Tuesday, April 27, 2010


My first experience with gout was in Hawaii where I came yearly to escape Northern California’s dreary winters. I ate mostly fish and fruit and tended to lose weight due to getting more exercise and eating a lower carbohydrate diet. At first I thought my sandals were responsible for my foot pain, but replacing them didn’t solve the problem. Each year the pain in my foot returned and worsened. My doctor on the mainland diagnosed me with having inadequate arch support and gave me inserts for my shoes. After that, whenever I had an attack I assumed I was not being good enough about wearing my arch support. It never occurred to me that I had gout.

After moving to Hilo, Hawaii my foot pain episodes occurred more frequently. I learned that lots of people in Hilo had similar symptoms and they told me it was gout. After researching the ailment, I was convinced my painful foot episodes were the result of gout attacks and not due to me being flat footed. Just to be sure, I had a blood test which confirmed that I had high levels of euric acid in my blood.

Gout is caused by high levels of euric acid in the blood that forms crystals, usually in or near joints. Feet and hands are the most common place that the crystals form and in my case, they formed next to my big toe making walking nearly impossible. The long thin crystals act like needles and cut into the tissue and bone so that even touching the spot can cause intense pain. Since euric acid is not very soluble in water, it is hard to get the crystals to dissolve. Repeated attacks can cause long term damage to the joints and tissue.

The prevalence of gout in Hilo meant that everyone had a lot of sympathy for me and they shared their favorite remedy for the problem. Some of their recommendations were very helpful. They suggested I drink lots of water to flush out the acid, but it didn’t help once an attack had started. They suggested I drink unsweetened black cherry juice or eat cherries which has a chemical that dissolves euric acid. Drinking cherry juice did help, especially the concentrated juice, but it didn’t stop me from having attacks.

The most popular cure I found on the internet was taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily that contained the “mother”. The “mother” turned out to be the bacteria that created the vinegar in the form of a cloud of brown stuff at the bottom of the jar. People on the internet had reported substantial relief in a matter of hours after taking this and so I choked down three tablespoons. It reduced the swelling and the pain within a few hours and so I kept taking it several times a day. Though it helped shorten the attack, it didn’t stop my attacks.

My doctor gave me a list of foods to avoid, but I was already eating foods that were considered okay. I added more cheese to my diet since many people claim that cheese it is an anti-gout food. Chicken, turkey, and fish were not considered problem foods though many people claim that eating any meat can be a problem. But I heard stories in Hilo of vegetarians that had terrible gout attacks, so I questioned how related eating meat was to the problem.

One of the ways I learned more about gout was by creating a gout Google alert so that I could quickly find out about new gout related content on the web. From the alerts I learned that gout is big problem and becoming more prevalent. Many health professionals speculate that the increase in gout is being caused by Americans’ diet making their bodies highly acidic. They claim that coffee, high protein diets, alcohol, soft drinks, and other highly acidic foods contribute to the problem and that gout is just one of the many negative health outcomes that result from it.

The volcanic activity on the Big Island has created a highly acidic environment where heavy VOG (volcanic gas emissions) coats everything with sulfuric acid. My gout attacks often started on heavy VOG days and others seemed to have attacks at the same time. In order to keep my body more ph neutral, I started eating foods that were high in alkaline, like agave syrup (instead in sugar), bananas, and papayas. I drank alkaline bottled water from the local health food store and noticed that it made me feel better. People at the health food store in Hilo told me to make sure to keep the cap on during voggy days because the air was so acidic it would turn the alkaline water acidic in just a few hours.

Water on the Big Island contains high levels of calcium due to it leaching out from lava. I read some claims that high levels of calcium in drinking water can cause gout attacks because the high mineral content makes it harder to dissolve and remove euric acid from the body. In California I had a reverse osmosis water system which may have helped protect me from attacks. So I started drinking bottled water created by the reverse osmosis process which removes most of the minerals in the water.

While researching high euric acid foods, I was surprised to see Canola oil show up. Canola (Canada oil low acid) is a hybrid of rapeseed oil which has been considered inedible by humans due to its large percentage of euric acid. Several versions of the rapeseed were propagated within the last ten years and it has now become a huge crop worldwide. The seed oil is now one of the most common oils used in food and the remaining plant is used as animal feed for cows, chickens, and turkeys. Canola oil is used to baste turkeys and chickens and much of the meat from Asian and American animals are fed feed created from rapeseed. Canola oil is considered the new “good” oil and recently replaced hydrogenated and safflower oils in most manufactured foods.

I decided to eradicate Canola oil and meats that might have been fed rapeseed feed from my diet. I now eat only local Hawaii grass-fed beef and fish. I don’t eat any prepared foods with Canola oil and I use rice bran oil and unrefined olive oil for cooking. It is a constant process to check the labels to make sure that a product that didn’t have Canola oil in it previously, still does not contain it. I am surprised at, how difficult it has been to remove chicken and turkey from my diet; they seem to be in everything.

Since I began avoiding all rapeseed based meat and foods and switched to alkaline and reverse osmosis drinking water, I have not had a gout attack in 8 months. I continue to drink cherry juice concentrate and minimize foods and drinks in my diet that increase my acidity level (though I do drink coffee and dry red wine). I feel that my health has improved and I am finally feeling comfortable taking long walks and increasing my exercise.

I believe my gout was not caused by any one thing but a combination of changes in the worldwide food supply, high acidity in Hawaii, my genetic predisposition, my diet, my age, and my overall health. I hope that the many changes I have made will continue to keep me gout free while also allowing me to lose weight and get into shape.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I recently bought a gadget for my iPod that shows the calories in meal servings of many restaurant chains. I checked the calorie content of things I used to eat when I lived on the mainland and was surprised to see how many calories they contained. Grilled salmon with garlic and herbs, that I occasionally ordered at Chili’s, has 370 calories (not including the rice and vegetables) but my favorite classic bacon burger has a staggering 1520 calories which is four times as many calories as the salmon. That doesn’t include the fries and sweetened ice tea I had with it.

