Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, is thought to live within the bodies of about 60 million Americans. It was long considered to be relatively harmless to those with normally-functioning immune systems, until recently.
A study recently performed at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, has linked this single-celled, protozoan parasite to possible behavioral changes in humans.
Toxoplasma gondii can be spread through eating undercooked meat, drinking tainted water, or coming into contact with cat feces. It naturally lives in rats, and holds reproductive cycles in the bodies of house cats. In the lab, the researchers found that this parasite can bind to dopamine receptors in the brain.
Shelley Adamo, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says, “it’s quite possible and plausible that if you have an agent affecting dopamine, it could influence people’s behaviors.”
Researchers have previously witnessed Toxoplasma gondii affecting the behaviors of rats, its common hosts. Adamo explains, “the parasite grows in a rodent, but it needs to get into a cat somehow to reproduce. When a rat becomes infected, the parasite somehow makes rats become attracted to cat urine, when they would normally avoid it.”
Study author Jaroslav Flegr writes that people who are infected with Toxoplasma gondii are “less altruistic,” and may have slower reaction times than others. He also writes that women who were tested as having this parasite reported having a “weak instinct for self preservation,” and say that “diplomacy is not their strong point.”
The report suggests that this parasite may also intensify, or even cause, severe schizophrenia, and lead to other personality changes. Adamo admits that it is very difficult to conclusively study a parasite-host relationship, especially in humans, so while further research is needed, it is tricky to obtain outside of a setting where the parasites are isolated in a lab.
To reduce your risk of picking up Toxoplasma gondii, avoid eating undercooked meats, and always wear gloves when changing cat litter. If you are worried that you may have a parasite, see a natural health professional to discuss cleanse and detox options that are appropriate for your individual health.
-The Alternative Daily