Gout is a very real condition – just ask anyone who has ever been awakened in the middle of the night by a brutal pain that makes them believe their big toe is on fire. The toe is inflamed and so tender that even the weight of a bed sheet is unbearable. This is an acute attack of gout, also known as gouty arthritis, which is a form of arthritis that is distinguished by sudden, severe attacks of pain, inflammation and tenderness in the joints. The symptoms may last for over a week and are sometimes accompanied by a fever. Gout typically affects the large joint of the big toe, but it can also occur in the knees, feet, ankles, fingers and wrists.
Attacks of gout do not just occur late at night. Those with this ailment must endure living with the unknown as well as the pain. A sufferer can suddenly be crippled with intense pain at any time during the day while doing normal activities. They may simply be walking the dog, working or playing with the kids. There is no warning when it will strike. Men are far more likely than women to develop gout, and most often the disease begins after the age of 30. Gout is a complex ailment that can affect anyone, but 90 percent of the diagnoses are men and there are over 2 million sufferers throughout North America.
Uric acid is the culprit and cause of gout. The human body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines. Purines are natural compounds found in all foods and body cells. When cells die and are recycled, the purines are broken-down fully into uric acid. If the uric acid level in the blood stream is high, urate crystals accumulate around the joints causing gout and the debilitating pain that it produces. Normally, this acid stays dissolved in the blood and is removed by the kidneys into the urine. However, if too little uric acid is passed by the kidneys, it can build up forming sharp needle-like crystals in the joints or surrounding tissues. This causes pain and inflammation.
Gout can become a crippling or deadly disease. The underlying cause of gout, hyperuricemia, is linked to kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure. Frequent gout attacks may totally destroy joints, and larger growths of uric crystals can disfigure both the feet and hands. In addition, uric crystals can form in other parts of the body such as the heart. This can be fatal. These crystals may also collect in the urinary tract causing kidney stones. Furthermore, studies show that there appears to be a significant correlation between uric acid and the loss of cognitive functions such as memory in the elderly.
Typically, the treatments for gout are colchicine, steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs include over-the-counter drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen as well as potent prescription drugs. All of these cause uncomfortable side effects, such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting; and they carry the risk of ulcers, stomach pain and bleeding.
Fortunately, there are natural ways to reduce the risk and reoccurrence of gout:
- Stick with a healthy diet and eat foods that contain fewer purines. Although most uric acid in the bloodstream comes from normal body functions, eating foods that contain large amounts of purines also contributes to high uric acid levels in the body. Lower the amount of animal protein you eat. Organ meats such as liver are particularly high in purines. Reduce the amount of red meat and seafood you ingest, and remember that where the proteins come from is important. Meat proteins are known to raise uric acid levels while vegetable proteins lower uric acid levels; even those vegetables that are high in purines.
- Do not fast or attempt rapid weight loss as doing so will temporarily raise uric acid levels. Select meal portions that will allow you to maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat plenty of cherries; they are a popular home remedy for gout. Many studies show that cherries decrease uric acid levels. The recommended amount is between one half of a cup and one pound of cherries a day. This is a remedy that has been used successfully for many years. Adding cherries and other dark colored fruits, such as blueberries, blackberries and raspberries to your diet is a safe way to lower uric acid levels.
- Foods rich in Vitamin C help protect the body against arthritis.
- Drink plenty of healthy water. Staying properly hydrated will help dilute and rid your body of unwanted and excess uric acid.
- Coffee. Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and lower uric acid levels. No one really understands why, but the available evidence is enough to encourage non-coffee drinkers to start.
- Avoid most alcoholic beverages. Beer is known to be very bad for gout, and those with gout should not drink it at all. Other spirits such as whiskey also increase the risk of gout but less than that of beer. Strangely, one or two glasses of wine will actually reduce your risk of gout slightly, but any more than that will, once again, increase the risk of gout. If you want to drink, limit yourself to two glasses of wine a day.
- Lose weight. Obesity can increase the risk of gout.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, exercise and/or deep-breathing exercises. These are often helpful in releasing the tension caused by joint pain.
The choices you make everyday in your life affect your risk of getting gout. Eat a balanced diet and live a healthy lifestyle to avoid this and other disorders that can harm your well-being. The best of health comes through knowledge.
Wishing you the best in health,
The Wolfe Clinic