If you’ve never suffered from an attack of gout, you might just think of it as something that attacks the base of your big toe and happens from eating rich food. If you’re unlucky enough to have had an attack of gout however, what you may remember most is how incredibly painful it was.
Centuries ago, gout was considered to be a condition of kings, because eating rich, fatty food can be a factor in this condition, but what exactly is going on? Gout is caused by the accumulation of uric acid, which can crystalize and settle in your joints, and can cause intense pain and inflammation. The most common site of a gout attack is the base of your big toe, but the crystals can settle almost anywhere—in your hands, feet, arms, or legs. These crystals form when your body makes too much uric acid and your kidneys can’t metabolize it quickly enough. Excess uric acid may also take the form of kidney stones.
About 95 percent of people who suffer from gout are men. Attacks occur most frequently after a string of rich or fatty meals washed down with plenty of alcohol. Gout is typically treated with anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen. However, if you’re prone to repeated attacks, your doctor may prescribe other medications to help your body eliminate uric acid.
In Chinese medicine, gout is diagnosed as something called a Bi syndrome, in which a blockage is causing pain, redness, and swelling. With gout, the uric acid crystals, swelling, and overall circulation of blood have become stagnant in the affected joint. In most cases, gout is diagnosed as a damp and heat Bi syndrome, which means that there is an accumulation of fluid (dampness) causing the swelling, and the joint feels warm or even hot to the touch, accounting for the heat.
In treating a gout flare-up with Chinese medicine, your practitioner will use acupuncture to clear the heat, resolve the dampness, increase circulation in the area, and relieve your pain. If you’re prone to repeated attacks of gout, your treatment strategy may be to combine a longer plan of acupuncture combined with Chinese herbs, dietary therapy and lifestyle changes.
If you’ve had one or more attacks of gout, here are some ways to lower your risk of future flare-ups:
- Stay away from fatty, rich, foods that are high in something called purines. Purines are chemicals that are found in some foods, and can increase your risk for gout. Those foods include organ meats, oily fish, some shellfish, yeast, and beer. If you’re a gout magnet, limit these foods.
- Stay well-hydrated. This helps your kidneys flush out the uric acid, avoiding a buildup of crystals.
- Go easy on the cocktails. Know that alcohol is a risk factor for gout. Also, alcohol is dehydrating, further upping your chances for a flare-up.
- Avoid the sweet stuff, especially high fructose corn syrup, which is considered a risk factor for gout. While sugar in general isn’t a direct risk factor for gout, it can aggravate inflammation.
- Maintain a healthy weight, as obesity is also considered to be a risk factor in gout.
Gout can be considered a condition that comes from living the good life. However, with a little knowledge, some Chinese medicine, and a few dietary tweaks, your gout can be a thing of the past.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.