I just finished reading an article entitled The Insanity Virus by Douglas Fox (Discover Magazine, June 2010) about the connection between a virus and mental illness. The virus HERV-W is a retrovirus that could trigger diseases like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and MS. The virus lives in a person's DNA and the proposal is that if a person has a weakened immune system shortly after birth, this virus isn't contained well. Subsequent infections later in life cause the HERV-W to unleash itself and do damage....
Apparently, it is thought that infection by toxoplasmosis or influenza, can wake up the HERV-W virus. Moreso, basically anything that causes inflammation - like an infection, cigarette smoke, pollutants in drinking water - can cause retroviruses to be awakened...
Beyond the science of the article (which is quite intriguing!), I'm interested in the practical implications of what this could mean, and one statement from this article about schizophrenia says: "It explains why the disease waxes and wanes like a chronic infection. And it could explain why some schizophrenics suffer their first psychosis after a mysterious, monolike illness."
Current reasoning for the waxing and waning of mental illness has to do with things like: changes in levels of stress, changes in medication, ability to cope, lifelong progression of the illness, etc. What if it also has to do with the immune system?
I, personally, often feel that my mood is effected by physical sickness. I started taking zinc to treat a cold and then found that it helps my depression.
If a person is under more stress, they are more likely to get physically sick, as well as have increased psychiatric symptoms.
Should treating our immune system be part of treating bipolar disorder? The article has this solution: Faith Dickerson at Sheppard Pratt Health System, "is running a clinical trial to examine whether adding an anti-infective agent called artemisinin to the drugs that patients are already taking can lessen the symptoms of schizophrenia. The drug would hit HERV-W indirectly by tamping down the infections that awaken it."