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Why was Beethoven Deaf?

More than 150 years after the death of arguably the world's greatest composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory are finally able to explain what made him sick and how he died. Beethoven was healthy through his early life and studied with Mozart and Hayden.

When he was 17, he started a life-long practice of visiting spas and drinking the mineral water. In his early 20s, he developed belly pain for the first time, and these terrible pains tormented him throughout the rest of his life. At age 31, while being acknowledged as one of the world's greatest composers, he started to lose his hearing and became totally deaf at 42. Then he started manic-depressive rages. His friends described Beethoven as very gruff with a good sense of humor. Those who visited him didn't know whether to expect him to be just charming or to go into irrational rage.

At age 57, he died of pneumonia, and a young Jewish musician named Ferdinand Hiller, snipped some hair from the head of Ludwig Van Beethoven and for a century, the hair was kept by descendants of the Hiller family. During the Holocaust, a Danish doctor named Kay Alexander Fremming helped rescue Jews by helping them reach Sweden by boat. The Hiller family gave the hair to Dr Fremming in gratitude for her heroic help. After Dr. Fremming died, her daughter consigned the hair for auction to Sotheby's in London and 582 strands of hair, 3 to 6 inches long were sold for $7,300 to Ira Brilliant, Alfredo Guevera and other members of the Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at California's San Jose State University.

This week the results of special tests at the Argonne National Laboratory reported that Beethoven suffered from lead poisoning as his hair contained lead at more than 100 times the highest level of normal. Lead poisoning probably came from the mineral spas that he attended. Lead poisoning causes nerve damage and that could explain his deafness, brain damage and that explains his manic depression, horrible intestinal cramps to explain his terrible belly pain, and death.

Checked 9/19/11

June 1st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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