It is sworn by some that the three most painful things one can ever experience are:
#1, childbirth (obviously)
#2, the passing of kidney stones (fingers crossed I won’t be going there)
And at #3, gout… or “The gout”, as my Scottish Mother refers to it.
Speaking from personal experience I’d say that a root canal comes in at a close #4.
However, I can attest to the fact that a full blown gout attack is akin to ground glass being vigorously pumped through the molten lava that does a swithcheroo with one’s synovial fluid, and is quite unlike anything else I have ever experienced.
Unfortunately it is a condition for which one gets what amounts to basically no sympathy whatsoever.
Gout, AKA The Patrician Malady, is a form of inflammatory arthritis determined by just how well the body breaks down and excretes these pesky compounds called purines (read: the building blocks of DNA). If one’s body isn’t performing these two tasks efficiently then the aforementioned purines break down to produce increasingly higher and higher levels of uric acid (the natural end product of purine metabolism), which in turn, if not excreted effectively (as will happen when you have been on a wee bit of a roll), goes on to form incredibly sharp needle-like crystalline structures. Unfortunately these uric acid crystals have a nasty habit of getting together for a big stabby party in the fluid of one’s joints, often around old injuries or fractures, and that would be an attack of “The gout”.
Even writing about it is making me wince in some form of phantom pain, recalling the distress I was in throughout my last bout.
So why the almost global lack of sympathy for such an excruciatingly tortuous ailment?
Why are the only people who will offer you any pity whatsoever are fellow gout sufferers?
Well, it goes something like this…
Over the centuries gout has been referred to as “the king of diseases and the disease of kings” or “the rich man’s disease”, hence the well-worn trope of the overweight, ruddy-faced gentleman, his swollen foot perched atop a gout stool.
Yes, those things were much more prevalent than one would imagine. Just search for “gout stool” on Ebay.
It is viewed an ailment that affects the indulgent, those who choose to gorge on disgustingly rich food and booze their faces off. That exquisitely intense searingly-hot pain that comes from the condition is seen as being entirely self-inflicted, and thus the gout patient becomes something of a pariah when it comes to the compassion of his fellow man and/or woman, my wife in particular.
To be fair, higher concentrations of purines are found in the following : offal (read: foie gras, sweetbreads, liver, kidneys, lights/lungs, brain, heart, spleen), fish/shellfish (read: anchovies, sardines, scallops, crab, lobster, shrimp, cod, herring, mussels, tuna, salmon, sea urchin etc.), meats (read: bacon, turkey, beef/veal, venison, duck, chicken, ham, pork etc.), some vegetables (read: asparagus, dried beans… especially fava and garbanzo, mushrooms, peas, spinach), and high fructose stuff (read: corn syrup, pop/fizzy drinks, fruit juice).
And then finally there is alcohol, but I’ll get into that in Part 2 as it gets a little more complicated than one would imagine. And trust me, I have done the research…
So admittedly I guess there is bit of truth in the archetypical stereotype of the gout sufferer, as it looks as if one has to eat quite “well” to be struck down with this particular affliction; But it appears to be more to do with malnutrition in the true sense of the word, as in bad and wholly unbalanced nutrition, and of that there is no doubt in my mind.
Today gout reportedly affects more than 8.3 million people in the US, so around 4% of the American populace. While it’s true that historically the majority of those with gout are indeed men over 40, I have my doubts that this 8.3 million are all wealthy caucasian middle-aged men with big red noses (AKA “THAT nose”) sipping port, and that the condition affects a much more diverse demographic than the portrayals in the lithographs of yore would have us believe.
Around 12 years ago a routine bit of blood work led to the discovery that my uric acid index was somewhat elevated, and I received a little cautionary warning from my GP/family Doctor that I should keep it in check, otherwise I may be dealing with gouty complications in the years ahead.
I recall that I was rather amused at the whole concept of me ever suffering from what I viewed as an altogether archaic illness, and something that my ever-worrying Mother had been warning me about for most of my adult life, so I didn’t really pay much heed to his advice at the time.
More fool me, as so began my adventures in the world of gout.
To be continued after the purine-ridden minefield that is a Scottish Xmas/Hogmanay season in Part 2… wish me luck.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he wouldn’t wish that upon his worst enemy. Well… maybe that one guy…