Whether it's racing, jumping horses, or wake-boarding…Lakelynn and her brother Jarrett Parker aren't afraid to take risks.

"I just feel like you know you're not going to live forever, so in my eyes you might as well do what you enjoy," says Lakelynn Parker, extreme sports enthusiast.

The brother and sister share a love for thrills.  "I think it's definitely an adrenaline rush for me."

Lakelynn has long competed in horse sports and wake-boarded. Jarrett, since he was nine, has felt the need for speed.

"Not really a whole lot goes to your mind...you want to win…I guess that's the driving factor," explains Jarrett Parker, who races late model cars and pro trucks. 

So, what gives them the courage to do this kind of stuff? Could it be because they have a cat or either grew up with one?

"I actually do have one cat," laughs Lakelynn.

Get this some scientists are making a connection between people with cats and daredevil activities.

The culprit? Cat litter, or more specifically what's in it. Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that effects mice.  It reproduces inside the intestine of a cat, which then sheds the parasite in its stool.

The parasite takes up residence in the brains of mice when they eats food or water contaminated with cat feces. The result: no fear to cat urine making mice easier prey.

Even more bizarre, the same parasite could have the same effect on people. Recent studies are pointing to an association between the parasitic infection and an increased risk of schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Fearlessness.

"I mean growing up my mom did have one cat and growing up in a barn we have horses and all that so I had barn cats as a little kid...so maybe that might be something to do with it...I don't know," Jarrett says.

There have been a plethora of studies on Toxoplasmosis and its effects on human behavior, some of the studies go back as far as 1973. Most recent, is a study on Latent Toxoplasmosis and Humans, in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

While many researchers believe it can alter human behavior. Not everyone is jumping on the theory. Dr. Anita Koshy, an Associate Professor of Immunobiology at the University of Arizona, has done extensive research on Toxoplasmosis.

She is particularly interested in how it could lead to new therapies. She's just not convinced that it could change human behavior…like taking away fear.

"I don't think there is the data to support that…there are good studies…but I don't think there's enough," explains Anita Koshy, MD, associate professor in the Department of Neurology. 

At least at a population level it doesn't seem to be a driving force she says; adding if there is a true relationship between Toxoplasmosis and being a daredevil and mental illness like schizophrenia…then serological tests would reflect that.

"And that's not true most estimates suggest that schizophrenia...its incidence is pretty equal across the world."

As for our daring siblings… something gave them the courage.

"I'm open to studies so if they have a science to prove it I am open to learning about it," Lakelynn says.

And they have no plans of slowing down.

"I guess I've been doing it so long that it doesn't bother me…it's just anything you want to put me in...I'll go drive it," Jarrett exclaims.

Touching kitty litter and not washing your hands after is just one way you can get Toxoplasmosis.

It also spreads through contaminated water sources, and eating raw meat like pork and lamb.

Toxoplasmosis can be dangerous for pregnant women, putting their baby at risk for blindness and mental disability. That said, there is no need to give up your beloved cat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

Avoid changing cat litter if possible. If no one else can perform the task, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards.

  • Ensure that the cat litter box is changed daily. The Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.
  • Feed your cat commercial dry or canned food, not raw or undercooked meats.
  • Keep cats indoors.
  • Avoid stray cats, especially kittens. Do not get a new cat while you are pregnant.
  • Keep outdoor sandboxes covered.
  • Wear gloves when gardening and during contact with soil or sand because it might be contaminated with cat feces that contain Toxoplasma. Wash hands with soap and warm water after gardening or contact with soil or sand.
Mind-Altering Parasite

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