Following an extensive literature study, a Dutch researcher has hypothesized that schizophrenia and autism may share a common origin.
Developmental psychologist Annemie Ploeger showed that both mental diseases have similar physical abnormalities, which are formed during the first month of pregnancy.
She found that many physical abnormalities of autistics are also prevalent in schizophrenics. For example, both autistics and schizophrenics sometimes have protruding ears and peculiar toes.
There are also differences: a large head and intestinal problems, for example, are typical traits occurring in autistics.
Based on the observations, she concluded that the two disorders share a common origin. The same error that occurs very early in pregnancy develops into autism in one individual and schizophrenia in another.
The study also revealed that in the period between 20 and 40 days after fertilisation, the embryo is highly susceptible to disruptions. In this period, early organogenesis, there is a lot of interaction between the different parts of the body. If something goes wrong with a given part of the body, it greatly influences the development of other parts of the body.
As people with schizophrenia and autism frequently have physical abnormalities to body parts formed during early organogenesis, Ploeger concluded that the foundation for these psychiatric disorders is laid very early during pregnancy.
Ploeger has based her hypothesis on an extensive study of scientific literature in this area. She often had to make use of related studies; although a lot of research has been done into prenatal influences on the development of schizophrenia and autism, little is known about the influence that the period between 20 to 40 days after fertilisation has.
She has advised that women should stop risky behaviour such as smoking, medicine use and stressful activities before they even become pregnant.
She said that if you only start to live healthily once you know that you are pregnant, the basis for a disrupted development of your child could already have been laid.