Sunday, March 1, 2009

Anoxia, Reduced Oxygen at Birth and Adult Behavior

It stands to reason that pre-natal traumas are generally all encompassing; we should find damage almost everywhere we look. The problem is that without an all-encompassing theory that directs us where to look we would never put together heart attacks at fifty with a trauma at minus six weeks.

There are several studies that have looked into fetal hypoxia (reduced oxygen) and the results systematically seem to be severe emotional illness later in life. (see: Behavioral Alterations in Rats Following Neonatal Hypoxia and Effects of Clozapine.” Fendt.M., et al., Pharmacopsychiatry 2008 Jul; 41 (4) 138-45) (Also see: “Decreased Neurotrophic Response to Birth Hypoxia in the Etiology of Schizophrenia.” T.D. Cannon, et al., Biological Psychiatry. Vol 64, Issue 9 Nov. 2008. Pgs 797-802) There is more and more information about the later ill effects of traumas at birth and before. It behooves us to look into this as those entrusted to heal mentally ill patients. Without this understanding we will not know where to look in order to heal patients. The information is out there; it is up to us in the healing professions to seek it out.

The question is, “why hypoxia in schizophrenia?” There are several explanations. What I have witnessed over and again is that the fetus is in danger of dying from lack of oxygen and then does not have the wherewithal to combat the trauma (a mother smoking, for ex.). Lack of sufficient oxygen is a terrible stressor. If it continues death is in the offing. Further, it leaves the fetus and baby with insufficient resources to combat future stress. The danger remains as a substrate so that any later trauma can set it off; hence breathing problems. So anxiety reactions to seemingly non-toxic situation are inordinate and out of keeping with the gravity of the current situation. They have simply reawakened the almost dying while in the womb. It is never a matter of changing attitudes, as the cognitivists would have it; it is a matter of what shaped those attitudes, in the first place.

I have discussed the notion of the “critical window” in my other works; it simply is that time in life when needs must be fulfilled, and at no other time. We can hug a child all day at age ten but it will not erase the lack of touch for the first 4 months of life which seriously deregulated the whole system and left a legacy of internally imprinted pain; a pain for which one must constantly take pain-killers. And it remains a mystery to the loving adoptive parents who took the child from an orphanage at the age of twelve weeks.

There is no way to make up for that loss except when going back to relive the original trauma. There is no way to “make up for” this deficit as much as we might want to. It is set in altered biologic set-points. We can treat the damage this does (kidney disease) but not its causes. The whole nervous system must retreat to the time when the trauma occurred; it can never be a matter of “remembering.” It has to be organic and systemic memory. That is, part of the precise memory lies in those new set-points. And they are wedded to how they first developed, in the first place.

There is a critical window for healthy functioning kidneys. It is sometime in the last trimester of gestation that most kidney cells (nephrons) are developing (up to the 36th week). Nephron development begins just after the eighth week. Trauma here, however subtle, may result in later kidney disease, with no apparent immediate cause. Once that damage is done we can only treat its symptoms (unless and until we address origins).

Physiologic reactions are the base that feelings are constructed on. What distorts those physiologic responses will ultimately distort psychological reactions, as well. If the system is highly activated due to early trauma, chances are we will have a hyperactive individual who will search out projects to keep herself active and busy. If dopamine and other alerting chemicals are in short supply we may later have someone who is phlegmatic, concocts reasons for not doing anything, for not following through. It is not a one-to-one relationship, but we eventually direct our psychology. If we don’t have all of the mobilizing chemicals we need it stands to reason that the adult, in order to keep matters egosyntonic (comfortable to the person), will rationalize why he doesn’t try and doesn’t persist.

I will sum up once more: high stress hormones in the carrying mother usually means high levels in the fetus. The baby who is born with allergies or other problems is already imprinted with trauma. She is born with a higher than normal stress level, which means that new events that are even moderately stressful will engender inordinate reactions. All kinds of diseases later on will follow from this. So even mild allergens can produce a serious allergic reaction, or a migraine. It means there will be impulsive out-of-control behavior; out-of-control because the level of mobilization/vigilance is already high. It doesn’t take much to set it off.


  1. It is known that there is a connection between anoxia at birth and epilepsy. I wonder why it is so hard for people, especially in psychiatry, to believe that there is a connection between birth/pre-birth anoxia and later mental illness. 

    1. People, especially in psychiatry, function mainly on the cortical (thinking) level of the brain and are disconnected from the other two levels (feeling and physical). Therefore they are unable to make the connections because they are unable to be fully consciously aware on all three levels of the brain.

  2. Are you suggesting that hypoxia triggers the mind-body split that is characteristic for schizophrenics (and schizoid persons the like)? As a means of escape from the physical terror of asphyxiation?

  3. my son had hypoxia at birth, to this day I don't know how long he wasn't breathing but he has always suffered with behavioral and emotional issues. He is now five and diagnosed with adhd, they are exploring the poss of behavioral and mood disorders with him. I wish they would have let me know that this was a possibility to be aware of BEFORE sending me home from the hospital with him.

    1. Were they using a fetal heart monitor before he was born? I wonder if this would provide any clues.

  4. Kama I wish doctors were more aware, in general. I lot of misfortune could be avoided. I do hope you are in good hands now. my best art janov

  5. I was told that my son suffered from trauma in
    the birth canal, after his birth. His eyes had
    a bruised and bloody look in them for several
    months after he was born. He has very poor vision
    and was diagnosed with a severe mental illness
    6 yrs ago.--schizoaffective bipolar disorder.
    He is now 28 yrs old. And is disabled with the
    disorder. However he has gotten better this last year, but still suffers greatly at times. I have
    wondered if the trauma he suffered at birth has
    a connection with his health now.

