Up the Avon on a Mackerel

May I introduce you to this bloke called Geoff. You may or may not know Geoff as the international jet-setting, champagne drinking geezer who rattles the gongs for the band’s Beak> and Portishead.  Aside from the occasional banter on Twitter, I’ve never met the guy, but we have five things, apart from Bristol and an appreciation of early Gary Numan stuff in common. Firstly, we are both white and male. Secondly, I understand we come from working-class ‘stubborn’ stock. Thirdly, we both like mackerel and fourthly (and I’m guessing here) we both have a sweet tooth. If you take these four elements and compound them with, an erratic lifestyle, chaotic diet and the inescapable consequences of time then the outcome will generally be, the fifth thing we have in common gout.

Gout, its something I’ve meant to write about for a while and reading Geoff’s ongoing battle has just provided that helpful nudge. Men are rubbish at this stuff, we are, acting like John Wyne while in reality during our gout despair seeking out our comfy blankie. So, I’d like to share what I’ve been doing to tackle the dreaded disease while reducing dependence on prescribed drugs.

Let me start by saying I’m no martyr to pain and would always recommend drugs to combat the painful torture gout brings when it strikes.  I’m not lecturing, because if you are like me, you’ll hobble along in excruciating discomfort for years before doing anything about it. So let’s start with family and friends. Expect little sympathy given the misconception remains that your disease is a result of rich living, grouse, red meat, game and port.

What we are suffering from is a form of arthritis caused by excess uric acid in the bloodstream. In short tiny crystals shaped little pins, the kidney fails to deal with, which then float down to their lowest point and stab the shit out of us. Its impossible to explain the pain when an attack is severe, but it easily makes grown men cry.

If you seek your doctor’s advice, you will properly end up on medication for the rest of your life and some necessary guidance on changing your diet and lifestyle. The problem with this approach is not the doctor. It is you. Because of 9 times out of 10, you are going to home in on the drugs while a wall of white noise permutates your earing when it comes to the words ‘diet and lifestyle.’ That is your choice and responsibility, which is the choice I took. I was a dick.

At the moment I’m down to one maybe two severe attacks a year. I get the occasional discomfort and very rarely use prescribed medication, and this is what I did and am currently doing:

  1. Discovered my triggers. Keep a close eye on what you eat, especially when your body starts telling you an attack is imminent. You know that feeling, its the tingle before the storm. I know things like mussels, mackerel and prawns are some of my triggers. I still eat them occasionally, but you need to build resistance up to counteract the likely attack.
  2. Removed white bread from my diet. The devils’ work. Serious. With or without gout get this shit out your diet. It contains quickly digestible sugars, refined flour, excess calories and very few nutrients. Wholemeal bread contains the whole grain and provides fibre, vitamin B, and minerals.
  3. Light exercise. If like me you have/had a busy lifestyle then you need to build regular LIGHT exercise into your daily life.  I’m not talking about strenuous and demanding routines, but regular walking for example. It’s not about the burst of energy one often gets from gym-based exercise for instance. Get those joints working, blood flowing and most importantly get some primary body stretches going. I would advise finding a nearby steep hill, or bank and walking up and down it on a regular basis.
  4. I stopped eating meat. I have no evidence that meat was triggering my gout, but overall removing it from my diet helped towards losing weight, and I do feel a lot better without it in my diet. But having said that I’m not a food fascist, and this will be down to your personal choice. I don’t miss beacon sandwich but crave lamp and mint sauce occasionally.
  5. Drink water. I bought two x 1-litre water bottle, which I fill up and drink through the day. To make this a little bit more attractive, I add some sugar-free Vimto.
  6. Get breakfast right. I usually have a fruit-based breakfast each day, which consists of banana mashed on two pieces of wholemeal toast (unbuttered). A pear and 2 Medjool Dates. Occasionally, I’ll have porridge or shredded wheat. It took a week, but apart from the natural impact of the dates they also bring sweetness into your diet to helped to tackle my next craving.
  7. Sweets. By and large, I’ve managed to reduce my intake considerably. Chocolate remains a favourite, but the sugary syrup based type sweets with all kinds of colours and additives have gone. If I get a sweet urge, then I tend to search out a bag of Henry Goode’s soft liquorice (strawberry flavour). Then hide in a corner and fight off anybody who dares approaches for a share.
  8. Booze. Nothing has changed really. If you get pissed up on a regular basis, then you probably have more complex issues to tackle. Again, it’s about common sense.
  9. Stress. I can’t emphasise this enough, so I’ll say it once again stress!! Apart from being the route to a potential heart attack stress is like an invisible dark shadow, cancer, to your overall wellbeing.  We all have different abilities for managing and absorbing pressure, but constant exposure will undermine your happiness, life and may ultimately kill you. Get it under control! I can’t advise you how to do this, but for me, it involved a 3-year plan to reduce and where possible removing its causes from my life. It’s not easy, and it often takes difficult decisions, which in the short term may cause additional stress.
  10. Take your time. Do it gradually, don’t cheat yourself. You will have the setbacks, and the attacks will still hijack your life now and again, but you can take control and reduce its scourge on your life if you want too. The drugs your doctor will typically prescribe to tackle gout are:
Naproxen, which is a painkiller that is also an anti-inflammatory. Some side effects of Naproxen may include:
  • indigestion, heartburn, stomach pain, nausea;
  • a headache, dizziness, drowsiness;
  • bruising, itching, rash;
  • swelling; or.
  • A ringing noise in your ears.
Commonly Naproxen is medically prescribed with Omeprazole, which is used to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach to tackle the side effects of the Naproxen. But Omeprazole also comes with some potential side effects, which include:
  • heartburn that has lasted three months or maybe longer
  • lightheadedness, sweating, or dizziness with your heartburn.
  • chest or shoulder pain.
  • shortness of breath or wheezing

Another drug often prescribed is Colchicine. As well as gout, Colchicine treats familial Mediterranean fever, pericarditis and Behçet’s disease. Side effects from taking Colchicine may include:

  • muscle pain or weakness;
  • numbness or tingly feeling in your fingers or toes;
  • pale or grey appearance of your lips, tongue, or hands;
  • severe or ongoing vomiting or diarrhoea;
  • fever, chills, body aches, flu symptoms
If you decide to take the medically prescribed drug solely, then I highly recommend you do your research. I’ve listed the commonly known side effects above, but there are more. You ask need to ask your doctor about the long-term impact on you if you decide to take this route. Based on my experience I would advise you to stimulate your natural resistance (body and mind) before you start a lifelong use of prescribed drugs. Look at prescribed drugs as the complementary therapy rather than the other way round.

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