Once dubbed "the disease of kings" and famously associated with the gluttonous Henry VIII, gout increasingly strikes menopausal women these days. Studies aimed at finding out whether the upswing is due to lower levels of estrogen remain inconclusive, but statistics do show that aging is a factor in bringing on this exquisitely painful form of arthritis that usually occurs in the big toe or "bunion joint." Also, gout tends to run in families. Yet while you can't turn back the clock or change your family history, you can outsmart the march of time as well as your genes by making strategic lifestyle changes.
The goal is to be sure you have a normal amount of uric acid in your bloodstream since an excess of that chemical is what causes gout. The extra acid forms sharp crystals that collect around a joint and literally poke the nearby soft tissues. The result is the characteristic stabbing sensation plus redness from inflammation or, more seriously, infection. The surplus of the acid, which is a by-product of a substance called purine, could come from an increase in how much purine you take in via food and drink or inadequate elimination of the acid by your kidneys or a combination of both.
Purine occurs naturally in your body, but certain foods are high in this gout-inducing culprit. Those with the most are shellfish, organ meats, yeast, anchovies, sardines, caviar, herring, and haddock. The second tier includes beef, pork, lamb, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, oatmeal, peas, and lentils. A big offender is beer. Other forms of alcohol don't contain much purine, but having more than five drinks a week does correlate with the risk of getting gout.
Beyond avoiding the purine-loaded foods and keeping your alcohol intake moderate, you can go a long way toward preventing gout by drinking plenty of water to flush out your system. Steer clear of sugary sodas, but you can have tea and coffee, although only the latter has been associated with reducing the risk of gout. Go ahead and enjoy low-purine foods such as fruits and vegetables (other than the already-mentioned spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, oatmeal, peas, and lentils) as well as chicken, salmon, nuts, and whole grain cereals and pastas. Bonus: As a result of that diet regimen, especially if you up your activity quotient, you'll probably pare off some pounds. That in itself will go a long way toward making you gout resistant.
Even so, perhaps because you let your best intentions lapse during a vacation or the holidays, you might experience an episode of gout after all. If so, you'll know it! Typically the pain will come on suddenly in the middle of the night, and people report that even the pressure of bed clothes in unbearable.
Your first defense is to take something that's probably already in your medicine cabinet: an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. That will help ease the pain and tamp down the flare-up at the same time. After that, head for the kitchen – hop if you have to! – and put some ice in a plastic bag. Elevate your leg – or whatever joint is affected – and keep the pack on for about 20 minutes. Repeat every couple of hours. However, even if these tactics help, see a doctor to rule out the possibility of an infection.
Plenty of gout sufferers or those at risk for attacks learn to take care of themselves so that they keep the problem at bay. Not only that, but a "gout diet" along with regular exercise, alcohol in moderation, and maintaining a healthy weight adds up to a plan that's just plain good for your health in general -- a win-win scenario for sure!