The Second Half: Got gout?

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

I was watching TV the other day when one of those (get ready for sarcasm) fantastic new pharmaceutical commercials came on.

First, let me just say that doctors have plenty to do without you calling them at all hours to demand a prescription for a newly-advertised medication. These can range from drug treatment for depression, to PMS, to erectile dysfunction. Do most consumers assume our family doctors are unaware of these drugs, perhaps because they never have time to watch TV?

Those marketing professionals have decided it is up to us laypersons to tell doctors how to help us, thus allowing the drug companies to sell lots of their irresistible products. The one positive result is: we all learn about the diseases they are meant to treat. For example, I have learned that a four-hour erection requires a physician’s look-see, and taking most prescription drugs could result in death.

Now, don’t you feel smart and informed?

Given the fact that there are armchair quarterbacks shouting at football games, armchair adventurers telling The Amazing Race contestants what to do, and armchair intellectuals spouting Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? and Jeopardy! answers as proof of brilliance, was being an armchair physician far behind? To refine your medical knowledge further than the 300,000 commercials you see each week, you may advance your medical skills by watching Doctors on TV or by listening to Doctor Radio on Sirius. From sexual dysfunction to plastic surgery techniques, no topic is off limits on these shows.

Not that I don’t participate, fully and verbally, in my health care planning, but I don’t pretend to be a pharmacist. I do make friends with my pharmacists, though, so I can pump them for pharmacological information and non-prescription suggestions. And I always make a list of questions and items to discuss when I go to the doctor. If a doctor doesn’t act like I’m a pain in the rear end, I figure I have a winner.

I just saw a commercial encouraging us to beg our doctors for a certain drug if we have gout, a problem “…caused by high levels of uric acid in your system.”

EEW! Sounds horrible! If that isn’t creepy enough, it’s compounded by an anxious-looking chubby guy carrying a laboratory beaker the size of a bale of hay all over town. The beaker is full of some green sloshing stuff, glowing like toxic waste—that’s supposed to be uric acid, I guess. Again, EEW!

“I thought gout was one of those old-timey diseases, like Black Plague or The Vapors,” I mumbled. But then Hubby surprised me by saying one of his Second-Half pals has it.

“Geez, that’s terrible!” I exclaimed, then admitted my ignorance by asking, “What the heck is gout, anyway?”

“I don’t exactly know,” he puzzled. “I know mostly men get it, and their foot gets swollen—but I really don’t know much more about it.”

That’s all the encouragement I needed to start trolling for information. First stop, Wikipedia:

“Gout (also known as podagra when it involves the big toe) is a medical condition usually characterized by recurrent attacks of acute inflammatory arthritis—a red, tender, hot, swollen joint. The metatarsal-phalangeal joint at the base of the big toe is the most commonly affected, in around half of all cases.”

OUCH! Wikipedia confirmed what the commercial said: gout is caused by too much uric acid in the blood, making crystals that are deposited in joints, tendons and such.

Then, I found the website, which has a ton of information, an e-newsletter with medical updates, and even a Gout Assessment Tool that is supposed to help patients discuss their attacks with their doctor.

Basically, the site tells me, it is a form of arthritis caused by something called purines. I don’t know exactly what purines are, but they produce the uric acid. Evidently, there are high-purine foods, but I was pleased to see that two of my favorites—coffee and chocolate—are on the low-purine list.

“If anyone ever asks, I will always remember that!” I exclaim.

Twenty-Something Laura tells me, “I bet it’s important to people who have gout…I know of several.”

I couldn’t believe it—several people in the 20 to 40 age bracket with gout! Common mythology describes gout as a “rich old man’s disease,” the result of years of excessive drinking and eating gourmet foods. Not far off—today, science tells us alcohol is a primary contributor to gout attacks.

Wellness expert Dr. Mercola offers this advice at

“…simply reducing your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages during childhood could lessen the risk of gout as an adult. … Although gout is commonly blamed on eating too many high-purine foods, such as organ meats, anchovies, herring, asparagus and mushrooms, there is another clear culprit: high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).”

He also suggests cherries or concentrated cherry juice to help relieve symptoms. For prevention and maintenance, Dr. Mercola recommends drinking lots of plain water, exercising regularly and maintaining your ideal body weight. This is starting to sound like a broken record, right?

“I’m off to the gym,” I call, carrying a water bottle and carrot sticks.

“Wait!” Hubby stops me and offers a dark chocolate bar with a grin, “For your health.”

Well, who am I to argue with science?!?

For more helpful, easy-to-understand info, go to the following website and enter “gout” into the search box at the top right:

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Nov. 24-30, 2010 issue

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