Health Matters: Five Ways to Prevent Gout
Did you know that Podagra was the name of an ill-tempered mythological virgin torturer of feet? Not coincidentally, it is also the name for the most common type of gout, which affects the big toe.
Back in the 13th century, people used to think that gout was caused by a "drop of bad humor" in an inflamed joint. (In fact, the term "gout" is derived from the Latin "gutta," which means to “drop.”) Later, gout was called the "disease of kings," because it afflicted those who ate a diet of rich foods. Since then, doctors have discovered the actual causes of gout.
Gout, a painful, red, and inflamed joint, is a type of arthritis that occurs when uric acid crystals build up in the affected area. It is most common among people with a family history, especially men. The risk of getting gout increases with age, obesity, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
The condition affects about 8.3 million people, or 4 percent of the U.S. population, each year. It can be painful and even debilitating, especially if risk factors go unchecked. The good news is that science has uncovered a few ways you can prevent gout and, at the same time, decrease your risk for other health problems.
Number 1: If you have had a gout attack, start by avoiding high-purine foods. These include scallops, mussels and other seafood, like herring, codfish and haddock. Venison, veal, turkey, bacon, liver and other organ meats also have a lot of purines.
While some of these foods are considered healthy and are highly recommended for those following a heart healthy Mediterranean diet, for instance, they should be limited among those who have had a gout attack.
Number 2: Moderate alcohol consumption. Alcohol decreases the kidneys' ability to filter uric acid. In addition, beer, for instance, is a high purine food. In that way, it is a double threat for those at risk of a gout attack. By limiting alcohol, you decrease your risk of many other health problems associated with it.
Number 3. Make healthy choices — like avoiding soda and other foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup; sugar, even naturally sweet juices; and salt. This can help people maintain their weight and avoid obesity, a gout risk factor. Often found in processed food items, high fructose corn syrup is, itself, a culprit in raising uric acid levels and increasing gout risk. So, the positive impact of avoiding high-fructose corn syrup is multiplied.
Number 4: Instead, drink plenty of water, especially in warm weather. Dehydration is a major risk factor for a gout attack. Staying hydrated literally decreases the concentration of purine in your blood. It will help you avoid painful kidney stones and provide a boost to your energy level, as well.
Number 5: Finally, wear proper-fitting shoes. Rubbing, pinching, or other trauma to the toes can actually cause gout flares among susceptible people.
Most who follow these tips will find they are less likely to get this painful condition. If gout strikes, see your primary care provider. In addition to food and lifestyle adjustments, your doctor can recommend therapies or medications or a referral to a rheumatologist to help you get your gout under control.
Matthew Stanishewski, DO, is a specialist in rheumatology at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. "Health Matters" is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. For this article and others like it, visit svhealthcare.org/wellnessconnection.