Digit Misery

Does gout set your toe aflame with pain?
Natural remedies may help if used early.

by Michele Wojciechowski

March 2016

Gout has been referred to as a “rich man’s” disease, mainly because it has been linked to the consumption of pricey food as well as alcohol. But you don’t need to have a lot of money to get gout—or to alleviate it.

Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when uric acid, normally eliminated through the urine, crystallizes, generally around joints. This causes inflammation, redness and pain.

“The classic gout joint is the knuckle joint of your big toe, but you can, of course, see it in other joints: ankles, knees, sometimes wrists and fingers,” explains Wayne Bonlie, MD, who practices in Timonium, Maryland. “It can be so painful that people say that they can’t stand the sheets on their feet at night.”

England’s King Henry VIII is one of history’s most famous gout sufferers, probably because of his diet: Alcohol, meat and other foods contain purines, which form uric acid. People over age 40 are susceptible to this disorder, which is also more common in men than in women. What’s more, the body may either overproduce uric acid or not break it down fast enough.

“Certain medical conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol” increase risk, says Kathleen Audette, ND, of the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences in Tempe, Arizona. She says some prescription drugs, such as diuretics, can also increase risk. A definitive diagnosis is important because there are other illnesses that have similarities to gout.

The best way to reduce gout-related pain is to reduce the inflammation. Tart cherry is among the most commonly used natural remedies. “It inhibits enzymes known as cyclooxy-genases, which are also the targets of regular anti-inflammatory drugs,” Bonlie says. “So drinking tart cherry juice or eating tart cherries themselves has a fairly potent anti-inflammatory effect.” (That’s why cherry extract is used in joint-support supplements.) In the earliest stages of a gout flareup, tart cherry juice or fruit may reduce the attack or stop it from developing. Bonlie cautions, though, that once an attack takes hold, it’s more difficult to bring under control.

Cheyenne Johnson of Flippin, Arkansas, knows this all too well. Gout runs in Johnson’s family and she can have flareups as often as two or three times a month. “You can’t even put your shoes on because your feet are so swollen and hurt so bad,” she says. “It’s pretty rough stuff.”

Johnson has drunk tart cherry juice concentrate mixed with water at the beginning of an attack. “By the next day, I had relief. The swelling was down, and the pain was only like half of what it had been,” she says.

Another natural therapy is bromelain, taken from pineapple stems and commonly found in digestive enzymes. “Bromelain has a fairly broad application of anti-inflammatory use,” says Bonlie. Audette adds that curcumin, found in turmeric, can also counteract inflammation.

People often need to make lifestyle changes to keep gout at bay. Both Bonlie and Audette suggest avoiding organ and red meats, as well as certain types of seafood, particularly sardines, anchovies and herring; if you must eat meat, stick with chicken and white fish.

Audette suggests cutting back on lentils, peas, beans, mushrooms, cauliflower and spinach, all of which tend to be high in purines. Audette says, “It’s actually more of a hypothetical possibility” that they would cause flares.

Stay away from alcohol and caffeine to avoid flareups. Finally, drink a lot of water. “If you get at all dehydrated, that tends to concentrate the uric acid even further,” says Bonlie.

Despite changing her diet, Johnson says, “I still get my flareups.” Besides taking tart cherry juice, Johnson makes turmeric tea and cooks her food with turmeric. “That seems to help as well,” she notes.

The bottom line, says Audette: “I tell people, ‘All things in moderation.’”

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