Gout, a very painful inflammatory type of arthritis, has been on the increase over the past two decades. Recently someone asked me about gout: what causes it and what can be done to prevent or manage it? Are there other treatment options besides anti-inflammatory medications? Here’s what my research turned up…
Gout is caused by elevated uric acid levels in the blood. Uric acid is normally present in our blood, and is not generally a problem because it is excreted by the kidneys.
But when there is an excess amount of uric acid, it forms very sharp crystals which get deposited in joints, tissues and tendons causing pain, redness and swelling. The big toe is most often affected but it can also affect knees, hands, feet and ankles. Untreated gout can cause permanent damage to joint(s) and tissues around the joint(s).
Research indicates that increased uric acid and gout are often associated with other medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high lipid levels in the blood, obesity, heart disease and kidney stones.
Men naturally have more uric acid in their blood than women, so men are at a higher risk for gout. Uric acid generally increases in women who are post-menopausal, which puts them at the same risk as men.
Here are some of the possible reasons for the elevated uric acid level:
- the body is producing more uric acid than the kidneys can excrete
- genetic or hereditary factors (for example if your relatives also have had gout, your chances of having gout are higher)
- some medications can stop the excretion of uric acid from the kidneys, such as aspirin or medication to reduce water retention
- medical conditions such as diabetes, obesity or high blood pressure can be a factor
- dietary lifestyle can be a factor, as indicated below
While medications can be used to lower uric acid levels, dietary and lifestyle factors can also play a key role in preventing and/or controlling gout attacks.
What factors can increase the uric acid level and/or the risk of gout?
- Low carb diets that are designed for quick weight loss can cause a chain reaction that increases uric acid
- Consuming certain foods that are high in purines (building blocks for uric acid) can increase the risk of gout:
- red meat, organ meats, seafood, poultry (especially turkey)
- some vegetables: asparagus, mushrooms, spinach and cauliflower
- sugar-sweetened beverages, particularly products with high fructose corn syrup (known as HFCS), which stimulates the production of uric acid
- alcohol, especially beer
What dietary and lifestyle factors can help manage and/or decrease the risk of gout?
- getting regular exercise
- maintaining ideal body weight
- consuming fruits and low fat dairy products
- using plant oils for cooking
- drinking enough healthy fluids, especially water
- taking multi-vitamins
While gout might not be totally avoidable for everyone (depending on age, gender and genetics) all indications are that it certainly is manageable with the right diet and lifestyle. If you are prone to gout attacks, perhaps you could try adopting one or two of the above diet or lifestyle factors and see how your body responds.
Are you interested in learning more about how to build a healthy lifestyle that lasts? Would you like to cut through the confusion of which foods are healthy for you and which foods are not? Contact me, and let’s chat! I’d love to help you!
Health.com Gout – 8 Foods to Avoid