Q. What is gout, and can natural medicine help people who have it?
A. Gout has been called “the rich man’s disease,” but you don’t have to be wealthy to suffer from the debilitating symptoms of a gout attack. It is an arthritic condition that accounts for 5 percent of all cases of arthritis and is most common in middle-aged men.
When gout occurs, uric acid crystals are deposited in joints or connective tissues, causing swelling, heat, redness, pain and stiffness. The area most commonly affected is the big toe, and gout attacks frequently occur at night. Most people who have gout attacks are prescribed anti-inflammatory medications.
Uric acid is normally produced in the body and usually is easily eliminated. But people who suffer from gout have an excess of uric acid that can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, use of diuretics and excessive intake of niacin (vitamin B3), aspirin and certain prescription medications. The uric acid causes the acute pain of gout.
Over the centuries, gout was most often seen in wealthy people because it can be caused by overindulgence in alcohol, high-calorie foods, and “rich” foods like meats (including organ meats such as liver), gravies, shellfish, sardines, mackerel and anchovies. All of these can increase the level of uric acid in the body. Prevention is always the best cure, and avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol and these foods can help prevent gout.
Additional dietary measures that can help prevent gout attacks include drinking plenty of water, avoiding sugar (which can increase uric-acid production), staying clear of high-protein diets (although moderate protein ingestion is advised), and eating a diet high in complex carbohydrates and vegetables. Cherries, which have been found to lower uric-acid levels, are also recommended.
Other natural methods can also help prevent or treat gout attacks. Folic acid blocks an enzyme responsible for the formation of uric acid, and omega-3 fats found in fish can decrease the inflammation associated with gout. In addition, natural anti-inflammatories such as bromelain (derived from pineapples) can help during gout attacks. If you have a gout attack, consider acupuncture to help with the joint pain and inflammation.
Finally, some cases of gout are due to excessive exposure to lead. If you’ve had a recent attack of gout and you have no family history of the condition, it’s a good idea to have your lead levels checked.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com