What the heck is gout? Well, if you are one of the 3 million Americans who suffer from this disease, you know exactly what it is: painful! Gout is actually a form of arthritis that affects more men than women (although you ladies are more susceptible after menopause). Gout symptoms include severe, burning pain at the joints, which may appear red and swollen, particularly at the base of the big toes. Gout is caused by an increase of uric acid in the blood, the byproduct of purines that are produced naturally within your body and from certain foods. Tiny urate crystals accumulate around the joints, causing inflammation and intense, sharp pain. Advanced gout can even cause kidney stones.
So what does gout have to do with nutrition? PLENTY! Although certain medications and family history can increase one’s risk for the condition, lifestyle choices can have a far greater impact on the odds if an individual will get gout. Excessive drinking, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes all can increase incidence. And ALL of these factors are preventable and controllable by a healthy diet.
Doctors may prescribe medications to help treat individuals with gout, such as NSAIDS (ibuprofen) and steroids, but many physicians also recommend that the individual lose weight, increase exercise, get diabetes and high cholesterol/high blood pressure under control, and to drink plenty of fluids (i.e. water) and follow a low purine diet. Purines are found in mainly animal foods, so reducing one’s intake of meat, poultry and fish to 4-6 ounces per day may manage symptoms, and choosing alternative protein sources such as tofu, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and nut butters may also help.
Some research has even linked supplementation with Vitamin C in alleviating gout symptoms, but caution is advised as megadoses can actually increase the amount of uric acid in the blood (the cause for the painful urate crystals). So it’s best to get your C naturally through fruits and veggies like oranges, grapefruit, green peppers, and potatoes. Other studies have found cherries to be very effective in lowering serum (blood) levels of uric acid, but participants had to eat about 40-50 fresh bing cherries (or the equivalent in concentrate) to see any change. Health Food stores and a variety of websites do sell cherry juice in concentrate (just be sure the seller is reputable).
Gout IS preventable in many cases, and absolutely controllable through medications in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle. Maybe you don’t suffer from gout but you know someone who does. If the person is suffering from ongoing pain, you may want to share this article with them, or better yet refer them to a Registered Dietitian as we can help them with their nutrition and get their symptoms under control.