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Gout Wisdom

by J. H. Hacso

Powerful, Wealthy, Writhing in Pain

He had been called a drunk once too often in print and decided he would respond. Throughout his career, possibly because he had a very ruddy complexion, he had been plagued by charges that he drank too much. Always before he had shrugged them off but not this time.

George J. Newett, editor of Iron Ore, a little-known newspaper in northern Michigan, had written, “Roosevelt lies and curses in a most disgusting way; he gets drunk, too, and that not infrequently... “

Irked by this, former president Theodore Roosevelt filed a libel suit. On May 26, 1913, the case came to trial in Marquette, Michigan. A parade of prominent politicians, family members and reporters testified to Roosevelt’s sobriety. When it was his turn, the ex-president testified that he sometimes drank a little light wine but had never consumed a high-ball or cocktail in his life and did not drink beer.

To prove his charge, Newett was not able to produce a single witness. He admitted his error and apologized. Roosevelt accepted the apology. He told the court he had not filed suit to win money or to destroy a man’s livelihood. In accordance with the ex-president’s expressed wish, the award was minimal. Newett was ordered to pay damages in the amount of six cents.

While he was clearly never a drunk, Roosevelt did suffer from an affliction often thought of as somewhat shameful. He had gout, the third most common form of arthritis.

In the public mind, gout is associated with debauchery and self-indulgence. If you eat too many rich, fatty foods, the jeering goes, you will pay for it with the misery of gout. As a consequence of this belief, gout is often treated as a joke. Cartoons are printed showing obese men (always men, never women) in opulent surroundings, their feet up on footstools and their faces contorted in pain. But as any victim can testify, gout is far from a joke to those struck down by it.

No race is immune to gout and more than 90% of all victims are male. According to medical science, the cause of gout lies in the way the body deals with excessive amounts of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is produced by the body's normal metabolic processes. For most of us any excess is discharged in urine. If the excess becomes too great, gout results.

Victims tend to be ambitious and achievement oriented. A correlation has been established between gout and prestige. Famous men in every field of endeavor suffer higher than normal rates. Studies have shown that men with above average blood uric acid levels are more likely to be leaders. There is currently no explanation for why these high uric acid levels correlate with prominence.

A classic description of gout was written in 1683 by Thomas Sydenham:

The victim goes to bed and sleeps in good health. About two o’clock in the morning he is awakened by a severe pain in the big toe... The pain, which was at first moderate, becomes more intense... Now it is a violent stretching and tearing of the ligament, now it is a gnawing pain and now a pressure and tightening. So exquisite and lively meanwhile is the feeling of the part affected that it cannot bear the weight of bedclothes nor the jar of a person walking in the room.

Acute attacks of gout can now be treated by medication. To reduce the incidence of future attacks, it is suggested that victims eat fewer fatty meats, include more fruits and vegetables in their diets, lose weight and drink only moderately if at all.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, gave the first clinical description of gout about 2,500 years ago. He outlined the patterns of the disease in three widely quoted aphorisms:

1. A eunuch does not take the gout.

2. A woman does not take the gout until her menses be stopped.

3. A young man does not take the gout until he indulges in coition.

Here gout is clearly tied in with sexual practice. Many people, whether or not they are aware of what Hippocrates wrote, jump to the same connection. Gout has been shown to be caused by over-indulgence in food and wine so why not assume over-indulgence in sex as well?

In the male body, biology has tied urination and ejaculation together as they both use the same plumbing. At any given moment a man must choose between urination and sexual release. Urination rids the body of excess uric acid. If a man chooses sex too often, too obsessively, does this dampen down the impulse to urinate and cause a high level of uric acid to build up?

The large joint of the big toe is commonly the site of the first attack of gout. Joint is one of the slang terms for penis. The foot has always been closely associated with the erotic. It is equipped with extremely sensitive nerve endings and the involvement of the foot, in particular the toes, and most particularly the big toes, in sexual practices is far from unknown.

Toe sucking is indulged in and advocated by the sexually sophisticated. One particular royal princess of Britain got into serious trouble because she was caught by a photographer having her toes sucked by a man not her husband. The big toe can be and occasionally is used as a substitute organ of copulation, primarily as a teaser.

Gout is almost exclusively a man’s disease, but eunuchs don’t get it nor do young men until they have indulged in sexual intercourse. Gout is commonly thought to be, and studies have shown it to be, an affliction of high living far more frequent among the affluent than among the poor, a disease striking down political leaders and other famous, high achieving men, so naturally it’s all a big joke – and a comfort – to those at low risk who are confident that they will never be afflicted by it.


Excerpted from Plagues Past and Present, A Mind/Body/Approach by J. H. Hacsi. Paper, $14.

Available at Baker and Taylor, www.Amazon.com or on order from any bookstore.

J. H. Hacsi graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and earlier in her life wrote short stories (over 200 published) and romance novels (eight published). Throughout her life she has been greatly interested in history and science, also the role of the mind and mysticism and has read widely in these fields. She is a widow with five sons and five grandchildren and lives in Claremont, CA.

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