Isn’t it so absurd how ancient people labeled gout as the “Disease of Kings” or, “Rich Man’s Disease”? How about the ridiculous notion in medieval times believing it was from evil spirits for sinful living? Jump to the 20th century, and lots of folks are oblivious of gout until they experience their first attack. Even if they have heard of it, their preconceived notions or the advice they get, although well-intentioned, are often inadequate or downright wrong.

Read on to unravel 15 modern gout myths and clarify any lingering uncertainties.

15 Modern Myths and Misconceptions About Gout Debunked

(Listed in no particular order)

1. Gout only affects the elderly

This myth that gout primarily affects the elderly or senior citizens is not entirely true. Modern medicine has determined gout can affect people of all ages, including children. Just like adults, pediatric gout can occur from underlying medical disorders. Additionally, the liklihood of experiencing gout rises for men between the ages of 30 and 50.

2. Gout is only about a low-purine diet

This a very popular half-truth. While diet plays a big role, gout is also influenced by several factors: genetics, medications (diuretics), life style (drugs & alcohol abuse), stress/trauma and pre-existng health conditions.

Gout sufferers should limit purine-rich foods. However, many overlook the fact that maintaining a diet high in sugar and salt, with being dehydrated, will also take a toll on your kidneys’ ability to efficiently remove uric acid. This is why gout and chronic kidney disease are closely connected.

3. Gout just affects joints

This gout myth lasted until modern science revealed that gout impacts more than just joints. Consistently high urate levels can result in more serious issues such as kidney stones or chronic kidney disease. Additionally, gout is associated with metabolic syndrome, heightening the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

4. Only men get gout

Although gout is more common in men, women can also develop the condition. Uric acid levels tend to increase particularly after menopause. In fact, the occurrence of gout among women has more than doubled in the last two decades.

5. Drinking too much alcohol is the sole cause of gout

People with gout are advised to cut back on beer and alcohol because of the high-purine yeast used in brewing. While alcohol consumption is a major gout trigger, it’s not the sole cause. This is an overgeneralized fallacy since other triggers like purine-rich foods, MSG, High Fructose Corn Syrup and dehydration can strike non-alcoholic drinkers.

It’s important to note that gout does not strike immediately if uric acid levels are in check. A related gout myth is that gout sufferers must completely avoid alcohol. This does not have to be. Gout sufferers who can keep their purine intake relatively low can occasionally enjoy a few drinks without triggering an immediate gout attack. (The words, occassionaly and few, are subjective. I know!)

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X-ray of tophi formation at inflamed elbow.

6. Once treated, gout is cured

Gout can become a chronic condition that requires ongoing treatment to manage symptoms. If the underlying cause of elevated uric acid levels continue, individuals become susceptible to more tophi and flare-ups.

This misconception stems from some individuals having experienced an isolated gout attack and then never experience one again. This could be due to a rare occassion of overloading on purine-rich foods or alcohol consumption. However, up to 80% of people experience a recurrent attack within 3 years.

7. Gout only strikes the big toe

While the big toe is a common location, gout can affect various joints such as ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, and fingers. Untreated cases of chronic gout are not limited to one specific joint. Uric acid can build up and crystalize at multiple joints simultaneously. This condition is called polyarticular gout.

8. Thin people can’t get gout

Medical science has laid this gout myth to rest. Yes, obesity is associated with gout, but it can affect individuals of all sizes and weights, including thin people. Genetics, diet, and lifestyle choices play pivotal roles. For instance, an individual with a family history of gout may be predisposed, regardless of their weight. Poor dietary choices and a sedentary lifestyle (poor circulation) can also contribute to gout development regardless of body mass index (BMI).

9. Medications alone can control gout

While medications are vital for managing gout, relying solely on them may not be enough. Lifestyle habits, such as diet and fitness, are equally important. Even with medication, a person who continues to eat high-purine foods, drink beer and remain dehydrated will still be prone to recurring gout attacks. A holistic approach, including medication adherence, dietary improvements, and regular exercise, is essential for effective gout management.

10. All foods high in purines should be avoided

It’s a common misconception that all high-purine foods should be off the menu for a gout-friendly diet. The truth is, while reducing purines definitely helps, avoiding every single one is a tough task for anyone even for a vegetarian or vegan. Not many people can skip their favorite steak, seafood and beer forever. If you can (and it keeps gout away), then good for you!