  6. Anonymous: Hi I think the best answer I can give is to have you read Life before birth coming out in 60 days. It discusses all this. AJ

  7. What if the mother wasn't a smoker and the cause of anoxia was simply that the midwife who delivered the home birth didn't have access to traditional services available in most hospitals. My sister lived the life of a holistic homeopath which her spouse had practiced at the time (1977). My niece is limited in her cognitive abilities but hasn't exhibited any severe health conditions, including mental health. Although, her condition has caused mistreatment from others (2 of her siblings are not especially supportive). Her high level functioning has allowed her to avoid care and treatment unfortunately. It's probably more difficult to address her needs now as an adult than it would have been earlier. Without a diagnosis can anything be done to help her? Auntie Lavon

  8. Auntie Lavon: Sorry but I cannot deliver advice both for ethical reasons and also because I do not have enough information. Beware of experts. art

  9. Is there a correlation between insufficient oxygen at birth and ultimate alcoholism or bipolar disease? Concerned that AA is seen as only option for many when newer medical interventions might serve as an adjunct. Our younger, 29 yr. old daughter, fell into alcoholism 3 years ago, after she left her husband following his infidelities. She has received lots of support from family and friends, but she has become a very different person since and has challenges holding down a job. She moved into a sober living home this week after another bad episode. She had some learning challenges throughout childhood, and has always been very sensitive by nature, which we were told might occur after her complicated and very long birth by cesarean. Otherwise, she had a normal, loving and embracing childhood and has always been a lovely, joyful young woman with many talents and thoughtful ways.

  10. Anonymous: I am not sure what I am supposed to answer, but yes insufficient oxygen at birth leads to all kinds of later problems. On t he fifteenth you can order Life Before Birth which discusses it. art janov

  11. My uncle had hypoxia at birth, he was born not crying and nurses had to slap him, put him upside down in order to get him to cry..

    He was a brilliant mathematician who won many prizes during his teenager years, he was into religion and classical music as well (had a world of his own mind).

    When he turned 19, he started to act very strange, and he suffered from schizophrenia all his life up till his suicide last year at the age of 65.

    So much suffering for him and those around him, all his talents wasted.. there are no one with schizophrenia in the family, and the doctor pointed out that the only reason could be the hypoxic trauma at birth...

  12. Thank you for sharing something about Anoxia. It is indeed one of the most interesting topics I've ever heard so far. Thanks a lot for sharing! Have a nice day.

  13. My daughter is 32 years old and a drug addict. At age 9 and 18 months, she had Spasmodic Croup and was oxygen deprived (lips turning blue) on the way to the hospital. Hospitalized in oxygen tent for three days each time. She was diagnosed with ADD at age 6 but exhibited behavior problems early on. She struggled in school and didn't have many friends. Her teenage and adult years exhibiting personality disorders such as Boarderline and Sociopathic tendancies. Long history of being in trouble with law and done some pretty horrible things with no remorse, no conscience, empathy or compassion. Sadly, our family has had to disconnect from her with all she has done. I want to help her, and she has said she is now willing to seek help. I have tried telling her that she suffered some sort of damage from oxygen deprivation as a baby, but she doesn't believe me. Could this happen in later years to cause these kinds of problems? What kind of tests should be done to help her. Treatment? I am at my witts end and want to help her.

    1. Hi, I do know how you are at wit’s end but there is not much I can do. It sounds more like she would need inpatient help for a time and then we could examine the situation and decide.Then she would need to apply on her own and she would need to read some of my books to know what she would be getting into. Sorry, wish I could be of more help. Dr. Janov

    2. Hi ,probably not doing this right ,so I send again .message fir arthur janov .I read your article with aammzement which might explain 27 years of difficulties .my son is 27 and has had 2 kidney transplants due to an undiagnosed kidney failure which presented itself when he was 7 . He also is scared of enclosed spaces like elevators and tubes (we live in London ) .he has got depressed and has mood swings . He has recently been prosecuted for drink driving on two occasions within 2 days !! He was born without breathing for 8 minutes at least and was a full term pregnancy weighing 7 pounds .please contact me on or the Gmail account Jonathan.Hunter142@Gmail. Com

    3. Jonathan, I cannot contact you if you do not apply. I cannot comment since I know so little of it all and I do not discuss it by phone. You can apply online on our website. Thank you, Dr. Janov

  14. My son also had a very difficult birth, his heart rate would dip when I pushed because the cord was around his neck. The doctor continued making me push and used the suction cup to get him out. He was ash grey/blue and had poor muscle tone, had ingested muconium (sp?) and refused to nurse...I should have been taken for a c-section-but I was on welfare, guessing this played a role. My son is 24 years old, has had behavior issues his entire life and continues to struggle-he doesn't have the health issues I am hearing about here-although he does suffer from fibromyalgia as do my mother and myself-so likely more heredity than not. I am planning on requesting all his medical, school and mental health records and would like to compile this information if anyone would like to join me we could put together our stories in a book about these children. Just an idea.

    1. Erin, It is so tragic. I have been writing about this for years. The best to you. art janov

  15. Thank you, I am lucky in many ways-my son and I have a great relationship. I started a small business so he may hopefully be able to make an income and feel some satisfaction and the business is in the cannabis industry which helps his anxiety and depression-so, we are working toward the future-good days and bad days. I, like most other parents worry what will happen to my child if I pass away. I am considering trying for disability for him because he literally cannot work outside the home at this point. I am his caretaker 100% I have talked to him about what he should do, planned with him, but it is still a fear of mine.

    1. I do understand. It is not easy but it seems you have a lot of inner strength. dr. janov


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.