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More about Napoleon’s Medical Status

By John F. Davis, M.D.
St-Bruno, Quebec

In the Guestbook, (note from the editor: the former guestbook is replaced by the Discussion Forum) J. T. Cole asked about Froehlich’s Syndrome… I suppose that’s because this condition has been mentioned somewhere in connection with Napoleon’s rather portly appearance, especially late in his life. He died at a young 51, after some years of gradual deterioration in medical fitness, but gradual increase in body weight, explained by the chronic arsenic toxicity as elucidated in this century by the Swedish researcher Dr. Sten Forshufvud (see my reference in the Research Section to the fascinating literature on this subject by Ben Weider et. al.).

For the record, my old copy of the Merck Manual (11th edition) defines Froehlich’s Syndrome (aka Adiposogenital Dystrophy), as: a rare disorder characterized by a specific type of obesity and hypogenitalism, caused by craniopharyngioma or other type of brain tumor such as a pituitary tumor.

In my opinion, whoever invoked this diagnosis was off the mark by a mile. He was a very fit man up to the age of 40 something, his obesity at the end was clearly related to the arsenical poisoning. Also, his reputed constant need for intimate female companionship does not suggest in any way that he was sexually dysfunctional or under endowed anatomically.

To his biographer, Comte Emmanuel de Las Cases, he “observes cheerfully that his hairless chest and prominent breasts – Napoleon is getting fat now – are `not of our sex'” (I quote from the Weider/Hapgood book The Murder of Napoleon, page 78). Lots of obese men, overweight for whatever reason, show fatty prominences around the nipple area that are not unlike the female breast, but are not hormonal in origin. As for the hairlessness, that’s probably related to a different genetic link entirely.