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Common Parasite may Trigger Depression and Suicide Attempts

Update Date: Aug 17, 2012 10:04 AM EDT

Raw meats make you want to kill yourself--literally.

According to a newly published study conducted by researchers from Michigan State University, a parasite found in many people and previously believed to be
relatively harmless may actually be causing altered brain activity leading to depression and suicides.

The study, found in the Journal of Clincial Psychiatry, found that about 10 to 20 percent of persons living in the United States have Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii.

The parasite is found in cells that reproduces in its primary host and is transmitted, according to university officials, through ingested water or food contaminated with the eggs of the parasite or through consuming under cooked meat.

"Previous research has found signs of inflammation in the brains of suicide victims and people battling depression, and there also are previous reports linking Toxoplasma gondii to suicide attempts," she said. "In our study we found that if you are positive for the parasite, you are seven times more likely to attempt suicide, "says Brundin, an associate professor of experimental psychiatry in MSU's College of Human Medicine stated.

Professor Brundin and her colleagues rounded up people infected with the parasite, some of whom had already attempted suicide, and gave them suicide assessment scales.

The results showed that those infected with T. gondii scored notably higher on the scale, "indicative of a more severe disease and greater risk of future suicide attempts," as stated by the report.

Brundin's research indicates that when infected with the parasite, inflammation of the brain causes the frontal cortex to reduce its serotonin levels, which might be a symptom rather than the root cause of depression.

"I think it's very positive that we are finding biological changes in suicidal patients," she said. "It means we can develop new treatments to prevent suicides, and patients can feel hope that maybe we can help them.

"It's a great opportunity to develop new treatments tailored at specific biological mechanisms."

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