Ask cat lovers and they will wax eloquent about their pets driving them crazy with their antics, stubbornness and diva attitude. But could these fur babies be literally messing with your mind? A study says so. A mind-altering parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T.gondii) that thrives in cat faeces has been linked to schizophrenia. But a large study has found that having the parasite in your system can cause toxoplasmosis and increase of risk of schizophrenia by a whopping 50 percent! Looks like the stereotype of the Crazy Cat Lady, made famous by The Simpsons, may have more than just a grain of truth.
Scientists from Copenhagen University studied more than 80,000 people, out of which 2,591 had psychiatric illnesses. The researchers were able to detect immunoglobulin antibodies that showed the presence of T.gondii.
The research was able to positively tie the protozoa to schizophrenia, where the hosts had a 50 percent higher risk of the psychiatric illness. Signs, Risks, Causes and Treatment of Schizophrenia.
What is Toxoplasma Gondii?
Toxoplasma gondii or T.gondii is a parasite that lives inside the intestines of the cat family. It is a protozoan present in around one-third of the human population, although the infected individuals commonly show no symptoms.
Research suggests that T.gondii could be altering the way the hosts think, causing schizophrenic, suicidal tendencies and poorer neurocognitive performance in the infected.
In some cases, T.gondii can also cause infections in the back of the eyes, inflammation of the heart and inflammation of the brain, potentially leading to death.
How Do Humans Get Infected?
Cat faeces are primarily responsible for causing T.gondii infections in humans. Other sources of the deadly parasite include infected meat (especially pork, lamb and venison) and shellfish, mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, exposure to contaminated soil and water.
People with cats are at heightened risk because the parasite latches on to the body when they clean litter boxes of cats. Humans get infected when they shed oocysts, a cyst that contains the zygote of the parasitic protozoan. The process itself can happen only once in the cat’s lifetime for three-ten days after ingesting tissue cysts. Dogs or Cats? Know Who is Smarter and Why According to Scientific Backing!
But if the cats have the antibodies to T.gondii, they don’t shed oocysts and do not pose a risk to humans.
What Happens To Human Brain on T.Gondii?
Researchers say that the protozoa interrupt the production of tryptophan, an essential ingredient used in the synthesis of serotonin, the feel-good chemical. When the serotonin levels in the body fall, depressive symptoms start showing up.
Studies have been able to uncover the link between the protozoan and psychiatric problems in humans. And the findings are stunning.
The link between T.gondii and schizophrenia has long been researched. Some acute cases of the protozoan infection result in hallucinations, one of the biggest features of schizophrenia.
A meta-analysis of 38 studies showed that T.gondii infections increase the odds of schizophrenia. A case report also showed how treating T.gondii infection can reduce depressive symptoms. Another one showed how cat bites could increase depression in women.
T.gondii could potentially influence impulsive behaviour, according to research. This can include an increase of violence, risk-taking behaviour. Other psychiatric problems include aggression in women and increased impulsivity in men.
Studies have also shown how the T.gondii antibody could influence suicidal and homicidal behaviour in humans. Reports also show that T.gondii is liked to both fatal and non-fatal traffic accidents, which shows it could affect impulse regulation in humans.
How To Prevent Toxoplasmosis
To prevent toxoplasmosis, you don’t have to banish your kitty. There are many steps you can take to prevent T.gondii from entering your body. CDC explains:
Cook meat at safe temperatures and do just go by the colour of the meat. Cook at a heat of 63° C to ensure the pathogen dies. Rest the meat for three minutes before you serve or eat. Store meat at a sub-zero temperature to reduce chances of infection.
Wash and peel fruits before eating, avoid consuming raw seafood like clams, mussels, oysters, unpasteurised goats milk, etc.
While handling your cat’s litter box, use gloves to protect your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly after you clean the box. Ensure that your cat’s litter box is cleaned daily.