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Five years ago, we reported that a virus may be responsible for schizophrenia. Now there's evidence that someday, we may be able to cure autism and schizophrenia with a vaccine. That's the good news. The bad news: housework is good for your mental health!

In Scientific American, Melinda Wenner writes: "The strongest evidence pertains to schizophrenia, but autism, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder have also been linked to bacterial, viral or parasitic infections in utero, in childhood or in maturity."

Why do some people develop schizophrenia? Children of women who undergo an extremely stressful event?such as the death of a close relative?during the first trimester of pregnancy appear more likely to develop it.

Researcher Ali S. Khashan says, "The common conception that a mother's psychological state can influence her unborn baby is to some extent substantiated by the literature. Severe life events during pregnancy are consistently associated with an elevated risk of low birth weight and prematurity." Schizophrenia, a disabling condition associated with abnormal brain structure and function, is increasingly believed to begin in early brain development. Environmental factors, including those occurring during pregnancy, and susceptibility genes may interact to influence risk.

Khashan used data from 1.38 million Danish births occurring between 1973 and 1995. Women were linked to close family members using a national registry, and the same registry was used to determine if any of these relatives died or received a diagnosis of cancer, heart attack or stroke during each mother?s pregnancy. Their children were followed from the 10th birthday through June 30, 2005 or until they died, moved out of the country, or developed schizophrenia.

During the study period, mothers of over 20,000 children were exposed to the death of a relative during pregnancy, around 14,000 were exposed to a relatives' serious illness during pregnancy and a little over 7,000 of the offspring developed schizophrenia. The risk of schizophrenia and related disorders was approximately 67% greater among the offspring of women who were exposed to the death of a relative during the first trimester.

Schizophrenia can't be cured by housework. However, depression is a mental condition that CAN be helped by wielding a broom. Researchers say that working up a sweat while cleaning your house may improve your mental health. Just 20 minutes of sustained exercise a week can help prevent depression?such as jogging or swimming or?cleaning. But it has to be the type of exercise that causes heavy breathing (in other words, light dusting doesn't do it).

BBC News quotes researcher Mark Hamer as saying, "Many studies suggest benefits for mental health from exercise, and for the first time we have been able to quantify the amount of activity which seems to make a difference. But it is a chicken and egg issue?as those who suffer from stress or anxiety may be less likely to take part in physical activity in the first place." Here at unknowncountry, we know ALL about exercise!

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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