Beethoven’s Hair Might Explain Famous Composer’s Loss of Hearing

Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the most famous composers in history. He managed to achieve this status despite starting to lose his hearing in his twenties and becoming completely deaf towards the end of his life.

The reason for Beethoven’s hearing problems, as well as several other health issues he faced during his life, was a mystery at the time of his death in 1827 and in the following centuries. However, that mystery might have been finally resolved.

A team of researchers recently analyzed locks of Beethoven’s hair and concluded it contained clues that explain the deafness and gastrointestinal problems the famous composer experienced. According to a study published in the journal Clinical Chemistry, one lock contained 258 micrograms of lead per gram of hair, while the other had 380 micrograms alongside high amounts of arsenic and mercury. The normal level is 4 micrograms of lead per gram.

“These are the highest values in hair I’ve ever seen,” Paul Jannetto, one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times. “We get samples from around the world, and these values are an order of magnitude higher.”

According to experts, the gastrointestinal problems Beethoven experienced are consistent with lead poisoning. Additionally, high amounts of lead could affect the nervous system and lead to loss of hearing.

Researchers theorize that Beethoven most likely got lead poisoning from drinking contaminated wine, having been an avid wine enthusiast throughout his life.  At the time, cheap wine was mixed with lead acetate while also being aged in lead-soldered kettles. Also, he ate a lot of fish, most of which came from the heavily polluted Danube River.

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