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Recent research gives whole new meaning to the term "crazy cat lady". Researchers who study Toxoplasmosis, a parasite that lives inside cat feces, have discovered that the bacteria is linked to mental illness in humans. Although most humans are already infected with the parasite and are strong enough to fight it off, those with weakened immune systems are more likely to suffer adverse effects. The new research findings suggest that those effects could be more severe than previously thought.

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii is commonly found in cat feces as well as undercooked meat and contaminated soil. Pregnant women are especially warned to avoid scooping cat litter, as the infection can be passed from mother to fetus through the placenta. The new study, conducted by researchers in Sweden, found that the parasite can also travel into the human brain and is linked to risk-taking, schizophrenia, and a lack of self-preservation.

Specifically, the researchers conducted a labratory experiment where they injected human dendritic cells with toxoplasma. Consequently, the dendritic cells started to release GABA. GABA is a signal substance in the brain which, among other effects, inhibits the sensation of fear and anxiety. Humans that suffer from bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders commonly have disturbances in the GABA system of the brain. Toxoplasmosis enters the brain and manipulates the human host by taking over GABA, which is one of the brain's neurotransmitters resulting in the wacky behavioral systems. Makes me want to think twice before eating my meat too rare, or scooping cat litter.

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