For the rest, the key is moderation and balance, not an all-out ban. Individuals with chronic gout can still splurge on purine-rich foods occasionally without igniting a full-on gout flare. It’s about maintaining a low-purine diet to keep the urate levels down and cutting down the times of gluttony, rather than going cold turkey. This way, a sudden rise of uric acid will not surpass your gout threshold.

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11. Herbal Supplements Can Cure Gout

Herbal supplements may offer some relief, but they don’t cure gout, nor provide any significant relief during an attack. Medical intervention is necessary for effective treatment. Dietary supplements are useful for preventative maintenance and optimal nutrition.

Some supplements may have anti-inflammatory properties, support kidney function, and provide anti-oxidants. However, they are unlikely to prevent the underlying causes of gout or provide a complete cure. People might believe this myth about gout due to the general appeal of natural remedies, exagerated claims by some manufacturers, and misunderstanding the intricacies of gout as a real medical condition.

12. Seafood always triggers gout

Certain seafood contain very high amounts of purines like, anchovies, sardines, scallops, mussels, herring or mackeral. There is seafood with fewer purines, which results in lower uric acid production and lesser gout risk.

This falsehood assumes all seafood as harmful when, in reality, careful selection and planning can allow individuals with gout to enjoy seafood without triggering symptoms. One overlooked fact is that purine content can greatly vary because of species, sources, and preparation.

13. Gout is contagious

Gout is not a contagious condition. It doesn’t spread through physical contact or airborne means. This is actually one of the older gout myths, yet still prevalent in modern day from the older generation. For instance, if family members share similar diets or lifestyles that cause gout, they develop a preconceived notion that it is spreading among them. Contagious and heriditary, could possibly be lost in translation in this case.

14. Gout is not that Painful

The pain severity of gout varies from mild discomfort to excruciating agony. This may be subjective and dependent on pain tolerance, but no one can deny that a full-blown gout attack does not come with extreme pain.

Gout attacks can be very intense and shocking, especially when awakened by it while sleeping. An episode is often described in many colorful ways (without using profanities) like, getting wacked with a bat, hammering a nail in the joint, or worse than a jiu-jitsu leg lock. Anyone believing that it’s a matter of low pain tolerance has probably never had gout. The pain can undoubtedly surpass the average person’s pain threshold. It is often recognized as the most painful form of arthritis.

15. It’s your shoes causing gout

Gout is not caused by the type of footwear or the material its made of. Uncomfortable shoes or ill-fitting boots may further aggravate ankles and toes with gout, but they are not the root cause. The fallacy arises from the tendency of uninformed people and lackadaisical medical professionals to immediately link joint pain with external factors rather than internal ones. Unfortunately, some doctors want to see a couple of gout flare-ups before ordering a blood test to check uric acid levels.

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Final Thoughts

Dispelling these 15 modern gout myths sheds light on the facts of this condition, providing a clearer understanding beyond common misconceptions. It’s only human nature to form preconceived notions about health issues before actually experiencing them.

Only when someone undergoes the agony of gout will there be genuine motivation to navigate through misinformation and discover ways to prevent it. Even then, some individuals (myself included) remain stubborn, lazy, and in denial, convinced it will never return. During my oblivious days, I encountered or heard of so many myths on the cause of gout. Not to mention, all the false remedies!

There’s no shame in falling for such myths; many people do. There are three that seem so ridiculous when I look back; debunked by my own experiences.

In the first case, I thought gout only affected the big toe until I woke up in excruciating pain and found my right knee swollen twice its normal size. The second myth, that thin people can’t get gout, was shattered when, despite being active and not overweight, I continued to get it; prompting my doctor to finally check my uric acid levels. The third myth was the most outrageous. I was led to believe my footwear caused the swelling. A doctor actually diagnosed me with a foot sprain from poorly fitting cleats!

Those dealing with chronic gout know all too well that it’s not exclusive to age, weight, or gender. Many of us have to learn the hard way. With gout, isn’t that the only way? Now that you have learned and dismissed these 15 gout myths, you’ve made yourself more GOUTPROOF!


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