(This article is from the old School of Natural Healing newsletter)

August 2005

by Lindsay Wolsey, MH

We have had a lot of people calling our office wanting information about Gout. We have also discovered that there are several misconceptions about gout, and some triggers that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. So, it wasn’t too hard to select this months topic.

What is Gout?

Gout is a form of arthritis that causes sudden, severe attacks of pain in the joints. Gout attacks can occur from time to time, lasting anywhere from a week to six weeks. An attack can last for a few weeks if left untreated. Ninety percent of people who have a gout attack will have another attack.

What are the Symptoms?

Pain and swelling, usually in the big toe, although other joints can be affected, such as the knee, ankle and foot. It can also cause tenderness, redness, and warmth.

What Causes Gout?

Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid comes from the natural breakdown of the genetic material in cells (RNA and DNA). Because our body is constantly breaking things down, there is always uric acid present. Some foods contain large amounts of pre-cursors to uric acid, called purines. Purines are particularly high in red meats, organ meats and shellfish. Astonishingly, purines are also fairly high in spinach, asparagus, legumes, and broccoli. When uric acid levels rise beyond a certain point, uric acid crystals form and collect in the joint or joints, causing pain. These crystals can also build-up in other organs of the body, causing damage.

Am I at Risk?

Over 1 million Americans suffer from gout. Men are more likely to have gout than women, especially men over 30. When gout does affect women, it is usually during menopause. Other people who are likely to get gout are people who are overweight, people who consume a lot of alcohol, people who use diuretics to lower blood pressure or treat heart failure. When gout affects younger people, it is generally those who have been taking certain medications for a long time, consume a lot of alcohol, or have a genetic predisposition to gout.

Some medications can make it difficult for the body to flush out uric acid, and can lead to a gout attack. These include: Anti-inflammatory medications made from salicylic acid, such as aspirin; Cyclosporine, a medicine used to suppress the body’s immune system (Cyclosporine often is used to prevent the rejection of transplanted organs); Levodopa, a medicine used to treat Parkinson’s disease; Niacin, a vitamin that is part of the vitamin B complex and sometimes used to treat high cholesterol.

A recent rise in gout cases may be linked to the Atkins diet, which relies on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate, low-fiber diet. First, many of the foods promoted by these diets, such as bacon, organ meats, and some types of seafood, are high in purines and cause uric acid levels to rise. Second, low-carbohydrate diets put stress on the kidneys, which might make them more sensitive to changes in uric acid levels.

Allopathic Treatment

Allopathically, medications are used to control the symptoms of gout. This is generally done with an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Side effects of ibuprofen include stomach upset, indigestion and headaches. If people cannot take ibuprofen, they might get a prescription for a corticosteroid, which could be given as a pill or as an injection to the afflicted joint. Side effects include weight gain, increased appetite, and mood swings. For someone who has experience multiple gout attacks, a doctor might prescribe a medicine that lowers uric acid levels, such as allopurinal or probenecid. Side effects include upset stomach, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, and skin rash. Allopurinal is not very effective during an attack, and is a preventative drug. Another drug that is used by allopaths is colchocine, which dissolves uric acid crystals. Colchocine is highly toxic, and is derived from a very toxic plant. Currently, researchers are studying urate oxidase, which is an enzyme in other mammals which converts purines to allantoin.

Herbal Aids

Celery seed extract: James Duke, one of our instructors at The School of Natural Healing, swears by celery seed extract, which can help eliminate uric acid. In fact, one of the questions on his section of the exam at The School of Natural Healings Master Herbalist Certification Seminar is: what supplement did James Duke take before he left his hotel this morning? He also said you can eat stalks of celery to help keep gout at bay.

Cherry juice: Cherries contain flavanoid compounds that may lower uric acid and reduce inflammation. Many people have said that drinking tart cherry juice has helped ease gout attacks.

Uric Acid formula: Master Herbalist David Christopher recently put together a formula that combines celery seed, nettles, licorice, white willow, hydrangea, apple cider vinegar and cherry juice. Many people are currently using this formula to help prevent gout attacks.

Turmeric: One of the compounds in Turmeric, curcumin, inhibits the synthesis of prostoglandins in the body that are involved with pain. It is similar to the effects of aspirin, only a little weaker. At high doses, curcumin stimulates the adrenal glands to release the body’s cortisone, which is a potent pain reliever.

Oats: Teas made from the silica rich green tops of the oat plant are said to have a diuretic effect on uric acid levels.

Apple Cider Vinegar: Dr. Christopher recommended drinking apple cider vinegar with honey and bathing the afflicted area in apple cider vinegar.

Other Treatments

Diet: Uric acid is caused by purines. Foods that are high in purines are things like liver, kidneys, anchovies, sardines, cod, trout, venision, turkey, alcohol. Foods that contain a moderate level of purines are duck, chicken, ham, beef, lobsters, lima beans. Foods that contain little, if any, purines are fruits, most green vegetables, grains, tomatoes. If you are inclined towards gout attacks, you might want to watch what you eat.

Avocados: Avocados are believed to treat gout, at least in the Amazon. It reportedly lowers uric acid levels. This may or may not be true, but avocados are tasty enough to be included in any diet.