08 December 2005

The Crazy Cat Lady

I read a really fascinating article in Esquire that was profiled a controversial psychiatrist investigating the cause of schizophrenia. He thinks schizophrenia may come from cats! The article is not available for free on the web, so I'll try to sketch the rough details of the piece:

  • The doctor, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, began this quest based in part on his rejection of Freud's theories (he has little regard for Freud). He did not buy the idea that mental disease is purely the result of some external stimulus. He thought it could be biological in origin.
  • He thinks the same organism or substance present in cat feces, t.gondii, which is thought to be dangerous to pregnant women and their children, may also be a contributor to mental disease. When placed in a petri dish, the growth of t.gondii was stopped by the addition of anti-psychotic drugs.
  • A statistically significant number of subjects in one small study owned house cats at some point in their life. Of course this only indicates correlation, not causation.
  • Shortly after the popularization of felines as pets, the number of people entering mental hospitals increased markedly. Again, correlation is not causation.
  • There is not definitive proof that t.gondii is a cause of mental disease, and Torrey doesn't know how it may lead to the onset of such disease. It is a theory which many reject soundly. Torrey feels strongly enough about it that he urged his daughter not to purchase a cat for her child.

So it is a theory, but a fascinating one. It may have some validity. For the record- I like cats and had a cat as a pet while a teenager.

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