Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder, which causes severely impaired thinking, emotions, and unusual behaviors. Schizophrenic patients are typically unable to recognize sensory stimuli and may have enhanced perceptions of sounds, colors, and other features of their environment. Most schizophrenics, if untreated, gradually withdraw from interactions with other people, and lose their ability to take care of personal needs and grooming.
A recent, but small study suggests that breastfeeding in infancy may delay the age of onset of schizophrenia.(1) This study included patients who were admitted to a psychiatric ward and outpatients who were attending the community mental health center. Only those patients who had living mothers were approached and breastfeeding histories of patients and control subjects were obtained from their mothers.
Subjects were divided into three groups using the following criteria: 1) Babies who were solely breastfed for at least first 4 months. 2) Babies who were breastfed with mixed artificial formula within first 4 months. 3) Babies who were never breastfed and were fed only by formula. The study included 113 patients, 140 siblings of the patients and 113 controls. Among them, age of onset of illness was later in those who were solely breastfed for at least 4 months (mean +- SD, 22.1 +- 6.3 years) than those who were never breastfed (20.8 +- 4.9 years). There was a positive correlation (r = +0.43) between the duration of breastfeeding and age at onset of illness, the longer the baby was breastfed the later was the age of onset of schizophrenia.
According to the researchers the probable mechanism may be that human milk contains long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid, which are essential in the development of the central nervous system. Thus, human milk may be the optimal food for the brain development. Schizophrenia is a neurodevelopment disorder and therefore breast milk might postpone the onset of illness in schizophrenic patients.
Sonia Shoukat M.D.
Thomas W. Hale Ph.D.
1. M.Amore, C.Balista, R.G.McCreadie, C.Cimmino, F.Pisani, G.Bevilacqua, G.Ferrari. Can Breast-feeding Protect against Schizophrenia. Biol Neonate 2003;83;97-101.