Did wine make Beethoven deaf?

Thursday, 23 May, 2024
The Drinks Business, Louis Thomas
Famed composer Ludwig van Beethoven may have become deaf as a direct result of his diet, according to a recent study from Harvard University.

Beethoven’s hearing loss, resulting in complete deafness by the time he reached his mid-40s, has been the subject of much debate over the centuries. All manner of causes have been theorised, including exposure to loud music, lupus and syphilis, but the latest research suggests that the man behind some of the greatest symphonies in the history of music went deaf due to lead poisoning.

Analysis of two locks of hair from the ex-composer’s head revealed levels of lead around 90 times higher than normal.

While the people of the late 18th and early 19th centuries could become exposed to the deadly metal through a number of ways, including in the form of white lead used to powder wigs, the researchers theorise that it was actually what he ate and drank that was to blame.

In the journal of Clinical Chemistry, the authors argued that “suggested primary sources of lead exposure include plumbed wine, dietary factors, and medical treatments”.

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