Lead, Mercury Made Andrew Jackson Ill but Didn’t Kill Him, Study Suggests

Analysis of hair from President Andrew Jackson suggests that many of his chronic disorders were caused by exposure to lead and mercury, but that he probably didn’t die from heavy metal poisoning as many historians have speculated. Jackson suffered excessive salivation, rapid tooth loss, colic, diarrhea, pallor, hand tremor, irritability, paranoia, violent mood swings and chronic kidney failure--all of which could be caused by exposure to mercury and lead.

Dr. Ludwig M. Deppisch of the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and his colleagues report in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Assn. that Jackson’s preserved hair has above-normal levels of mercury and high, but not fatal, levels of lead. Jackson was frequently treated with “sugar of lead” to control bleeding and diarrhea. He had also been shot several times with lead bullets that were not removed.

Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II