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January 12, 2000

Did Andrew Jackson Have Mercury Poisoning?—Reply

Author Affiliations

Phil B.FontanarosaMD, Deputy EditorIndividualAuthorMargaret A.WinkerMD, Deputy EditorIndividualAuthorStephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Fishbein FellowIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 2000;283(2):200-201. doi:10-1001/pubs.JAMA-ISSN-0098-7484-283-2-jbk0112

In Reply: We hold to our contention that President Andrew Jackson did not die from calomel (mercurous chloride) poisoning. Although we recognize the controversy over the usefulness of hair analysis as a determinant of heavy metal exposure, we believe that the results of our analysis of Jackson's hair support our conclusion.

A number of researchers have used hair as a measure of exposure to mercury, whether the mercury is in the form of elemental mercury1 or an inorganic salt.2 Suzuki et al2 reported a case of acute mercury poisoning due to the deliberate ingestion of mercuric chloride. Hair analysis revealed a substantial elevation in organic mercury that corresponded to the time of mercury ingestion. The authors speculated that there are alternative avenues for inorganic mercury to enter the hair other than incorporation via the matrix of the hair and root sheath, (eg, sebum, eccrine sweat, apocrine sweat, and desquamated epidermis).

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