Vitamin D deficiency may have contributed to Mozart's death
An interesting new hypothesis suggests Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may have died from vitamin D deficiency.
In a letter published in "Medical Problems of Performing Artists", the first clinical medical journal devoted to the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of medical and psychological disorders related to the performing arts, William B. Grant, Ph.D. and Stefan Pilz, M.D. suggest vitamin D deficiency is an important issue for modern day musicians.
Mozart died at young ages, and in the winter months when sunshine is sparse, as did Gustav Mahler.
According to the authors, “It is difficult to pin down the exact cause, and likely a number of factors contributed to his (Mozart’s) early death”, but they note the possibility of vitamin D deficiency has been overlooked.
Dr. Grant, who is director of the the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC), and Dr. Pilz from the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, University of Graz, Austria, note it’s “impossible” to make vitamin D at the latitude of Vienna, six months out of the year.
They also note Mozart did much of his composing at night. It may have been very low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] levels that contributed to Mozart’s untimely death.
The possibility also correlates with fever, sore throat and colds that Mozart reportedly suffered from 1762 to 1783, between mid-October and mid-May.
The authors write, "In addition, many of the other diseases that were common causes of death of that period in Vienna, including tuberculosis, cancer, diabetes mellitus, heart failure, cerebrovascular events, pneumonia, and other infectious diseases, have low serum 25(OH)D level as an important risk factor."
Modern day musicians at risk for low levels of vitamin D
The researchers also note the modern-day British cellist, Jacqueline Mary du Pré, who died at the age of 42 from the vitamin D-deficiency related disease multiple sclerosis, has implications for today’s musicians who should be cautious about low levels of the vitamin.
The authors say understanding that vitamin D deficiency may have contributed to the deaths of Mozart and Gustav Mahler who died at the age of 41 from bacterial endocarditis. is important for modern day musicians who may be at high risk for illness and infection from low levels of circulating vitamin D.
Time spent indoors increases the risk of developing vitamin D deficiency. Ten to twenty minutes of sun exposure, spring to fall, with 20-30% of the body exposed daily, or supplementing with 1000-4000 IU/day vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) a day is recommended for those at risk.
During winter months, vitamin D levels drop from lack of exposure to sunlight. The authors write,” Mozart died on December 5, 1791, two to three months into the vitamin D winter. The half-life of 25(OH)D in the human body is 4 to 6 weeks, his serum 25(OH)D levels would have been very low.”
In conclusion, the authors say musicians who spent much time indoors should consider vitamin D testing and supplementation if needed, with re-testing in approximately two months.
Grant WB, Pilz S. Vitamin D deficiency contributed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s death. Med Probl Perform Art. June 2011;26(2):117.
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