Many years ago, people thought gout was the result of heavy drinking and too much rich food. Although this is partially true, many patients who see me after a gout attack don’t know what is actually causing the pain on a physical level. Another common belief is that only men suffer from gout. Though the condition is more common in men, women are also at risk, especially after menopause. Since 1 in 10 people over 60 get this form of arthritis, it is important to understand how gout affects our joints and how it can be managed in everyday life.
Uric Acid in the Body
Uric acid is a chemical that protects blood vessels from damage and acts as an antioxidant. It is formed when natural cellular building blocks called purines break down. Purines are part of the chemical structure of genes in humans, plants and animals. Therefore, purines are found in nearly every food we eat.
In some people, excessive uric acid builds up in the body. The kidneys, which are responsible for balancing uric acid levels, may not be functioning optimally. It is also possible that your diet contains too many foods with very high purine levels. These include protein rich meats, such as organ meat, or seafood like mackerel, herring, sardines and mussels. When too much uric acid collects in the blood, hard crystals form and become lodged in joints, tendons and other tissues, leading to a gout attack.
Gout symptoms are fairly easy to recognize. Sudden burning pain, tenderness and swelling will occur most typically in a big toe, but also in the knee, ankle or foot. Many people experience a gout attack during the night. The pain and inflammation can last for days or weeks, but it could be months before another attack occurs. If left untreated, gout can cause serious damage to your joints, tendons and tissues over time.
Natural Ways to Manage Gout
Seeing your doctor is important after a gout attack, even if the pain has subsided. He or she will help devise a specific course of treatment, but there are some things you can do to prevent future attacks. One of the greatest risk factors for gout is carrying excess weight. You do not have to become movie star slim, but reducing your body weight by even a moderate percentage is a smart move for your overall health.
Small changes in diet can prevent gout. Research shows that lowfat dairy may stave off attacks. Reduce your intake of the high purine foods mentioned above. Alcohol is another key risk factor for gout (it inhibits the release of uric acid by the kidneys), so you may want to eliminate or significantly reduce alcohol consumption. Beer, in particular, is very high in purines. A recent study found that sweetened soft drinks are almost as likely as beer to cause gout. So, if you drink several cans of regular soda every week, replace these beverages with natural fruit juice. Fluids, especially water, are important too—they can help the body flush out excess uric acid.
As you age, it is vital to keep joints strong. Exercise and vitamin supplements can help with this. Along with dietary changes and watching your weight, these natural solutions can help significantly reduce the recurrence of gout. Unlike gout sufferers of decades past, you don’t have to give up everything you like as long as rich meals and treats are enjoyed in moderation.