In the Middle Ages, doctors consulted star charts before diagnosing their patients. The signs of the zodiac were believed to rule different parts of the body, determine one’s susceptibility to diseases and even influence the efficacy of different medications. The practice of consulting the stars over medical concerns fell out of favor in the late 17th century, but research suggests that our medieval ancestors may have been on to something. Your birth month really does influence your health.
Researchers at Columbia University completed a study in 2015 that used statistical analysis to examine the medical records of 1.7 million patients in order to determine whether birth month had any impact on long-range health. The study, which included the records of people born between 1900 and 2000 who were patients at New York Presbyterian Hospital/CUMC between 1985 and 2013, found a correlation between the month of birth and 55 different medical conditions.
“Our individual personal risk of disease depends on a number of factors, including our genetics and our lifestyle, but it also depends on the environment we are born into and the actions of our parents (e.g., how much sunlight did our mother receive while pregnant). I think the most important finding from this study is that birth month and seasonality at birth is important in understanding disease susceptibility and risk,” said Mary Regina Boland, the Columbia study’s lead author.
A similar study published in the journal Allergy correlated birth season with the likelihood of suffering from allergies. The researchers noted that the season of birth can have a wide-ranging impact on a person’s life, even influencing height and life expectancy.
Now don’t get mad at your parents for having you at the wrong time of year; they didn’t doom you to a horrible disease or an early grave. In the big picture, the knowledge gleaned from these studies provides researchers with information that they can use to unravel the causes of diseases so they can search for treatments and cures. At the individual level, knowing that your birth month might predispose you to a certain condition could encourage healthier lifestyle habits.
The Columbia researchers, along with researchers at other institutions, are currently working to understand exactly what drives the relationships between birth month and disease.
“It is important to note that different diseases would have different exposures. Many things vary seasonally, including sunlight, pollen, pollutants and even exercise patterns that could affect prenatal or perinatal development in various ways,” said Boland.
Here's a look at how the prevalence of different health issues breaks down by birth month.
In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, claiming 610,000 lives each year. The Columbia study found that people born in the first third of the year were more prone to heart problems, with nine types of heart disease linked to birth month. Those with January birthdays had a higher relative incidence of hypertension, or high blood pressure.
If you were born in February, congratulations are in order. The Columbia researchers found that February birthdays were associated with lower overall disease risk.
No guy looks forward to the annual prostate exam, but men with March birthdays should be extra sure to get that appointment on the calendar. Men with March birthdays had a higher relative incidence of prostate cancer in the Columbia study, in addition to heart disease.
April birthdays are associated with a higher relative incidence of angina, or the chest pain that results when the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. Angina is a symptom, rather than a disease, and it usually points to heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Like February babies, people born in May are winners of a biological lottery, of sorts. They aren’t at increased overall disease risk, and they’re less prone to respiratory infections.
Preinfarction syndrome is more prevalent in people with June birthdays. It is marked by chest pain, and it often precedes a heart attack.
People born in July and August have no increased or decreased risk.
If you’re prone to the itchy eyes, runny nose and wheezing commonly associated with allergies, you may be able to blame your fall birthday.
If May babies are the winners of the biological lottery, October babies are the losers. People born in this month bear the greatest overall health risk.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is a mental disorder associated with difficulty paying attention, poor self-control and hyperactivity. People with November birthdays carry the greatest risk for this condition.
Bumps and bruises are an inevitable part of life, but strangely, the Columbia researchers found that people born in December were more prone to the kind of serious bruising that can lead to a trip to the hospital.
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