Being my birthday in the first week of October, the horoscope tells me that I should be impartial and balanced; brave but indecisive
He can even describe my physical characteristics. According to Raphael, a 19th-century astrologer, I should be «quite elegant in person, with a beautiful round face, ruddy in youth, but plain features and prone to breakouts that will disfigure the face in old age.»
I should be offended, until I realized that Zac Effron and Gwen Stefani supposedly have the same traits.
It goes without saying that scientific studies have discredited this type of prediction a long time ago.
Although a psychological study from the 1970s found that certain zodiac signs can be correlated with some personality traits, the findings later concluded that this almost certainly reflects the power of expectations.
If we grow up hearing that we will be fair and just, stubborn or passionate, then we will act from the script. Crucially, the scientists found that people who don’t know anything about their horoscopes don’t match the predictions.
Specific forecasts may be wrong for horoscopes, but they have a grain of truth; Over the last few years, scientists have begun to notice that the month of your birth can actually predict your destiny.
The most obvious effects have to do with grades: children born at the end of the school year perform slightly worse than those born at the beginning, although the differences tend to disappear over the years. But there are other, more surprising patterns that are not so easily explained.
In the late 1990s, for example, Leonid Gavrilov of the University of Chicago found that people born in the fall tend to live longer.
He has since confirmed his discovery with many different studies and looking at centenarians, his latest research found that autumn babies are around 40% more likely to live to be 100 than people born in March.
At first, Gavrilov’s discoveries were regarded with suspicion and misunderstanding. «People unfamiliar with the latest scientific studies on this topic remain skeptical, associating the study with astrology,» he says.
«But today, when we present our findings in peer-reviewed journals, they are very well received by experts.»
Sreeram Ramagopalan of Oxford University agrees that the area is gaining ground. He points out that in some of the earlier studies only a small number of participants had been examined so it was very difficult to ensure that the results were not just a fluke.
“In the last four or five years alone, there have been large studies to investigate such matters comprehensively,” he says.
Winter or summer babies?
Some of the latest research was gleaned from studying thousands of participants. Ramagopalan’s own studies, for example, analyzed the health records of almost 60,000 patients in England, showing that babies born in winter and spring are at increased risk of schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder.
Other traits influenced by time of birth appear to be eyesight (winter babies are least likely to be nearsighted) and risk of allergies (summer-borns are least susceptible).
Admittedly, the mechanisms behind these trends are a bit murky. It is possible that dietary changes and waves of infection could influence the growth of the developing baby, with a lingering effect on their health after decades.
You may also be exposed to different types of allergens during different seasons of the year. Alternatively, it could be as simple as the length of the day.
When it comes to eyesight, for example, studies have shown that periods of darkness can help regulate the growth of the eyeball.
So long summer days can also cause a baby’s eyes to grow out of shape, causing them to lose focus, while winter babies are less likely to need glasses as they grow.
Vitamin D and pregnancy
There is also vitamin D, which is produced when the skin is exposed to the sun. We have known for some time that a deficiency in this vitamin can weaken bones and cause rickets, but now it is known that vitamin D is crucial for the development of the immune system, which could also influence the risk of allergies and the nervous system.
“Animal studies found that if vitamin D is restricted during pregnancy, the offspring have severe neurological abnormalities,” says Ramagopalan.
For this reason, lower levels of vitamin D could lead to differences in neural network development, which in turn could explain the elevated rates of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or depression among winter-born people.
This idea is still a hypothesis, although some serendipitous evidence has been found in Denmark. Shortly after birth, each Danish baby is pricked on the heel and a small spot of blood is kept as a record of their health at the time they come into the world.
By analyzing these data for people born in the 1980s and early 1990s, the researchers found that those who had the lowest levels of vitamin D at birth were more likely to develop schizophrenia later.
Based on these dates, parents-to-be may worry and try to plan for conception, but it is important to remember that the effects will tend to be relatively small.
Still, Ramagopalan says, over time, we may be able to find simple complications that smooth out these stationary differences, such as giving winter babies vitamin D supplements.
If nothing else, the results give us a better idea of the rich variety of influences that guide our destiny. Clearly our genes and upbringing are primary factors, but if something as random as the month of birth can shape our mental health and life expectancy, what other factors could determine our fortune?
Our destinies may not be written in the stars, but we are beginning to understand many other invisible forces that direct the path of our lives from the very day we are conceived.
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