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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gout Hurts!

Gout is one of the most painful conditions known to medical science. Here’s how cartoonist James Gillray, a gout sufferer, depicted the disease in the year 1799:

Back then, gout was a disease of the rich, who could afford to eat lots of meat and drink lots of booze:

Gout results from the buildup of crystals of uric acid in the joints. Sometimes, this buildup can be very severe. If you want to see how bad it can get, click here.

The good news is that gout can be prevented and treated by proper diet. Scientists have known for centuries that gout results from eating too much meat. Gout is common in the United States but is virtually unknown in societies where people eat a starchy, plant-based diet. The best way to prevent and control gout is to correct the diet. One word of caution: rapid weight loss, even from a switch to a healthy diet, can trigger an attack of gout, because of the sudden release of uric acid resulting from the loss of body fat.

In an upcoming post, I’ll explain why people get gout, why gorillas could but don’t get gout, and why real carnivores like dogs and cats and real omnivores like rats can’t get it.


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  2. Hi Laurie,
    It is always very enlighten to read your blog. I always learn something new. But, still I have some questions.
    Since High School through College, we have learned that humans are carnivores. You are suggesting that we are not. Then, nomadic man always ate meat from the animals that they hunt. Is there any data suggesting that they suffer from Alzheimer or any kind of disease relate to their fat intake.


  3. Thanks, Anonymous!

    The most comprehensive data we have on the relationship between meat consumption and health outcomes come from The China-Cornell-Oxford Project, which showed that coronary artery disease is essentially nonexistent among people whose total cholesterol is low because of their low-fat, low-cholesterol, heavily plant-based diet. This study showed a dose-response relationship between meat consumption and the "diseases of affluence," including not just heart disease but breast and colon cancer, etc. This dose-response relationship was evident even at very low levels of meat intake, thus suggesting that the optimal amount of meat in the human diet is zero.

    If meat is unhealthy for human beings to eat, why do so many people eat it, and why do they eat so much whenever they can? I think that we are driven by something that biologists call "optimal foraging theory," which implies that people instinctively try to get as many calories as possible for as little effort as possible. Meat is very rich in calories. If it can be obtained with relatively little effort, it would be highly prized as a food, especially if the alternative is starvation.

    In the Odyssey, the poet Homer wrote, "All deaths are hateful to miserable mortals, but the most pitiable death of all is to starve. Come along, let us drive off the best of these cattle, and sacrifice them to the immortal gods who rule the broad heavens. If we ever return home to Ithaca, we will build a rich temple to Helios Hyperion, and set up there many handsome offerings; but if the god is angry about the straithorns, and wants to destroy our ship, and if the other gods agree, I choose rather to die at once with a mouthful of saltwater than to be slowly squeezed out on a desert island."