The ‘facts’ about the causes of gout - a painful condition that is not all that it seems

Friday 5th Oct 2012

  • Does the disease of kings have any truth in it? Clearly not
  • Lazy journalists and misguided scientists miss a trick
  • Make a difference if you suffer from gout

Yet another disease that is all YOUR fault you greedy fat pigs!

That might as well have been the headline in the Daily Mail last week, when they trumpeted another story about how bad and unhealthy we are becoming.

“Disease of kings on the rise as more people get gout because of increase in obesity” ran the story, however it was such a load of misinformation, hype and continued rank bad practice that I needed a good stiff drink to calm me down!

I despair of the low handed tactics of some journalists, and the complete lack of research that they apply before they hand in their pieces for publication.

This type of story revels in the chance to focus on obesity and lack of exercise as the only cause of all our ills rather than do any sort of proper analysis.

They trot out lines like these, and you can almost feel their bile rising as they do so:

 “Soaring numbers of patients are being admitted to hospital with gout triggered by obesity and heavy drinking.

“The painful illness is known as the disease of kings as it afflicted a number of monarchs including Henry VIII.

“Hospital admissions have almost doubled in a decade to more than 4,400 a year.”

You horrible fat folk are to blame for all that is wrong with our nation seems to be the by-line, doesn’t it?

Well, they seem to have forgotten to check their medical sources as well as their history books.

Gout is a form of arthritis, sometimes referred to as a crystal arthropathy where bits of hard rock like substances begin to form in the joints.

Needless to say this is particularly painful, and if you know a sufferer I bet they are completely fed up with everyone telling them that the condition is due to too much fatty meat, too much red wine and port and too little vegetables.

This is the received wisdom that we have for this condition, and those who succumb to it are made the object of ridicule.

The concept that only those of financial well standing could afford the debauched lifestyle that was linked to gout was the reason it became known as the disease of kings (and the king of diseases) – but in fact there is only evidence that one English king succumbed.

Henry the VIII had many health problems in his later life that included crystal arthropathies, syphilis and an ulcerated leg wound which would finally take his life.

The myth of wealth being the cause of the condition was continued by English caricaturists like William Hogarth and James Gillray who liked to portray the eighteenth century Tories as being overweight and gouty.

The truth is that anyone can suffer from gout, not just those of opulent tastes - so I think we can safely lose the ‘disease of kings’ tag now can’t we?

The back story that is truly to blame

Of course the Daily Mail hack who wrote the story didn’t wake up that morning and decide to write about obesity and gout, he was acting upon a newswire story that got quite a bit of coverage.

The research team from the University of Queensland basically found that presentations at hospital because of gout had increased globally.

Interestingly they also concluded that gout sufferers often have other health problems - such as high blood pressure (39%), diabetes (20%) and heart disease (39%).

And this is where I think they missed out on some valuable conclusions.

Firstly, did these problems exist before the onset of gout or after? In the overwhelming majority of cases gout would have been the last problem to present.

Secondly, they didn’t consider how these other conditions are commonly treated?

You see, I suspect that statins would be at the forefront of the medication given and guess what one of the most common 25 side effects of statin use is?

Yep, you guessed it...gout!

Also by the way, a fantastic piece of research from earlier in the year which has been systematically buried by the pro-pharmaceutical press, shows that those on high dose statins had a much higher incidence of diabetes!

This research from the University of Massachusetts backs up earlier reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which showed that cases of diabetes increased where those over the age of 50 were taking common statin drugs.

So I don’t doubt that there is an increase in cases of gout, I also concur that those who have poorer diets may be more at risk of developing it, however that isn’t the only aspect of the story.

This type of reporting doesn’t help us understand how we should be dealing with our health, and it wasn’t just the Daily Mail that was guilty this week.

Statins the wonder drug...or maybe not

Anyone see the rash of reports on Wednesday saying how statins could reduce the risk of glaucoma – one of the leading causes of blindness in the UK.

Well once again you needed to look behind the headline at how the research had been conducted and what the findings actually were.

Interestingly The University of Michigan School of Medicine who carried out the research lists one of its major corporate donors as being The Pfizer Foundation – part of the Pfizer group whose major product is...drum roll please...Lipitor, the biggest selling statin in the US.

Now I’m not one to make assumptions but...

The other major thing about this story is the actual findings as reported by the research team leader.

“Dr. Stein cautioned that the study results apply only to patients with hyperlipidemia, and that further study is needed to determine whether statins also protect patients who don’t have this diagnosis or have other characteristics that differ from the study population.”

So, it is clear that the research doesn’t find that statins prevent glaucoma in everyone, only in those with increased blood cholesterol levels – not quite the same story is it!

Basically you can see how the PR company will have spun the results of the research to help drive the headlines, it is just a real shame that the news desks of our papers don’t apply a bit more logic.

If the daily writers would only stop to consider the full facts they might be capable of presenting us with much higher quality information.

Mind you, where would that leave me!

Yours, as always





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