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Silver Threads: Googling gout

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

Whenever I’ve thought about gout -- and it hasn’t been often -- I’ve envisioned a man who looks like Winston Churchhill did, sitting in an easy chair, with a swollen and bandaged foot resting on a stool.

The great man may never have actually suffered gout, but the '40s and '50s newspaper cartoons that I grew up with portrayed bald, portly and elderly men when poking fun at those whose excesses in drink and diet had helped bring on the condition.

Now I’m looking in the mirror at a person who looks nothing like the English statesman. She’s neither portly nor bald — thank goodness —but elderly she is. And she’s yours truly, dumbfounded that I’ve come down with gout, “the disease of kings.”

This arthritic ailment got that name after King Henry VIII of England, often portrayed holding a piece of meat or glass of wine, became a sufferer. I don’t suppose the common man of that day could afford to partake of the goodies that helped bring on his attacks.

Last week, when my foot began to hurt very badly I thought it bruised by unwisely walking barefoot over our ceramic tile floors and dashing outside, sans shoes, to pick up the mail, take out the garbage, and straighten up the back porch. But our daughter inspected the foot closely and pronounced that gout was the cause of my burning pain.

So before I went to bed I took two of the tiny mauve pills that my husband’s doctor had prescribed for him in the event of flare-ups of his own occasional gout. The little pills performed a miracle. The agony of the night before, the burning of my toes against the bedsheets, didn’t recur. Our daughter had been right: I suffered from gout, probably the last thing I’d have expected.

Next day, free from pain, I Googled “gout,” and all of the above historical information on the disorder came from the numerous “gout websites” on the internet.

I found that the list of sufferers goes on and on with Alexander the Great, Beethoven, John Calvin, Dick Cheney, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, Pope Clement XII, Christopher Columbus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Dickens, Michelangelo and many other famous people who have endured the malady.

What I didn’t find was a list of famous females who’d had gout. Queen Victoria stood alone. But I was in good company.

I continued to Google and one website told me “during menopause a woman’s body drastically cuts its production of the hormone estrogen, which may help the kidneys excrete uric acid, too much of which causes gout, a form of arthritis. By about age 60, the number of cases of gout in women and men are about equal; after age 80, more women than men have gout.”

I’m not going to bore you with too much information here. But I think my older readers may be interested in how gout is worsened by what you put on your plate. Foods to avoid or go light on include bacon, haddock, liver, scallops, turkey, veal and venison, asparagus, beef, chicken, ham, mushrooms and shellfish. Sugar and other sweeteners should be used minimally, and high-fructose corn syrup eliminated completely, since the common sweetener is linked to an increase in production of uric acid. Alcohol, especially beer, interferes with your body's ability to eliminate uric acid and should be avoided, as well, especially during a gout attack.

In short, everything both you and I enjoy.

But modern pharmacology has saved us from the trials of Henry VIII and Victoria. Next time I see my doctor, I’ll ask for some of those little mauve pills of my own.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]