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Vicky Curtis writes:

Electrolytes are very essential to porphyria patients and especially during an acute attack.

When a porphyric loses their electrolyte balance small electric shocks sent through the nervous system signal changes ahead. Many of these changes exacerbate into changes in our mental well being. They are also thought to contribute to seizure activity, and muscle spasms.

Throughout much of the known history of porphyria, there have been those porphyrics who have ended their lives. Most notable of these porphyrics was of course the famed Vincent Van Gogh. One wonders "what if" pain control had been available for Van Gogh, his remarkable career as an artist would not have been cut short.

His problem of course was that when he went into a poprhyic attack, he would drink a thimble of absinthe to dull the severity of the pain. And it may for a short time, but at the same time was the "trigger" for another acute attack of porphyria. It happened so often that Van Gogh was chronic and no longer just a smoldering chronic porphyric but in severe chronic pain.

Van Gogh was treated by the well-known doctor, Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, a physician for one of the France’s railroad companies. Gachet may well have treated van Gogh for mania and/or epilepsy with digitalis. In the 19th century digitalis, extracted from the purple foxglove plant, was one of the main treatments for these disorders. It was used as a sedative, an anticonvulsant, and an anti-manic agent. Interestingly, on the only two occasions that van Gogh painted Doctor Gachet he was holding a foxglove plant . Was this van Gogh's way of telling us that he suffered from the effects of digitalis toxicity at Doctor Gachet's hand?

One of the side effects of systemic digitalis treatment is disturbance in yellow-blue vision (xanthopsia), similar to viewing the world through a yellow filter. Glare and colored haloes may also be experienced as visual side effects. Many of van Gogh’s works have a definite yellow cast. The predominance of colored halos around light sources in various works, such as The Starry Night, may also be attributable to the effects of digitalis.

Finally, unable to handle his condition he committed suicide.

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"You tried to tell them Vincent. They didn't listen and I guess they never will."

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