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The Real Secret Of 'Mona Lisa' May Be A Severe Medical Condition

Sep 11, 2018 09:29 PM EDT
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"Mona Lisa"
"Mona Lisa" is the most famous painting in the world, in part due to the subject's unconventional appearance. In a new paper, physicians say that hyperthyroidism might be the explanation.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is one of the most famous single pieces of art in the world, mostly due to the subject's enigmatic smile.

Millions of tourists flock to the Louvre every day to get a glimpse of the painting, and many experts have come up with theories on Mona Lisa's mysterious appearance. Now, doctors suggest that her unconventional look and allure may lie in a common medical ailment.

A Medical Explanation For 'Mona Lisa'

Da Vinci's iconic painting is widely believed to be of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant. In a paper published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, physician Dr. Mandeep Mehra suggests that Gherardini shows notable symptoms of hyperthyroidism in the painting, including the famous crooked smile, yellow skin, and thinning hair.

"I'm not an artist. I don't know how to appreciate art," Mehra, the medical director of the Heart & Vascular Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, says in a report from Inverse. "But I do sure know how to make a clinical diagnosis."

The symptoms are present in the centuries-old painting, according to Mehra. Between the inner corner of her left eye and the bridge of her nose, there is a small yet distinct bump that's likely a cholesterol deposit called xanthalesma. Her eyes have a yellow tint to them as well as her skin.

Under the light black veil, Gherardini's hair is thin and limp, with her hairline appearing to be receding. Da Vinci did not even paint eyebrows.

Other symptoms include Gherardini's puffy face, a subtle but unmistakable bulge on her neck that's potentially the early stages of a goiter, and a lump on her hand that could be a fatty benign tumor called lipoma or xanthoma.

"So, I'm basically looking at a receding hairline, loss of eyebrows, a swelling in the neck, coarse, thin hair," Mehra notes. "And I'm looking at a slightly edematous, swollen woman with no hair throughout. That, to me is a classic picture of clinical hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland."

Additionally, her lopsided smile could also be an indication of her possible diagnosis, as depression is another symptom of hyperthyroidism. Facial muscles are also often puffy and weak, so a full smile takes a bit more effort.

Explaining The 'Mona Lisa'

For hundreds of years, historians, art experts, and art enthusiasts have pored over the "Mona Lisa" in an attempt to explain the mystery of woman in the painting. Some say that she is Da Vinci in his feminine form, while others say the painting is his version of the ideal woman.

Bell's Palsy has also been brought up to explain Gherardini's crooked smile, although Mehra points out that there were no other unevenness in her face that would support this condition.

Live Science reports that doctors proposed familial hyperlipidemia in 2004, but Gherardini lived to be 63 years old, which is unlikely had she really suffered from this condition.

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