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Consumption of rare steak may be infecting Americans' minds with a parasitic bug that causes anger and rage

Undercooked meat

(NaturalNews) Outbursts of anger such as road rage may be fueled by infection with a brain parasite found in undercooked meat and cat litter, scientists are now beginning to believe.

The infection in question is known as toxoplasmosis, caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. About half of all adults will have a toxoplasmosis infection at some point in their lives.

Until recently, the conventional scientific wisdom was that toxoplasmosis was mostly harmless in human beings (with the notable exception of pregnant women, in whom it can cause miscarriage and birth defects). The parasite was known to alter the behavior of rodents, making them more likely to be eaten by cats (the parasite can only reproduce inside of felines) but was believed to have no such effects on humans.

The conventional wisdom is rapidly changing.

The parasite that reprograms your brain

In most cases, humans infected with toxpolasmosis suffer mild flu-like symptoms. These symptoms clear up once the parasite migrates into the brain, where it can no longer be detected by the immune system. This "dormant" or "latent" phase is the phase that was formerly considered harmless. Now, evidence suggests that the "dormant" parasite causes behavioral changes in humans analogous to those seen in rodents: risky behaviors and an attraction to cats.

"It has been assumed to spend many years being asymptomatic and dormant, but I think the effects are still going on a lot more than people think, affecting the mind and perception of the host," said Joanne Webster of the University of London, a toxoplasmosis expert who is currently researching the connection between the parasite and schizophrenia.

Although a connection between toxoplasmosis and mental illness was first proposed in 1959, it is only in recent years that the evidence has really started to pour in. First, studies found higher-than-average rates of toxoplasmosis among schizophrenia patients. A July 2015 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that toxoplasmosis causes brain inflammation, which has been linked with schizophrenia.

The parasite has been linked to other psychological disturbances. A 2012 study found that people whose blood tested positive for toxoplasmosis exposure were seven times more likely to have attempted suicide than people who had never been infected.

The most recent type of disturbance to be linked with toxoplasmosis is extreme rage. A recent study from the University of Chicago found that people who suffer from explosions of extreme anger, such as road rage, are twice as likely to have latent toxoplasmosis than people who do not suffer such explosions.

"Our work suggests latent infection with the toxoplasma gondii parasite may change brain chemistry in a fashion that increases the risk of aggressive behavior," lead researcher Emil Coccaro said.

Parasite is trying to get you eaten by a cat

Notably, many of these effects are seen even in people who no longer carry the parasite in their brains.

Researchers believe that one of the key traits underlying many of these symptoms — from road rage to suicide — is an increase in risky behavior and a decrease in reaction time and impulse control. For example, another study found that people with latent toxoplasmosis infections were six times more likely to be involved in car accidents.

In our evolutionary history, an increase in risky behavior probably increased a person's chance of being eaten by a big cat such as a leopard.

Supporting this hypothesis, other research has shown that just as with rodents, humans infected with toxoplasmosis find the smell of cat urine attractive.

Although pregnant women are warned to stay away from cat litter, cats are not actually the major source of toxoplasmosis infection.

"Most of us don't get toxoplasmosis from cats, but from undercooked meats," Webster said.

In addition to not eating undercooked meat, ways to avoid toxoplasmosis exposure include washing hands after handling raw meat, and not tasting meat before it is fully cooked.

Sources for this article include:



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