Birthdays Cause Caution

By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Bill McChesney.

Whether or not you care to check up on your astrological readings, a separate, scientific factor may influence you to pay attention to the patterns related to your birth month. It’s disease.

A group of Columbia University data scientists recently published a study in which they calculated links between the seasons and months when babies were born with their likelihood of developing diseases.

These scientists developed an algorithm that they applied to the medical history of 1.7 million patients from New York-Presbyterian Hospital/CUMC between 1985 and 2013. As a result, the team discovered 16 new links between birth period and disease (including nine types of heart disease), ruled out 1,600 possibilities, and confirmed 39 established associations.

March, according to the findings, is a risky birth month in terms of developing heart diseases. The scientists found that babies born during that time of year tend to face the highest danger of developing conditions like mitral valve disorder, atrial fibrillation, and congestive heart failure. Prostate cancer is also most likely to affect male March babies.

While September babies are least likely to later suffer from the conditions of angina, cardiac complications following surgery, or cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), they actually have the highest rates of vomiting. What type of humans are the least prone to puking? January babies.

The risks (and non-risks) for October babies appear to be quite diverse. Those born in the tenth month of the year are most susceptible to experiencing acute upper respiratory infection and non-venomous insect bites, as well as screening for sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, October babies happen to show the lowest rates for having an abnormal heartbeat, high blood temperature without a definable cause, or the condition in which angina develops abruptly or worsens.

Mental disorders were also calculated in the Columbia study. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was found to show a correlation with those birthed towards the end of the year–with the highest rates for November birthdays. The researchers commented that the correlation might have to do with such children being less mature than their classmates in school.

The data scientists noted that they did not take ethnicities or other socioeconomic factors into consideration for this study. Going forth, they are interested in furthering their findings by examining medical data in other American and foreign locations, as well as looking into climactic and environmental factors that may affect disease.

The Columbia University study was nevertheless the first large-scale one of its kind. Prior to its publishing, there were other, more specific scientific studies regarding the correlation between birth month and disease.

For instance, a 2012 study found links between babies being born during the winter and the development of certain mental disorders as they matured. Using medical data of 58,000 diagnosed mental patients in England, the researchers compared their birth months to the country’s greater population of 29 million. According to the results, January babies exhibited the highest rates of becoming diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, whereas individuals born in July, August, and September had lower rates.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Gilhooly.

One of this study’s researchers, epidemiologist Sreeram Ramagopalan, alluded to possible maternal infections behind the connections. In winter, he mentioned, pregnant women might suffer from the flu and have less access to healthy foods like fruits or vegetables. Vitamin D deficiency is also a problem during the dreary winter months, which may affect pregnancies.

A separate 2011 study conducted in England, at Oxford University, concluded that babies born in the spring months were more likely to develop anorexia nervosa. Autumn babies showed a decreased likelihood of developing the condition, according to the findings. The lead researcher admitted that while the evidence showed an association, it is still important to pay attention to which social factors make individuals vulnerable to becoming anorexic.

As alarming as all these disease and birthday findings may sound, the Columbia researchers still advise people to gauge them sensibly. The study’s lead author, Mary Boland, told Live Science that members of the public “should not be overly concerned” with the risk factors that the team calculated.

“It’s important not to get overly nervous about these results because even though we found significant associations the overall disease risk is not that great,” senior author Dr. Nicholas Tatonetti said in a statement. “The risk related to birth month is relatively minor when compared to more influential variables like diet and exercise.”

Of course, there’s really nothing you can actually do to change the month when you were born; only the way you go about living your life.