It was all yellow: did digitalis affect the way Van Gogh saw the world?

It was all yellow: did digitalis affect the way Van Gogh saw the world?

click photo for more information
It was all yellow: did digitalis affect the way Van Gogh saw the world?
Extracted from foxgloves, digitalis was once used as a treatment for epilepsy. Could a side effect have triggered the artists yellow period? It was recently the 127th anniversary of the tragic death of may have been treated with digitalis for the epileptic fits he experienced. Digitalis, extracted from foxglove plants, is a powerful medicine still […]

Extracted from foxgloves, digitalis was once used as a treatment for epilepsy. Could a side effect have triggered the artists yellow period?

It was recently the 127th anniversary of the tragic death of Vincent van Gogh. His short life came to an untimely end two days after he shot himself in the chest; he had experienced mental health issues through much of his life. In the absence of a definitive diagnosis, speculation as to the true nature of his illness fills volumes.

Although he came under the care of several doctors during his life time, knowledge of diseases of the mind was in its infancy in the late nineteenth century. As a result, many of the treatments used at the time would have been ineffective if not potentially dangerous. From our point of view, however, one drug that might have been given to Van Gogh is particularly interesting.

Towards the end of his life, under the care of Dr Gachet, it seems that Van Gogh may have been treated with digitalis for the epileptic fits he experienced. Digitalis, extracted from foxglove plants, is a powerful medicine still in use today as a treatment for certain heart conditions, but not epilepsy. In Van Goghs day, and for a long time before then, digitalis was known to be an effective treatment of dropsy, or accumulation of fluid in the body. Dropsy could have been caused by inefficient beating of the heart or because of liver disease. But with little understanding of the underlying causes of many diseases, almost anything shown to have an effect on the body even if that was simply to induce vomiting was considered a medical benefit. If the treatment for one disease was successful, it was often tried out on a host of others, just in case it proved to be a panacea. Extracts of foxglove really would have been effective in treating dropsy caused by heart failure, but would have done nothing for Van Goghs epilepsy. However, it is just possible it may have contributed to his artistic output.

Portrait
Portrait of Dr Gachet, by Vincent van Gogh. Gachet holds a foxglove, seen by some to suggest that he treated Van Gogh with digitalis. Photograph: DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images

Digitalis is, in fact, a mixture of several different compounds that today are separated and used individually to treat heart conditions. One of the compounds, digoxin, is listed by the World Health Organisation as an essential medicine because of its huge benefit in the treatment of abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation. Digoxin has two effects on the heart. Firstly, it helps to control the electrical signals that are sent across the heart to trigger the cells to beat in a coordinated way producing a heartbeat. Secondly, it makes the individual heart cells contract more slowly and strongly, improving the efficiency of the pumping action to move blood round the body.

To achieve these effects on the heart, digoxin and related compounds interact with the enzyme Na+/K+ ATPase. Digoxin is a very potent drug, the therapeutic dose is miniscule, and it is very close to the level that can also produce digitalis intoxication. Such a narrow gap between a therapeutic and potentially harmful dose would simply not be tolerated in a new drug being brought to market. However, the undoubted benefit of digoxin and its long history of use means it is a vital part of modern medicine. Because the drug has been in use for so long over 200 years, since the physician William Withering advocated its use in 1775 we have had plenty of time to understand how the drug works and the potential side-effects. Patients taking digoxin are carefully monitored and a number of antidotes have been developed to treat overdoses.

The problem, as with all drugs, is side-effects. To achieve its effects on the heart, digoxin and related compounds interact with the enzyme Na+/K+ ATPase.Digoxins strong interaction with the enzyme means it is very potent, but Na+/K+ ATPase is distributed throughout the body. It is therefore the interaction between the drug and the enzymes located elsewhere in the body that is the cause of side-effects. The most common problems associated with digoxin are nausea and loss of appetite, but its other effects are more intriguing.

Particularly high concentrations of digoxins target enzyme are found in the cone cells in retina of the eye. These are the cells that give us our colour perception. It is very rare, but some people taking digoxin and related drugs can experience haziness to their vision, or a yellow tinge to everything they see, known as xanthopsia. Occasionally, points of light may appear to have coloured halos around them. Rarer still are effects on pupil size, such as dilation, constriction or even unequal-sized pupils.

The effects of digitalis intoxication have been suggested as the cause of Van Goghs yellow period and the spectacular sky he painted in The Starry Night. More circumstantial evidence comes from the two portraits Van Gogh produced of his doctor, Paul Gachet, showing him holding a foxglove flower. One of Van Goghs self portraits also shows uneven pupils.

All of this is very interesting but it is pure speculation. Van Gogh may not have taken digitalis, and perhaps simply liked the colour yellow and the effect of swirling colours around the stars he painted. Unequal pupil size in his self-portrait may have been the result of a simple slip of the paintbrush.

