This common type of inflammatory arthritis develops in some people from elevated levels of uric acid present in the blood. The acid builds up and forms tiny, sharp, pointy crystals on the cartilage in joints and tendons. Imagine the feeling of needles being stuck into the feet, toes, soft tissues, or a body joint: ankle, knee, elbow, wrist or finger, especially when you move. That’s gout for you.
About 4 percent of American adults – (approximately 6 million men and 2 million women) have experienced this unpleasant health condition which can be inherited and therefore runs in families.
Until age 60, more men than women report cases of gout. Scientists theorize that female estrogen before menopause protects women. What we do know is that the body gets rid of uric acid in excreted urine (hence its name). When uric acid accumulates inside the body faster than the kidneys can flush it out, gout is likely to develop.
The extremely painful symptoms of arthritic gout include:
- Severe episodes of pain
There are four stages of gout:
- Asymptomatic hyperuricemia. Before the first attack of gout, no symptoms present but a blood test would reveal high blood uric acid levels and crystals forming in the joint.
- Acute gout. The first gout attack may come on after some extraordinary behavior such as heavy drinking spikes the already-high blood uric acid into the red zone (as it were) or something causes the crystals inside a joint to move around.
The majority of gout attacks occur at night and get worse over the following 8 to 12 hours. The pain eases after a few days but it typically takes a week to 10 days before all the pain goes away.
Because gout is caused by high levels of blood uric acid, unless a patient makes significant and mindful lifestyle changes, the odds of a second attack within one year are 3 out of 5 – 60 percent. That number goes up to 84 percent within three years of the first attack.
- Interval gout. All the pain is gone but the underlying cause (too much uric acid in the blood) still remains. Most likely, low-level inflammation is quietly continuing to damage joint tissues.
- Chronic gout. When blood uric acid levels remain high for several years, gout attacks occur more often and the excruciating pain may not fade away as quickly. Damaged joints may lose mobility.
The secret to beating gout is to take action immediately after the first attack. This is your body’s wake-up call to a chemical imbalance that won’t improve on its own.
First, consult with your doctor about getting an in-office procedure called joint aspiration. After receiving a local anesthetic, a sterile syringe is inserted into the inflamed joint area to extract some joint fluid which is then analyzed for its uric acid crystal content.
Your doctor may also order a blood test to gauge how much uric acid is present in your blood.
The good news is that chronic gout is almost always avoidable when steps are taken to treat, manage, and prevent future episodes.
Good old D&E (diet and exercise) lie at the root of most human health conditions and gout is no exception.
The body converts purine compounds into uric acid, the underlying cause of gout. A successful anti-gout diet promotes foods low in purines – such as bananas, apricots, and cantaloupe – that dissolve uric acid crystals.
Avoid overindulging in the substances listed below which studies have linked to gout attacks:
- Eating red meat, shellfish (especially anchovies, shellfish, sardines, and tuna), and organ meats (e.g., liver, brains, and kidneys)
- Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks daily
- Fructose in sweetened soda drinks
Do drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. Alcoholic beverages make the kidneys excrete uric acid more slowly, adding to the gout-provoking build-up in the blood. As my college physics professor explained in one of his gratuitous Life Tips, alcohol is actually a dehydrant – it removes water from your body’s tissues. Water, of course, is the best hydrating agent and can lower the risk of companion kidney stones in gout sufferers.
Consuming dairy products is also linked to a reduced risk for gout attacks.
Eat more complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Oddly enough, veggies high in purines, including asparagus and spinach, do not raise the risk of chronic gout attacks.
Cherries and cranberries reduce inflammation and strengthen kidney function.
Apples contain malic acid which breaks down uric acid.
Blueberries contain anthocyanosides, an anti-inflammatory agent that protects the collagen in your joints.
Some herbs, taken as teas or supplements, dissolve uric acid crystals, including celery seeds, sarsaparilla, dandelion leaf, Cat’s claw, and rose hip tea.
A daily dose of 500 milligrams of vitamin C may help reduce blood uric acid levels. Natural foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, and cabbage.
Some scientific research suggests that moderate coffee consumption can lower the chance of developing painful gout. Caffeine is a powerful drug and may not be appropriate if you have other health issues. When in doubt, talk things over with your healthcare provider.
Dr. Axe claims that the following six foods can cure gout permanently:
- Celery seed extract
- Black cherry juice
- Fish oil
- Proteolytic enzymes
“If you get rid of…the excess alcohol, the sugar, the grains, the conventional meats, and add in a diet higher in fruits and vegetables along with those six home gout remedies, you will see your gout disappear in 24 hours or less.”
Patients who are obese or have had a gastric bypass surgery are also at higher risk for developing gout.
Increasing your activity level will almost always improve your overall health condition. However, never aggravate an inflamed gout attack by exercising. Let the episode pass first before resuming your regime. Build up stamina and strength slowly but surely.
Exercise in and of itself does not break up uric acid crystals, nor does it help lower blood uric acid levels.
A gout-friendly diet and regular exercise may keep you off gout medications or reduce your dosage.