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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Is There a Schedule for Sickness?

ST. PETERSBURG -- Was President Boris Yeltsin's quintuple heart bypass operation in 1996 a serious error of timing? A St. Petersburg medic thinks so.

"Yeltsin had the operation in November, followed by complications in January - the month before his birthday [on Feb. 1], when his immune and other systems were at their weakest," said Valentina Shaposhnikova, a proponent of the ancient Oriental study of biorhythms. "From the point of view of biorhythms, the operation should have been postponed."

The chronobiological science - founded on the principle that a vital force flows through the body in cycles, alternately affecting the liver, heart, kidneys and other organs - was based on the discovery that the body's organs function more effectively at certain times of the day and year.

Shaposhnikova began her study of biorhythms in 1969, monitoring the achievements of athletes, particularly in cycles of a year or more, until she was able to predict sporting performance using her work.

"In observing younger sportsmen for a number of years, I noticed that certain talented sportsmen had peaks of activity with noticeable regularity," she said. "I also discovered that a sportsman's period of maximum productivity achievement falls on the first month after his birthday."

Shaposhnikova has moved beyond the realm of sporting predictions, however, with the discovery by one of her colleagues that human susceptibility to tuberculosis also occurs in cycles. Shaposhnikova therefore decided to examine other illnesses.

"I went to the St. Petersburg Department of Statistics and studied 1,400 cases of heart attacks that resulted in death," Shaposhnikova said. "All the documents contained the necessary information on birthdays and death dates. I processed this data through a special computer program and discovered another pattern: The vast majority of cases fell on the last month before the patient's birthday."

Research on children who fell ill with scarlet fever produced similar results. "Your chances of developing scarlet fever through contact with an infected person depend primarily on your immune system. The fact that the majority of children got sick one month before their birthdays proved that their immune system was at its weakest [at that point]," Shaposhnikova said. "Again, blood tests confirmed the conclusions."

So, what is so portentous about the month before one's birthday? Studies in the 1960s pointed to the existence of an endogenous year - influenced by genetics rather than external factors - in the human life span - a year that begins from conception and runs until the third month after birth.

Working with the Moscow Institute for Pediatric Research, Shaposhnikova discovered a two- or three-year endogenous cycle - depending on certain hormones - for every human being.

"The twelfth month after one's birthday coincides with a specific period in the endogenous cycle [originally the ninth month of the embryo's development]," Shaposhnikova explained. "The body remembers the stress caused by birth. This stress is imprinted in the memory of the newly born child, causing the hypersecretion of hormones every time the endogenous cycle reaches that mark. What with the additional stress at the hospital, one's survival chances are reduced."

But although the Moscow Institute for Pediatric Research recognizes Shaposhnikova's work, practicing doctors are not paying much attention.

"It is not that I am suspicious of chronobiology, not at all," said Yury, 53, a surgeon working at a private clinic. "But when I see a case of appendicitis - let alone certain cases of cancer - I have to operate immediately. If we start taking biorhythms into account, we will have to stop working as effectively."

"From my own experience and that of others, I've learned that biorhythms don't automatically work for everyone all of the time," Shaposhnikova said. "But I am convinced that it should be given more serious thought by practicing doctors."