“Is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia?“
Volume 63, Issue 4, 2004, Pages 740-747
Existing etiological and pathogenetical theories of schizophrenia have only been able to find support in some epidemiological, clinical, and pathophysiological facts. A selective literature review and synthesis is used to present a hypothesis that finds support in all facts and is contradicted by none.
Heeled footwear began to be used more than a 1000 years ago, and led to the occurrence of the first cases of schizophrenia. Industrialization of shoe production increased schizophrenia prevalence. Mechanization of the production started in Massachusetts, spread from there to England and Germany, and then to the rest of Western Europe. A remarkable increase in schizophrenia prevalence followed the same pattern. In Baden in Germany the increasing stream of young patients more or less hastily progrediating to a severe state of cognitive impairment made it possible for Kraepelin to delineate dementia praecox as a nosological entity. The patients continued to use heeled shoes after they were admitted to the hospitals and the disease progrediated.
High rates of schizophrenia are found among first-generation immigrants from regions with a warmer climate to regions with a colder climate, where the use of shoes is more common. Still higher rates among second-generation immigrants are caused by the use of shoes during the onset of walking at an age of about 11–12 months. Other findings point to the importance of this in the later development of schizophrenia. A child born in January–March begins to walk in December–March, when it’s cold outside and the chances of going barefoot are smaller. They are also smaller in urban settings.
During walking synchronised stimuli from mechanoreceptors in the lower extremities increase activity in cerebello-thalamo-cortico-cerebellar loops through their action on NMDA-receptors. Using heeled shoes leads to weaker stimulation of the loops. Reduced cortical activity changes dopaminergic function which involves the basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical-nigro-basal ganglia loops. Bicycle riding reduces depression in schizophrenia due to stronger stimulation by improved lengthening contractions of the triceps surae muscles. Electrode stimulation of cerebellar loops normally stimulated by mechanoreceptors in the lower extremities could improve functioning in schizophrenia.
Cross-sectional prevalence studies of the association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia should be made in immigrants from regions with a warmer climate or in groups of people who began to wear shoes at different ages.