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry, “the risk seemed to increase with increasing… antibody level.”

So, the more antibodies found in the blood reacting to T. gondii, the higher the risk of a suicide attempt.

Postolache tempers the finding by pointing out that the chances of having T. gondii infection and never attempting suicide is much higher than attempting it.

“This is a very prevalent parasite, a very successful parasite, that affects one-third of the world population,” said Postolache, a senior consultant on suicide prevention for the Baltimore VA Medical Center.  “One-third of them are not attempting suicide.”

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON


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