Kim Jong-un’s Gout Problem—and Mine

Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un / AP

At this moment, Kim Jong-un is feeling miserable. Little things annoy him. He finds it hard to concentrate. All he can think of is that swelling around the base of his big toe. The slightest pressure—a brush against a bedsheet—causes excruciating pain. He has gout.

According to state media, the North Korean dictator, who hasn’t been seen in public these past few weeks, is merely experiencing "discomfort." But as North Korea expert Michael Madden told Reuters, "Based on his gait, it appears [Kim] has gout—something [due to] diet and genetic predisposition that has affected other members of the Kim family."

Gout occurs when sodium urate crystallizes around a joint rather than being passed out of your system. More often than not, the joint is just below the big toe, although it can form around the elbow and elsewhere. Left untreated, the swelling worsens—placing the slightest weight on the foot can be an agonizing ordeal.

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I know. As a fellow gout sufferer, I am well aware of the ways to deal with "the patrician’s malady": medications like Indomethacin can reduce the swelling while Zyloprim can help suppress future flare-ups. There are also supposed homeopathic cures like drinking pure black cherry juice. Not sure how much of that is available in Pyongyang.

The larger issue, as mentioned by Michael Madden, is diet. Doctors advise you to avoid certain rich foods. But if you ever go on the Internet for medical advice (who doesn’t?), the list of gout-inducing suspects is considerable: red meat, pork, lamb, shellfish, oily fish, organ meats, cured meats, cake, ice cream, spirits, beer, beans, and oatmeal—yes, oatmeal.

The problem, however, is that this dictator has the capacity to indulge his every proclivity, whether it be drugs, alcohol, sex with kidnapped Asian starlets, or lobster thermidor. Would a personal physician really dare advise him to be more abstemious? Kim might take these suggestions to heart or possibly decide to obliterate the physician by having a mortar shell land on his head. These options are not available to me.

If Kim doesn’t change his ways, his gout will only get worse, although it’s not a fatal condition. But he’ll have other associated problems to worry about, like diabetes and heart failure. His situation is even more alarming considering he is only 31 years old.

But what is truly a shame about Kim having gout is that he sullies the reputation of an otherwise distinguished and honorable group of sufferers that includes Erasmus, Samuel Johnson, Immanuel Kant, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, me, and Jared Leto.

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Victorino Matus is a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and author of Vodka: How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America.