Gout has been nicknamed “the disease of kings,” because it was once associated with a rich, extravagant diet that only monarchs could afford. But today, just about anyone can become afflicted with gout. This condition causes debilitating arthritic pain when excessive uric acid in the blood forms needle-like crystals that accumulate in joints in the foot, ankle, wrists and fingers. Gout is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis in the United States, affecting more than 3 million people. If untreated, the condition can lead to infection, amputation and even death.
For reasons not quite understood, the spring season is typically when gout flare-ups are at their worst. Throughout history and across the world, gout has been associated with extravagant living: rich foods, sedentary lifestyle and alcohol consumption. But researchers now know that there’s truth to these observations. Rich foods like fatty animal protein can be high in purines, organic compounds that break down into uric acid. Before the growth of the food industry’s mass-production techniques and an affluent middle class, not many people could regularly afford the meats and alcoholic beverages that contribute to gout. In the past, acquiring gout was sometimes even seen as a rite of passage — a message to society that the afflicted person had arrived at a desirable status level.
Unfortunately, gout is not an enviable reward for high social standing. The condition itself is quite painful; and the underlying causes are also associated with kidney stones, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Gout is no longer restricted to aristocrats. Virtually anyone can take part in the dietary excesses associated with the condition. Even Asian cultures, spared these types of diseases for centuries thanks to their healthy diets, are now incorporating Western cuisine into their lifestyles and falling victim to gout and other Western afflictions.
Gout tends to affect older people, mostly men. But post-menopausal women are also at risk.
While a diet rich in animal products increases your risk, gout may also have a genetic component. Some people simply can’t metabolize uric acid as well as others. Furthermore, people with a joint injury can be more susceptible when uric acid crystalizes in the damaged body part. Kidney function may also be a factor: Inefficient kidneys may allow uric acid levels to increase in the blood.
However, to some degree, we can connect gout to the lifestyle company it keeps. Many gout patients are also afflicted with metabolic syndrome: obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. These all possess major diet/lifestyle components. In addition, early research has linked gout to insulin resistance.
Gout is most common in foot and ankle joints, particularly the big toe, and causes acute, sudden pain and inflammation. Symptoms may include:
- Sudden onset of joint tenderness, particularly at night.
- Sudden swelling.
- Redness on joints.
- Painful swelling in the joints where the toes and foot meet.
The pain can persist for days, weeks or even months and is often treated with ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. In some cases, steroids may be used to reduce the inflammation and control the pain. There are also drugs that reduce uric acid in the blood. However, most people who go this route must remain on the medication for the rest of their lives.
Leverage A Healthy Lifestyle
The geographic, dietary and cultural separation between Eastern and Western cultures has provided a means of analyzing how diet and lifestyle factors affect large population groups. The differences in how gout affects these two groups offer important insights into the disease.
In the past, while the wealthier classes in Europe were enduring painful gout attacks, Asian aristocracies, due to their more austere diets, were having few if any problems with the condition. As if to further prove the point, the spread of Western dietary habits throughout Asia coincided with an increase in the prevalence of gout, as well as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Though sometimes difficult to implement, the overall solution to gout is simple: Choose a healthier lifestyle. Reduce the amount of animal protein in the diet and increase vegetable consumption. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.) are particularly beneficial; they contain compounds that reduce inflammation, support detoxification and boost the immune system. In addition, eat whole grains, drink plenty of fresh water and consume alcohol in moderation.
Research has shown that:
- Low-fat dairy products may reduce uric acid levels.
- Fructose worsens gout symptoms.
- Red wine is easier on gout patients than other alcoholic beverages, perhaps due to its antioxidant content.
- Coffee seems to help, though not other caffeinated drinks; teas have no effect.
- Gout patients who consume cherries lower their risk of an attack by 35 percent.
Most importantly, stay active. If there has ever been a fountain of health, it flows from regular exercise.
Supplements For Gout
The right supplements can reduce gout discomfort by alleviating some of the underlying causes. I recommend a focus on three areas that are highly interrelated: inflammation, circulation and metabolism.
Gout is an inflammatory disease, so we must find ways to reduce chronic inflammation. Scientists now know that one of the biggest culprits in chronic inflammation is a protein called galectin-3. Extensive clinical and preclinical research show that excess galectin-3 in the blood is associated with heart disease, cancer and a number of other degenerative conditions. Fortunately, there is a relatively simple way to stop galectin-3’s adverse effects. Derived from citrus peels, modified citrus pectin has been found to block excess galectin-3, reduce inflammation and promote cellular health. A low-glycemic, alkaline diet can also help address inflammation.
Poor circulation can also be a prime factor in gout. A sluggish circulatory system allows uric acid to build up in the joints. Natural ingredients that promote circulation, such as hawthorn berry, nattokinase, medicinal mushrooms and other botanicals, can help reduce inflammation and promote healing and recovery.
As noted, gout is related to diabetes and metabolic syndrome, so supporting a healthy, efficient metabolism is also a priority. A low-glycemic diet combined with natural herbs and nutrients can help balance blood glucose and insulin to address metabolic syndrome. Ingredients such as lipoic acid, alginates from seaweed, cinnamon, holy basil, fenugreek, American ginseng, and other herbs and nutrients work to support healthy glucose and fat metabolism, reduce inflammation, and promote metabolic and overall health.
We are fortunate to live in such plentiful times. But good fortune has to be accompanied by responsibility for our own health. Indulgences often bring undesirable consequences.
While gout can be excruciatingly painful, it is also preventable. And as we work to prevent gout, or at least mitigate its symptoms, we are also improving our overall health. Remember, the same underlying causes that boost uric acid and drive inflammation can also contribute to cancer, diabetes and heart disease. By addressing underlying causes with good eating and exercise habits, we can prevent disease, extend our life span and, most importantly, improve our health.
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