Originally published in The Ottawa Citizen December 28, 2001
In his latest video Osama bin Laden appears as a man with health problems. It is difficult to diagnose anyone by his or her picture and this evaluation must be viewed in this speculative context.
His sallow complexion and gaunt features suggest malnutrition and dehydration. Compared to previous video images, he appears to have lost weight. Living a life on the run for the past few months certainly compromises any regular healthful food intake. Water supplies could become contaminated. His pale appearance suggests anemia (low or poor red blood cell production). He may be Vitamin B12, iron or folate deficient. His poor nutritional status could also contribute to muscle wasting as his body uses his muscles as an energy source. This coupled to being in constant motion with little recuperative sleep will tax his already low energy reserves. The bags under his eyes could indicate, aside from lack of sleep from the noise of the bombs, fluid imbalances or fluid overload from kidney disease.
The stress of relentless bombing around his encampments is psychologically traumatizing. He does appear stressed. It is difficult to comment on his emotional stability.
The whiteness of his beard is a difficult to assess because the ends of his beard represent growth from months past. Loss of pigment can be a reflection of age related changes, stress or nutritional deficiencies. The sunken cheeks and sallow complexion could also relate to chronic kidney failure. There has been some speculation that he suffers from some form of kidney disease. If he has been running from place to place without the time for dialysis, it would certainly contribute to his sickly appearance. If indeed he could not undergo regular dialysis, many of the normal byproducts of body metabolism would not be filtered and cleared out of his system. These would build up to toxic levels. Thus the man we see in the video.