Once called the disease of kings, gout is one of the oldest known forms of arthritis. Back in the middle ages, gout was considered to be a condition that affected royalty and the wealthy because their diets were laden with rich foods and plentiful alcohol. We know better today, as gout can occur in anyone. Over eight million Americans, or about 4% of adults are affected with this painful condition.
The arthritic inflammation associated with gout is caused by having elevated levels of uric acid in your blood. When your body is unable to eliminate excess uric acid, it forms crystals that tend to settle in your joints, causing severe pain. While just about any joint in your body can be affected by gout, it most commonly affects the joint at the base of your big toe.
Today, we know better about the risk factors that can increase your chances for developing gout. Having a family history increases your risk of developing gout, especially for children. More commonly, gout affects people between the ages of 30 and 50, overweight people, and those who regularly drink alcohol and have diets that are high in a chemical compound called purine.
When purines are metabolized in your body, a by-product is uric acid. Purines are found in high concentrations in some foods, including organ meats, game meats, and those that are high in fat. Also rich in purines are oily sea foods, yeast, high-sugar sodas, beer, and some fruit juices. Interestingly, animal-based foods that contain purines are more likely to crystalize and promote gout than plant based foods containing purines.
Treatments for Gout
If you’re suffering from gout and go to your Western doctor, they’re likely to prescribe medications to decrease the inflammation and relieve your pain. If your gout is severe or if you have chronic attacks of gout, they may prescribe a medication that can lower the levels of uric acid in your blood.
If you choose to treat your gout through Chinese medicine, as many people do, you will likely find that this condition is very treatable. In Chinese tradition, all pain is considered to be some kind of blockage or obstruction, and when a joint is involved, it’s described as a Bi (Bee) syndrome. In the case of gout, the uric acid crystals are painfully obstructing the joint. While there are several different kinds of Bi syndromes, in most cases gout is diagnosed as a damp heat Bi. This simply means that the inflamed joint is swollen from a buildup of fluid (dampness), and heat is making it red and hot to the touch.
The goal of your acupuncturist in treating your gout is to reduce the heat and dampness, effectively clearing the inflammation and relieving your pain. In fact, research has found that acupuncture treatments are an effective way to relieve pain associated with gout, as well as to reduce the amount of uric acid in your blood. Scientist have also determined that acupuncture can reduce inflammation, increase circulation, and promote healing in the treated area.
A further strategy for treating your gout with Chinese medicine is to prevent future flare-ups. This means treating its underlying cause and working to resolve it with acupuncture and a combination of herbal medicine and nutritional therapy. At the same time, there are a few things that you can do at home to prevent future flare-ups. Our suggestions include:
- Stay well-hydrated. Drinking adequate water helps to dilute the uric acid in your blood and guide it out of your system.
- Limit your overall meat consumption, especially avoiding meats that are high in fat, and those that come from wild game, and organ meats—all of which are high in purines. Instead substitute in more nuts, beans, eggs, and low fat dairy to get adequate protein.
- When you choose to drink, know that beer and whisky are especially high in purines. Instead have a glass of wine or a wine spritzer. Also, alcohol can cause you to become dehydrated which can raise the risk of triggering or aggravating an episode of gout.
- Some fish, especially those that are oily are high in purines. These include sardines, herring, and anchovies, and should be avoided. Instead, opt for sole, catfish, red snapper, tilapia, flounder, and salmon.
- Pop and other drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup are high in purines and should be avoided. Instead look for drinks that are sweetened with stevia. Additionally, some people who suffer from gout have found that drinking tart cherry juice can help relieve their symptoms and prevent future flares.
The bottom line is that gout can be incredibly painful and affect your quality of life. There’s good news, however, in that gout is one kind of arthritis over which you have some amount of control. With the help of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary therapy, and some lifestyle modifications, your gout can become a thing of the past.
Cindy Chamberlain is an acupuncturist in Overland Park, KS and the founder of Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC. She is licensed in Kansas and Missouri and has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine since 1996.