Natural solutions for a painful condition
by Susan Cable
Excruciatingly painful! This is the best way I can describe gout. At 29 years of age,the last thing I expected to be plagued with was this debilitating illness, yet there I was, the hot summer of 1989, six months pregnant and hobbling around on crutches. This was not fun. Especially since I couldn’t take any medication to help the pain and swelling.It was also very embarrassing. Back then, gout was considered to be a disease of alcoholics. What would people think?
There appeared to be no rhyme or reason for my misfortune, but it did eventually pass. After that experience I gained complete sympathy for people who suffer repeatedly from this disorder — my mother having been one.
Many individuals are not aware that gout is a form of arthritis. I didn’t know this at the time of my attack, and no one in the medical field filled me in on this tid- bit of information.
Gout was once called the “rich man’s disease” because during the times of Henry V, it was a common disorder of the wealthy due to the fact that they could afford to eat rich foods, consume alcohol and enjoy red meat in plenty. This disorder has, over the years, become very prevalent in all walks of life. It can be inherited, brought on by crash dieting, drinking alcohol (particularly beer and red wine), a diet rich in red meat and high in caffeine, overeating, certain medications, stress, surgery, or injury to a joint.
Gout is a type of arthritis, which can be recognized by the symptoms of pain, burning, inflammation, swelling, edema, and the sensation of heat and extreme sensitivity in the affected joint. It usually affects the big toe, but can also affect the mid-foot, knee, ankle, wrist and/or fingers. Gout is caused by too much uric acid in the blood, tissues, and urine. In cases of gout, the body does not seem to make the certain enzyme which is responsible for clearing uric acid from the body (through the kidneys).Without this process, the uric acid accumulates in the blood, tissues and crystallises. It is then able to find its way into the joints, causing the above symptoms.
Some of the common disorders which may go along with gout are: high blood pressure; diabetes and hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels); kidney disease; some forms of anaemia; and leukemia. But having one or more of these diseases does not mean you will definitely develop gout, but you are at a higher risk. Studies have shown 90 per cent of individuals with gout are male and are commonly between the ages of 40 and 50.Family history accounts for approximately 25 per cent of gout cases. It has been suggested that over the past 20 years, the incidence of gout has doubled, and it is believed by most nutritionists to be caused by a more sedentary lifestyle and an increase in refined and processed foods.
Is this something we can change? Absolutely.There are many dietary and lifestyle changes an individual can make to ease the regularity of gout episodes.There are also many supplements and herbal remedies available which are said to help relieve the symptoms of gout. But remember, always be sure to check with your health-care provider before taking any supplements or herbals.
One of the first recommendations I make to my “gouty” clients is to eliminate foods high in purines (a naturally occurring chemical which starts uric acid production). If you can’t avoid these foods completely, you can still benefit by eating foods which help to neu- tralize uric acid levels.
Other foods to avoid are refined sugars, such as table sugar, cakes, pies, candies and soda pop. Limit your intake of caffeine. Not only is it hard on your kidneys, it also stimulates the pancreas and affects the nervous system. Now is a great time to dust off the juicer and create some kidney-friendly and gout-supporting drinks. It will soon be cherry season, so try your hand at black cherry juice (don’t forget to remove the pits).This is probably the most beneficial recommendation I can offer to a client with active gout. If taken in the early stages of an attack, it can be very helpful in relieving the symptoms. Along with watermelon and parsley, cherries have a natural diuretic effect and we can all benefit from a good kidney cleanse, particularly in the spring.
Some of my own favourites are a delicious tomato sandwich topped with avocado and alfalfa sprouts. These sprouts are high in minerals, which may lower uric acid levels in the blood and help to build a strong immune system. Enjoy a fresh bowl of pineapple daily. Not only does it taste delicious, but it is a natural anti- inflammatory and this is a benefit to all forms of arthritis and muscle injuries. For pain relief at night (which always seems to be when gout is at its worst), apply to the affected area a combination paste of cayenne powder and wintergreen essential oil. I have found this to have a remarkable effect on the burning pain of nighttime gout.
I also include a list of supplements for my clients to take in order to reduce or eliminate gout attacks.
SOD: superoxide dismutase.This helps to neutralize dangerous chemical reactions in the body known as “free radical damage.” The body naturally makes SOD, but declines as we age.
Food sources include: barley grass, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, wheat grass and most green vegetables.
B-Complex vitamin plus additional B6, B1 and B3: these vitamins work together to help eliminate uric acid.
Food sources include: brown rice, egg yolks, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, oats, parsley, alfalfa, raspberry leaf.
Omega 3’s: these fatty acids are essential for every function of the body and are known to help with inflammation (pain and swelling).
Food sources include: olive, flax, hemp and sunflower seed oils and fatty cold water fish.
Bioflavonoids: the most common is vitamin C and quercetin plus bromelain.These are strong an- tioxidants which help to fight off unwanted sub- stances from the body.
Food sources include: berries, green drinks, chlorophyll and black cherry juice.
Potassium: to help balance your overall minerals.This is very important as the kidneys regulate the mineral balance in the body. Most everyday foods contain potassium, therefore a whole, natural foods diet should give you what you need.
As you can see, if you are not interested in taking vitamins, you can get everything you need from natural food sources. There are also many herbs known to help relieve the pain of gout, my favourite being devil’s claw. This can be used as a topical cream and can also be taken in a liquid tincture form. It is available in most health food stores.
After my experience with gout, I decided the hormone changes of pregnancy were responsible and I assured myself it would never happen again. I was wrong. About 16 years ago, my husband and I took off for a romantic weekend away. We wined and dined on all the riches of a typical getaway. The best red wines, the finest steaks, rich desserts, and of course champagne. It was all wonderful until two days later. I left work that day in a wheelchair and went directly to the hospital.The diagnosis was just as I suspected — gout. Out of storage came the crutches, my prescription was filled, and my pantry was stocked with black cherry juice and devil’s claw. Within a few days, I was back to my old self and I made a vow never to drink wine or eat steak again. If I am honest, I gave up the steak, but the red wine is still part of my life.
At the risk of hexing my luck, I can honestly say I’ve not since been bothered by the horrific pain of gout. So as I always say, live an active lifestyle, eat a whole, natural foods diet, if you consume alcohol, enjoy it in moderation, and live life to its fullest. Life is short; you don’t want to spend it on crutches.
Happy spring! n
Susan Cable is a registered holistic nutritionist (www.balanceyourbodynutritioncounselling.ca), educator, competitive body builder and business owner. She is the senior academic advisor for the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, where she aids in the education of students worldwide in holistic nutrition. She works and lives in Hastings, Ontario.
Uric acid is the end product of the metabolism of a class of chemicals known as purines. Uric acid is produced when purines are broken down by the liver. The body can create purines itself by the breakdown of cells or by consuming purine-rich foods.