Gout is a type of arthritis characterized by pain, stiffness, and inflammation in the joints. Many centuries ago, gout used to be an uncommon disease that afflicted mostly aristocrats and the rich who ate too much fancy foods and drank too much liquor. Now, gout has become increasingly prevalent in the U.S. and many developed countries.
Gout affects mostly men in their 40s or older who usually have high uric acid levels in their blood. But this does not mean that women are exempt from this disease. Once a woman reaches menopause, her body drastically cuts its production of the hormone estrogen, which helps the kidneys excrete uric acid from the body. Without enough estrogen, a woman’s uric acid level begins to increase. Therefore, by age 60, the number of cases of gout in women and men are nearly equal.
The symptoms of gout are usually acute and they can strike without warning, often at night. This condition usually affects the big toe but it can also occur in any joint in the body. Gout attacks or flare-ups are rather painful. The skin gets red, inflamed, and extremely sensitive to touch.
Acute gout symptoms usually go away in 3-10 days and the next attack may not occur again for months or even years. However, if you fail to address the condition, more gout attacks may follow and they may become more severe and last longer.
What Causes Gout?
Gout occurs when monosodium urate crystals build up within joints following chronic high uric acid levels in the blood. Normally, uric acid dissolves in the blood and passes through the kidneys without causing any harm. When you have high uric acid levels in the blood, it is often caused by your body creating too much uric acid or failing to excrete enough of it in your urine. This results in uric aid buildup that forms needle-like crystals in your joints and the surrounding tissues, leading to intense pain.
Uric acid is normally formed in the body as a by-product of fructose as well as purine metabolism.
- Fructose is metabolized by the body differently from glucose as it goes directly to the liver. When your liver metabolizes fructose, it produces numerous waste products and toxins, including a high amount of uric acid. Actually, fructose typically generates uric acid within minutes of ingestion!
- Purines are nitrogen-containing compounds, which are made inside the cells of your body or from foods containing purine, such as organ meats, red meats, mackerel, and sardines. When your body breaks down the purine in these foods, uric acid is produced. Chronic high uric acid levels in the blood may lead to the buildup of crystals in your joints.
Natural Relief For Gout Symptoms
Over the years, doctors have been prescribing gout patients with different pharmaceutical drugs. However, not only do they not actually cure gout, the drugs come with a fair amount of undesirable side effects. The good news is that there are natural approaches to treating gout symptoms and it all starts with your diet.
1. Limiting fructose in your diet is one of the most important parts of managing and preventing gout attacks. When you suffer from gout, you need to limit the amount of fructose you eat. Hence, it is essential to avoid the following foods:
- Sugar, all types
- High fructose corn syrup
- Agave nectar
- Sports drinks
- Sweetened beverages
- Fruit juices
- Dried fruit
With gout, you can still eat a small amount of whole fruits but stick to those that are low in fructose, namely passion fruit, prune, apricot, guava, cantaloupe, kiwi, starfruit, berries, cherries, pineapple, and all citrus fruits. Be very cautious with mango, grapes, pear, watermelon, persimmon, and apple as they are rather high in fructose content.
If you need to add sweetness to something, try using stevia (which is a sweet herb) or sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol (but only in low to moderate amounts as excess may lead to bloating and diarrhea).
2. Avoid high purine foods that can trigger gout attacks. Reduce your consumption of red meat and certain seafood, and watch out for the following foods that are particularly high in purine:
- Organ meats (heart, liver, and kidney)
Some vegetables, like asparagus, cauliflower, mushroom, peas, and spinach are also high in purine. However, research shows that eating a moderate amount is not associated with any increased risk of gout.
3. Limit alcohol consumption, especially beer. Alcohol raises gout risks, but beer is the worst. The yeast and other ingredients in beer tend to trigger uric acid production.
4. Drink tart cherry juice. Studies found that tart cherry juice could aid in reducing uric acid as well as inflammation. Cherries contain powerful compounds like anthocyanin and bioflavonoids that are known to be anti-inflammatory and have antioxidant properties. Look for organic tart cherry juice concentrate with no added sugar.
5. Eat more potassium-rich foods. Potassium deficiency is sometimes seen in people with gout. Potassium is essential for many bodily functions. The most beneficial sources include:
- Swiss chard
- Crimini mushroom
- Brussels sprouts
- Romaine lettuce
6. Avoid soy milk. Some research shows that it increases uric acid levels.
7. Dairy products and coffee have been associated with lower incidence of gout. Always buy organic to avoid the antibiotics and hormones used in raising cattle as well as pesticides in animal feed and coffee crops.
8. Exercise regularly. Many gout sufferers think that exercise will exacerbate their pain or cause further injury and end up being sedentary. This is actually one of the worst things to do if you have gout or any type of arthritis.
Exercise helps with weight management, improves circulation, and normalizes insulin levels. Exercise is also a powerful tool for preserving bone density and joint mobility. If you are not sure what type of exercise is best for you, work with a physical therapist or fitness trainer to develop a safe and effective workout program for your specific needs.