Since moving to Kona, we have reorganized our meals to support our continued weight loss. I am eating 4 meals of 400 calories a day plus two 100 calorie snacks. Eating small meals helps keep my metabolism up and I am able to lose about 2 pounds a week eating 1800 calories if I get about 300 calories of exercise a day (I am a 52 year old 5’11" male). That one burger at Chili’s was almost as many calories as all four of my daily meals now. It is no wonder that I started gaining so much weight going to Chili’s three times a week.

Being on a calorie restricted diet isn’t new for us; we like most boomers in the US have been on weight loss diets many times before. Being older makes exercising more challenging and our bodies more sore, but changes in the food landscape have made being on simple calorie diet a major undertaking.

Weight loss groups claim that keeping track of food serving sizes is the answer to weight control. But restaurants and frozen meals have managed to pack huge numbers of calories in new compact sizes. Burgers of similar size can vary from 500 to 1500 calories. Hidden oils and sugars in vegetables, drinks, breads, and deserts have converted what use to be a moderate meal to a caloric gorging event without it being obvious. After eating a large and highly caloric Thanksgiving meal, I feel overly full as expected, but new compact sized high calorie burgers and entrees leave me feeling hungry and wanting more. Low-fiber, highly processed carbohydrates and sugars provide a quick blood sugar rush without the complementary feeling of being full.

I read about another calorie challenge in Time Magazine. Frozen foods were found to contain an average of 8% more calories than their package labels stated and restaurant items contained 18% more calories. The FDA allows calorie food labels to be off by up to 20%, which means my 1800 calorie meal weight loss plan could be off by up to 360 calories a day and result in me gaining over 30 pounds a year.

It’s not just calories; genetically engineered food products have created new issues. Until the 1970’s rapeseed oil was considered unfit for human consumption due to its high erucic acid content (40%). The oil was used for lamps and machine lubrication. In 1974 a hybrid version edible by humans was trademarked in Canada as Canola Oil (meaning Canada oil low acid). A newer version of Canola oil was created in 1998 that was more drought resistant and it along with several other versions, all called Canola oil, are being grown all over the world as a high producing oil seed and animal feed crop. While looking for ways to deal with my constant gout attacks (gout is caused by high concentrations of eruric acid in the body), I became aware of how pervasive this new oil has become in all food items over the past ten years. It is touted as a healthy oil due to it being low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acid. Removing Canola oil from my diet along with meat from animals that are fed rapeseed feed has reduced my gout attacks, but it left me wondering about the effects from other hybrid and genetic engineered foods in my diet. The basic foods today have different nutritional and fat content then the meats, vegetables, and fruits we ate 20 years ago and they vary from farm to farm and region to region. Beef from grass fed cattle, for example, can have up to one third the fat content as beef from grain fed animals. The fat content of grass feed beef is lower per ounce than skinless chicken breast, it also has more vitamins and healthy fats. Using calorie counters for even the elemental food stuffs can be misleading with the changing fat and vitamin content of what was once considered generic food nutrition and caloric values.

We are certain we will find a sustainable and healthy weight loss diet here in Hawaii, but we realize the once simple act of cutting back on one’s daily calories is not as nearly as straight forward or easy as it would seem.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


While in engineering school I learned a system of math used for the calculation of voltage and current in alternating current circuits. Though it involves imaginary numbers (numbers that are negative when squared), its application to the physical world is very real as is the imaginary power.

The cyclical movement of alternating current between positive 120 volts and negative 120 volts has a lot of the features of the cyclical movement of the real estate market. The current, or flowing electrons, are 90 degrees out of phase with the voltage, or power, so that when voltage reaches it maximum, the current on the wire is 0 and when the current reaches its maximum, there is only imaginary power on the line.

Real estate market activity can be visualized using the same cyclic movement between positive and negative real estate prices using imaginary numbers. At the peak of housing prices, housing sales slowed as everyone held on for further price increases. Similarly, housing prices will be bottomed out when housing sales slow due to people waiting for prices to drop even more. When that time comes, however, most people will think it is crazy to even consider buying a house in the same way that everyone thought it was crazy to sell when housing prices were at their peak.

We are impressed with how many times housing prices have cycled between positive and negative, just like alternating circuits, during our 30 years of investing in realestate.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


As a part of our ongoing research on health and wealth, we found a project that studied the relationship of a person’s weight with their financial net worth. The study found that gaining weight resulted in a loss of wealth and returning to a prior healthy weight restored a person’s financial losses. Weight was measured using Body Mass Index (BMI), a calculation used to estimate a healthy body weight based on a person’s height.

The results differed by race and sex, but for whites, particularly women, high net worth was associated with a low BMI and high BMI levels were associated with lower net worth.

White females’ highest net worth was at the low end of the normal weight range (BMI 20) and white males’ highest net worth was at the upper end of the normal weight range (BMI 24). Small weight losses did not impact wealth much, but the study found that when a boomer aged person decreased their weight by 5.8 BMI points from the overweight range (BMI 27.5) to normal weight range (BMI 21.7), their net wealth improved by more than $4000. A 10 point decrease in BMI resulted in a wealth increase of $12,720 for white males and $11,880 for white females. To put the $12,720 increase into perspective, that amount is 25% of the average balance of Fidelity retirement savers’ 401K accounts in 2008

Although we have always felt that getting our BMIs back under 25 into the normal weight range was important for our health, we now realize that our weight is also important for sustaining our wealth and happiness.