Study Finds Link Between Birth Month and Risk for Developing Some Diseases

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The month you were born in could be connected to your future health, according to a new study.

Researchers who compiled the birthdays and medical records of patients found that some birth months are more likely to be associated with increased disease risk while other months are associated with decreased risk.

People born in May were found to have the lowest overall disease risk, and those born in October had the highest, according to a statement from Columbia University, where the senior study author Dr. Nicholas Tatonetti is based.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association on June 3, looked at more than 1.7 million people born between 1900 and 2000 who were treated at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

Using a computational method developed by researchers, the study found 55 diseases that were significantly dependent on an individual's month of birth. Researchers had looked for the birth-month correlation for 1,688 diseases.

For example, people born in March are at greatest risk for several types of heart disease, including atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and mitral valve disorder.

Babies born in July and October are at the greatest risk for developing asthma.

Links for 39 diseases had been previously reported in other research, but this study found new associations for 16 diseases, according to Columbia's statement.

“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,” said Tatonetti, assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University Medical Center and Columbia’s Data Science Institute. “The risk related to birth month is relatively minor when compared to more influential variables like diet and exercise.”

An excerpt from the study states:

Hippocrates described a connection between seasonality and disease nearly 2500 years ago, “for knowing the changes of the seasons … how each of them takes place, he [the clinician] will be able to know beforehand what sort of a year is going to ensue … for with the seasons the digestive organs of men undergo a change.” Following in footsteps laid more than 2 millennia ago, recent studies have linked birth month with neurological,reproductive,endocrineand immune/inflammatory disorders, and overall lifespan.

Many disease-dependent mechanisms exist relating disease-risk to birth month. For example, evidence linking a subtype of asthma to birth month was presented in 1983. They found that individuals born in seasons with more abundant home dust mites had a 40% increased risk of developing asthma complicated by dust mite allergies. Their finding was corroborated later when it was found that sensitization to allergens during infancy increases lifetime risk of developing allergies.  In addition, some neurological conditions may be associated with birth month because of seasonal variations in vitamin D and thymic output. Understanding disease birth month dependencies is challenging because of the diversity of seasonal affects and connections to disease-risk.

Researchers plan to look at data from other U.S. and international locations to examine how results vary with the change of seasons and environmental factors, according to Columbia.

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This data visualization maps the statistical relationship between birth month and disease incidence in the electronic records of 1.7 million New York City patients. (Credit: Dr. Nick Tatonetti/Columbia University Medical Center)

This data visualization maps the statistical relationship between birth month and disease incidence in the electronic records of 1.7 million New York City patients. (Credit: Dr. Nick Tatonetti/Columbia University Medical Center)