Antimony is a metallic element, frequently found in nature with arsenic. For this reason, antimony-based compounds, which were popular with doctors for centuries, were often contaminated with arsenic.
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A new hair analysis suggests that the kings doctors may have exacerbated his illness by inadvertent arsenic poisoning.
King George III (1738-1820) held the throne of the British monarchy during the American Revolution and the defeat of Napoleon, and he was rather crazy.
Martin Warren of the University of Kent, UK, and his colleagues have now analyzed the heavy metal content of the hair and detected a high level of arsenic.
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Although this genetic defect can explain the kings physical suffering and mental incapacity, the persistence, severity and late onset of his episodes are unusual.
His long reign was punctuated by severe bouts of mental derangement.
Its possible that environmental factors contributed.
The source of this arsenic may have been the kings own doctors. During his illness outbreaks, they prescribed him emetic tartar — an antimony-based medicine used to induce vomiting.
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Scientists have previously studied a lock of the kings hair, which was collected at the time of his death and is now owned by a museum, but attempts to glean genetic information have failed.
In 1969, it was proposed that George III suffered from hereditary porphyria — a genetic condition that affects the synthesis of heme, an important component in blood. This posthumous diagnosis was based on historical medical records and the presence of the disease in other members of the royal line.
The concentration found in the kings hair was 17 times what is believed to be the threshold for arsenic poisoning.
The Royal physicians clinical notes make for disturbing reading, since the medication was clearly administered by force or deception, write the researchers in their July 23 article forLancet.
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If this were the case in the kings medications, he could have been receiving several milligrams of arsenic a day (a lethal dose, in comparison, is between 60 and 80 milligrams). The body can expel arsenic, but over time a chronic toxicity develops.
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An attack of porphyria can cause a variety of symptoms including abdominal pain, a racing pulse, constipation, and red or discolored urine, as well as mental disturbances such as hallucinations, depression and paranoia.
Arsenic interferes with the same heme-synthesis, so its presence could have induced and perhaps worsened the kings acute attacks of porphyria, the researchers say.
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