Beethoven deaf due to wine? The discovery in lead concentrations in hair

An American study published in the journal Clinical Chemistry on two locks of hair by the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), belonging to Kevin Brown's collection, has demonstrated the presence within them of very high quantities of heavy metalsabove all leadand thus perhaps revealed the cause of his deafness. Already as a young man (when he was less than 30 years old), the musician encountered a profound problem physical decay: i Health problems documented they were gastrointestinal disorders, kidneys and, precisely, the decreased hearing. The presence of lead and these problems may be related and the metal may have accumulated in the composer's body due to continuous ingestion of cheap wine: at the time lead was used for its production and conservation.

The strands of hair used in the research are recognized as authentic (also thanks to DNA analysis) and were given by Beethoven to friends and acquaintances in the years immediately preceding his death. These have been analyzed by scholars William Meredith, Nader Rifai, Sarah A Erdahl and Paul Jannetto. While acknowledging the possibility that the samples may have been contaminated between Beethoven's death and today, the presence of large quantities of heavy metals was found in them: lead (in quantities much higher than average, between 64 and 95 times), arsenic (13 times higher than average) e mercury (4 times higher than average).

While the observed lead levels are not believed to have directly caused Beethoven's death, they may have contributed to his Health problems. In fact, based on the data collected, the estimate of the percentage of lead present in Beethoven's blood would have been between 69 and 71 micrograms per deciliter. This concentration, while not high enough to cause death, may be associated with hearing loss and to renal and gastrointestinal dysfunction, of which Beethoven always complained throughout his life.

The causes of the possible presence of such a high concentration of heavy metals in the German composer's body are difficult to trace. According to the authors of the study, it could be linked to several factors, such as diet or the use that was made of some of these metals in the medicine of the time. It must also be recognized that until the 19th century, the use of lead for the preservation and production of lead was quite common wine cheap (to influence its flavor and color) and that Beethoven drank it in large quantities (at least one bottle a day).