Prenatal Stress and Schizophrenia

Researchers have now uncovered a conclusive link between extreme stress during the early stages of pregnancy and the development of schizophrenia in the children of those mothers in later life.

Schizophrenia is a complex disorder of the brain and is commonly passed down through the family chain, thus indicating a genetic link for the condition. Drugs usage and life stresses can also promote the development of schizophrenia in susceptible adults.

But a recent study at New York University’s School of Medicine has proven conclusively that wartime stress is a trigger for the development of the condition in later life. Other forms of stress are also implicated.

Over 80,000 children who were born in Jerusalem, Israel were studied and found to have a significantly higher rate of schizophrenia than the norm. The study looked at adults whose mothers were in the early stages of pregnancy during the “Six-Day” Arab-Israeli war in 1967. Female offspring were more likely to be affected than males. Researchers at other universities suggest that all forms of extreme stress such as trauma, domestic violence, bereavement, etc, can have a significant effect on the developing fetus.

The placenta is very sensitive to stress and stress hormones can pass easily from mother to unborn child. The most sensitive time for the effect of stress hormones to potentially harm the developing fetus is during the first trimester, especially the second month, when many neural developments are occurring in the brain of the developing infant. The head researcher of the New York study, Professor Dolores Malaspina said that the study confirmed very conclusively what has been suspected among mental health workers for quite some time.

Studies such as these highlight the importance of stress management techniques at all times, but especially during pregnancy.

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