There are also many other factors to consider. Van Gogh was known to drink large quantities of absinthe (though not enough to produce yellow colour perception) as well as turpentine (which can affect vision but not colour perception). Whatever the reason for Van Goghs particular artistic choices, we can still appreciate his remarkable output from such a tragically short life.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/aug/10/it-was-all-yellow-did-digitalis-affect-the-way-van-gogh-saw-the-world

Youre Allowed To Leave

click photo for more information
Youre Allowed To Leave
“If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave. Mo Willems. Youre allowed to leave any story you dont find yourself in. Youre allowed to leave any story you dont yourself in. Youre allowed to leave a city that has dimmed your light instead of making you shine brighter, youre allowed to pack all […]

This Is How You Love Someone With Anxiety

click photo for more information
This Is How You Love Someone With Anxiety
Someone with anxiety is inclined to assume everyone is going to leave. So much so, sometimes they might be the ones to ruin a relationship. The truth is they battle something they cant control and there is a sense of insecurity within themselves when it comes to relationships. They know its difficult and they dont […]

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

click photo for more information
Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming
A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens Its important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking […]

‘Beer yoga’ is a real thing, now, because of course it is

click photo for more information
‘Beer yoga’ is a real thing, now, because of course it is
Hmm, beer.Image: bieryoga/facebook Nothing like putting down an icy cold beer. Except, of course, achieving a higher state of being and eventual transcendence of the Self through the practice of yoga. But what if you could do both, at the same time? SEE ALSO: Australia’s oldest living prime minister really knows how to chug a […]

What Its Like To Be In Love When You Have Depression

click photo for more information
What Its Like To Be In Love When You Have Depression
No one will love you until you learn to love yourself is an easy enough phrase to believe is true. But its terrifying, especially when you have depression. What if you never learn? As a teenager, it made me fear for my life as an adult. I was certain I would never be capable of […]

What Anxiety Actually Is, Because Its More Than Just Worrying

click photo for more information
What Anxiety Actually Is, Because Its More Than Just Worrying
Anxiety is the restless nights of sleep, as you toss and turn. Its your brain never being able to shut off. Its the thoughts you over-think before bedtime and all of your worst fears become a reality in dreams and nightmares. Its waking up tired even though your day just started. Anxiety is learning how […]

Hate To Break It To You But You Are The Reason Your Life Sucks So Much

click photo for more information
Hate To Break It To You But You Are The Reason Your Life Sucks So Much
If you think your life sucks, it probably does. If you think the world is out to get you, it probably is. If you think you deserve more, you probably do. The only thing in the world holding you back from achieving greatness is in fact you. If you think the world is out to […]

Bill Gates Says U.S. Likely to Maintain Aid Levels for Africa

click photo for more information
Bill Gates Says U.S. Likely to Maintain Aid Levels for Africa
The U.S. will probably maintain its current levels of aid to Africa despite President Donald Trump’s proposals to slash funding, according to Bill Gates, the world’s richest man. Trump said in May his government would no longer allocate funding for family planning, a move that has the potential to undermine aid programs in the poorest […]

Democratic attorneys escalate legal fight against Trump

click photo for more information
Democratic attorneys escalate legal fight against Trump
The Trump resistance movement cheered when Democratic attorneys general in several states sued to block the president’s plan to bar travelers from some Muslim majority countries. But with far less fanfare in the months since, an emboldened coalition of Democratic state attorneys general has unleashed a torrent of lower-profile litigation they argue is necessary to […]

Simon Cowell comes through where Britain’s NHS does not

click photo for more information
Simon Cowell comes through where Britain’s NHS does not
Just as the case of Charlie Gard drifts out of headlines and his family attempts to find peace after their long battle both with the infants condition and Englands nationalized health service, another somewhat prominent example has gained some attention and it involves none other than famous star searcher and producer Simon Cowell (from “American […]

Guam’s faithful look to God as North Korea threat looms

click photo for more information
Guam’s faithful look to God as North Korea threat looms
Hagata, Guam (CNN)Father Paul Gofigan began his homily with a question for the parishioners in Guam’s biggest place of worship — the Catholic Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica. Gofigan was referring to the length of time the Guam Homeland Security department estimates it would take a North Korean missile to reach the island. It’s […]

Trust me, I’m a fake doctor: how medical imposters thrive in the real world

click photo for more information
Trust me, I’m a fake doctor: how medical imposters thrive in the real world
Versions of Jodie Whittakers bogus TV medic do exist. But fantasists and charlatans tend to operate outside the hospital, where victims have been assaulted, misdiagnosed or offered false hope Within the first half-hour of the BBCs psychological thriller Levon Mkhitarian who encountered 3,363 patients in two years, working across seven NHS trusts on oncology, cardiology, […]

The remarkable history in your cereal bowl

click photo for more information
The remarkable history in your cereal bowl
(CNN)This morning, more than 350 million people devoured a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. All told, more than 128 billion bowls of Corn Flakes are consumed each year. While perusing the cereal box, peering over the bowl and gripping a spoonful of the stuff, few of these sleepy diners know that two men created those […]

Alleged Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash receiving consular help from Australia

click photo for more information
Alleged Islamic State recruiter Neil Prakash receiving consular help from Australia
Coalition says basic assistance being given due to hopes alleged conspirator will share intelligence on terrorist group Australia is giving consular help to the alleged senior Islamic State recruiter and conspirator Neil Prakash, with hopes he will share intelligence on the terrorist group, a federal minister has said. Australias most wanted man, who has been […]

Tanzania’s ghost safari: how western aid contributed to the decline of a wildlife haven

click photo for more information
Tanzania’s ghost safari: how western aid contributed to the decline of a wildlife haven
International projects helped turn a rich and fertile Tanzanian valley into vast tracts of farmland, teak forests and sugar plantations The long road from Dar es Salaam brings you through sparsely wooded hills and fields to the narrow northern neck of the Kilombero valley. Theres a bend in the road, then the land opens out, […]
load more posts