In gout, or gouty arthritis, spiky crystals made of uric acid collect around joints, causing painful inflammation.
When you have gout, or gouty arthritis, spiky crystals made of uric acid collect around joints, causing painful inflammation. Uric acid is a chemical that is produced when the body breaks down purines, which are found naturally in the body as well as in certain foods, like organ meats, herring, anchovies, asparagus, and mushrooms. Most uric acid dissolves in the blood and is carried to the kidneys to be eliminated in the urine. But, if the body produces too much uric acid or doesn’t eliminate enough, it can accumulate in the blood and form crystals around the joints.
Symptoms of gout include warm, red, swollen joints that can become so sensitive to the touch that even placing a lightweight sheet over them can cause excruciating pain. Gout may be acute and affect only one joint such as the big toe, knee, or ankle. Or it may be chronic and cause repeated episodes of pain, swelling, damage, and loss of movement in multiple joints. In long-term, chronic gout, tophi (lumps composed of uric acid crystals) can form under the skin around affected joints.
Though there is no cure for gout, effective treatment can significantly improve its signs and symptoms. Although a low-purine diet has traditionally been recommended, there is little evidence to suggest that cutting out high-purine foods actually reduces gout attacks and long-term joint damage. Current treatment plans for gout include uric acid-lowering medications and dietary modifications that reduce inflammation and lower the level of uric acid in the body. Keep in mind that obesity may contribute to gout risk – as well as its co-morbidities heart disease, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes – so maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce the frequency and severity of gout attacks.
Reduce fructose: Fructose, including the high-fructose corn syrup found in processed foods, baked goods, and many sweetened beverages – is known to increase uric acid levels in the body. A study in British Medical Journal found that consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks and fructose was strongly associated with risk of gout. Put the cap back on sweetened sodas and fruit drinks, and instead choose unsweetened beverages like water and seltzer or diluted 100% fruit juice.
Reduce or eliminate alcohol: Alcohol reduces the body’s natural ability to eliminate uric acid. And a Lancet study found that drinking alcohol increased the risk of gout. Beer increased this risk more than spirits, and moderate wine drinking did not appear to have an effect. If you are in the middle of an attack, it may be wise to cut all alcohol, and opt for a mocktail like my Berkshire Iced Tea (simply omit the rum and vodka for a refreshing alcohol-free beverage).
Limit animal proteins to 4-6 ounces daily: A study in New England Journal of Medicine found that higher intakes of high-purine meat and seafood – but not high-purine vegetables – were linked to increased risk of gout. Many animal proteins that are naturally higher in purines are also high in saturated fat, which may interfere with the body’s ability to eliminate uric acid. With that in mind, choose more plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds like in my Hearty lentil vegetable soup.
Choose low-fat dairy: That same study found that consumption of dairy foods was associated with decreased risk of gout while another study suggested low-fat dairy might temper gout by lowering both uric acid levels and inflammation. Choose from the list of lower-fat versions of yogurt, milk, and cheese like in my Cheezy Egg Wich.
Consider coffee and cherries: Two antioxidant-rich foods that may be beneficial for gout include coffee and cherries. While more research is needed, some studies have shown that consumption of these foods may decrease gout attacks.
Learn about other ingredients that may help decrease arthritis pain.