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  • Writer's pictureD. P. Lyle

Beethoven’s Liver



It has long been thought that Beethoven died from lead poisoning, and indeed he might have, But recent analysis of his DNA, obtained from hair samples, has added to the mystery. His autopsy revealed that he had severe cirrhosis of his liver. This is a scarring and shrinking of the liver and it is caused by many things. Alcohol consumption and hepatitis are two of the more common causes. So is a rare genetic disorder called hemochromatosis.


Hemochromatosis is classified as an iron storage disease. The body does not excrete ingested iron properly and it accumulates in the liver, which causes liver disfunction and can lead to cirrhosis. The treatment is to remove iron from the body by “bleeding” the patient. Bleeding was erroneously a common ancient treatment for just about everything but in this case it works. The red blood cells in the body are reich in iron, as iron is needed to transport oxygen to the tissues. Removing the RBCs lowers the body’s iron stores and helps diminish the problems caused by excess iron.


It seems that Beethoven had the genes for hereditary hemochromatosis, and may also have had hepatitis B. He, of course, was known to enjoy alcohol. So, it’s possible these three conspired to destroy his liver and lead to his death.





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