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Does Your Birth Season Influence Your Mental Health?

lunaticBack in high school I had a quirky math teacher (didn’t we all?) who wondered why he couldn’t legally change his birthday like he could his name. Apparently, the fact that a birthday is an anniversary of an actual event, and that moving it would somewhat negate its purpose, did not mean anything to him. I suspect he did not have any love for the Zodiac or take astrology very seriously. If he had, he may have realized that your birthdate can have a real and lasting effect on your future health and well-being and even if you changed it legally the effects of when you were really born could still follow you around. Seriously. At least, that is what scientists are beginning to investigate and understand.

The results of those investigations are . . . strange, and a little unnerving. For example: Have you winter babies heard? You are at greater risk for schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and epilepsy. Spring babies, you are more likely than your autumn-born counterparts to develop an alcohol problem or Type 1 Diabetes. And summer babies are more likely to have Down’s syndrome or Autism than babies born in other seasons. These maladies while they could hit anyone have a greater correlation to people born at certain times of the year.

See? Strange. As one of the many Americans who, along with my math teacher, has never really taken astrology very seriously, I was quite taken aback by the assertion, published on TheAtlantic.com recently, that the season of your birth actually can have an impact on your health. The author, Elijah Wolfson, writes that, “Your birthday is an inescapable mark, one of a small number of qualities in life you can never change, that accompanies you everywhere . . . they are one of the core confirmations of your identity, now and forever.”

That is because, aside from being the day you became a land mammal, your birthday is the day your biological clock was set. And, it appears, when your clock was set in winter, when the days are short, or summer when they are longer does have an impact on the stability of your mental health. Or, at least that appears to be the case with mice who were raised in conditions mimicking the amount of light available at different times of the year. Scientists at the McMahon Lab at Vanderbilt University placed newborn mice in environments in which the light/dark ratio corresponded with the seasonal light/dark ratio. “Winter” mice were placed in an environment of 6 hours of light and 18 of dark, “fall” and “spring” mice had a 12/12 hour split, and “summer” mice were exposed to light for 18 hours a day. After 3 weeks (when the mice were much more mature than a human 3-week-old is), they were removed from their “native” environment and placed in a different “season.” Most of the mice handled the change just fine —except the “winter” mice, who showed signs of mental instability.

So, there may actually be some scientific evidence that the moon (or being born in the season where the moon shines more than the sun) makes you crazy.

I get that having your biological clock set in a different season can wire your brain a little differently, but I just don’t know exactly what to do with that information. It’s fascinating, of course, and I’d love to know more about it. But it also seems like one of those things where the more I know, the more paranoid I would become about my own mental health. It’s not like changing our birthdays is actually something we could do if we feared we were at greater risk for developing schizophrenia. But perhaps this is a step toward helping those who are at risk receive better treatment. That’s a silver lining worth looking for.

 

photo credit: Lizzie Heiselt

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