August 22, 2008

Publication: Evening Herald

Date: Thursday, August 21, 2008 Page: 34

Headline: Foetal stress linked to schizophrenia

Women subjected to severe stress during pregnancy risk giving birth to children who develop schizophrenia, a study suggests. Researchers found that children of Israeli women who were pregnant during the 1967 Six Day War had a significantly increased chance of being diagnosed with the psychotic disorder over the next 21 to 33 years. Females appeared to be more affected than males. After the Arab-Israeli war, women who had been in their second month of foetal life during the conflict were 4.3 times more likely to develop schizophrenia than those that were born at other times.

Men in the same situation had a 1.2 times increased risk of the mental illness. Study leader Dr Dolores Malaspina, from the New York University School of Medicine, said: "It's a very striking confirmation of something that has been suspected for quite some time. The placenta is very sensitive to stress hormones in the mother. These hormones were probably amplified during the time of war." The researchers, whose findings are published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, studied the medical records of 88,829 people born in Jerusalem between 1964 and 1976. Individuals most likely to develop schizophrenia were in their second month of pregnancy during the height of the conflict in June 1967. Dr Malaspina said women should not be worried about suffering day-to-day stress during pregnancy. "A developing foetus requires some exposure to maternal stress hormones as it normalises stress functioning," she said. "But women experiencing anxiety or excessive stress would do well to address it before a planned pregnancy and to have good social support systems."

Schizophrenia, marked by delusional thinking, hallucinations, and the risk of suicide, affects a very small percentage of the population. It most commonly emerges in people between the ages of 15 and 35.