By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
Gout – it’s not something you hear much about these days. In fact, you might think this condition died out after the Dust Bowl. But this old-fashioned ailment is making a comeback and now affects approximately three million Americans.
Are you at risk? If you’re a man, you may be. Gout is nine times more common in men than in women. And it can strike any time between age 20 and 70. But women can develop gout too, although it doesn’t usually occur until after menopause. Fortunately, you don’t have to be part of this growing trend. A few simple precautions can help you avoid a bout with gout.
Cause and Effect
Gout is a form of arthritis, known as metabolic arthritis. It occurs when there is too much uric acid in the blood. Most of the time, having too much uric acid isn’t harmful. In fact, many people with high levels in their blood never get gout. But when uric acid levels in the blood are too high, the uric acid may form hard crystals in your joints.
Uric acid is produced naturally by the kidneys to break down purines, which are also produced in the body. As a result of this imbalance in uric acid, uric crystals get imbedded in and around the body’s joints, causing inflammation and swelling in the feet, ankles and legs, knees, fingers and toes. This condition can become chronic and lead to hardened deposits of uric acid that affects the joints. It can also result in decreased kidney function, kidney stones, and even deformity. While the pain can be minimal, it can also be excruciating. If left untreated, gout can lead to permanent joint damage.
Your chances of getting gout are higher if you are overweight, drink too much alcohol, overindulge in soda pop, or eat too much meat and fish that are high in purines. Other foods that increase uric acid levels are anchovies, asparagus, legumes, mushrooms, meat, and shellfish. Some medicines, such as water pills (diuretics), can also bring on gout.
The most common sign that you’ve got gout is a nighttime attack of swelling, tenderness, redness, and sharp pain in your big toe. You can also get gout attacks in your foot, ankle, or knees. The attacks can last a few days or many weeks before the pain goes away. Another attack may not happen for months or years.
To ease the pain during a gout attack, rest the joint that hurts. Taking ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medicine can also help you feel better. But don’t take aspirin. It can make gout worse by raising the uric acid level in the blood.
If the pain is debilitating and doesn’t seem to be easing anytime soon, your doctor can give you a shot of corticosteroids. But this should be considered a last ditch remedy since corticosteroids can cause pain, infection, shrinking of soft tissue, and loss of color in the skin. Doctors usually limit corticosteroid injections to no more than three or four a year.
Instead of relying on synthetic drugs to rescue you after gout strikes, wouldn’t it be better to avoid the attack in the first place? You can – and it isn’t as hard as you think.
So Long Soda
One of the easiest ways to prevent gout is to limit the amount of soda pop you drink. According to a new study by researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of British Columbia, drinking just two sodas a day can increase the chances of getting gout by 85 percent!
The researchers gave food frequency questionnaires to nearly 46,400 men over 39 years of age. During the next seven years, the participants were tracked to see what conditions, if any, they developed. While the men fell victim to a variety of illnesses, one seemed more prevalent than any other – gout.
Naturally, the researchers pored over the participants’ food questionnaires to see if there was a common thread in what the gout-afflicted men ate or drank. It turned out that the amount of soda the men consumed was the common denominator. In fact, the more they drank, the higher the likelihood of developing gout. For example, drinking five to six glasses of a sugary soft drink each month increased the risk of men getting gout by approximately 30 percent compared to those who consumed one soft drink per month. But that risk almost tripled if the men consumed several soft drinks a day!
The lesson here: ditch the pop! Both regular and diet soda may play a role in gout, so stick with water, tea, coffee, or juice to slack your thirst.
Cut Your Risk
When it comes to gout, it’s not just what you don’t consume that matters. Recent studies show that men with a higher intake of vitamin C from food or supplements have a lower risk of developing the condition.
A look at nearly 47,000 U.S. men studied from 1986 to 2006 for a variety of health issues found that every 500 mg. increase of daily vitamin C intake produced a 17 percent decrease in the risk for gout. Among the men studied, those with daily intake of 1,500 mg. of supplemental C each day had a 45 percent lower risk of gout than those who took in less than 250 mg. a day.
If you aren’t taking a separate vitamin C supplement already, start. To prevent gout and boost your overall antioxidant protection, opt for at least 2,000 mg. of vitamin C daily. Since vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient, you don’t have to worry about taking too much. Anything your body doesn’t use is flushed out in your urine.
One Last Thing ...
There are supplements you can take to prevent damage from free radicals that can intensify problems. Here’s my list of recommendations for gout relief:
B Complex: 50 mg. of a comprehensive vitamin B complex one to three times daily, plus 500 mg. of pantothenic acid (B5) in divided doses to help the body convert uric acid to less harmful compounds.
Bromelain: 500 mg. twice daily. This enzyme comes from pineapple and is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Fish Oil: A high-quality fish oil supplement reduces inflammation in the joints. Take 2,000 to 3,000 mg. daily.
L-Glutathione: 500 mg. twice daily on an empty stomach will help the kidneys eliminate excess uric acid.
L-Methionine: 250 mg. twice daily on an empty stomach will detoxify purines.
Research Brief …
It’s no secret that excess belly fat can be bad for your heart. But according to a recent study, inflating that “spare tire” around your waist may also put the squeeze on your lungs.
Scientists have long known that abdominal obesity can significantly boost the risk of metabolic syndrome, which also includes a low level of HDL “good” cholesterol, and elevated triglycerides (blood fats), blood pressure, and blood sugar. People with at least three of these components are considered to have metabolic syndrome. Having metabolic syndrome increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
But now, French researchers have shown that metabolic syndrome is also associated with impaired lung function. And it’s that belly fat that is most closely linked to these respiratory problems.
During the study of more than 120,000 people, those with excess abdominal fat were twice as likely to have impaired lung function. This was true even if their overall weight was normal.
The researchers aren’t sure what the relationship is between big bellies and bad breathing. The effect could be mechanical: a large belly might restrict the diaphragm and make it harder for lungs to expand. Or, the extra fat could increase inflammation in the body, somehow harming the lungs. Whatever it is, the message is clear: Lose the gut.
How do you know if you have abdominal obesity? You can’t always tell by looking in the mirror. Abdominal obesity is defined as a waistline greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men. More than half of American adults today have bellies this size or larger.
The best way to reduce belly fat is by going back to basics: a reduced calorie diet combined with an increase in your physical activity. This will force your body to burn its stored fat as fuel. But don’t forget that you cannot control which pockets of fat are burned first. So even though you may have a large amount of abdominal fat and only a small amount around your face, your body may decide to reduce your facial fat first. Or, it may burn off some of the fat from your stomach area, then some from your face, then more from your belly, then some from your thighs or arms, and so on. The point is, reducing fat from your middle can be a slow process, and you must be patient. But the health benefits of long-term weight-loss – especially around your gut – really are a breath of fresh air.
Choi JW, et al. “Sugar-sweetened soft drinks, diet soft drinks, and serum uric acid level: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Arthritis and Rheumatism. 2008;59:109-116.
Gao X, et al. “Vitamin C intake and serum uric acid concentration in men.” Journal of Rheumatology. 2008;35:1853-1858.
Leone N, et al. “Lung function impairment and metabolic syndrome: the critical role of abdominal obesity.” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2009;179:509-516.