Do you know anyone with gout? I do, unfortunately, quite a few people. It is one of the few illnesses I am willing to treat sight-unseen. It is on my top-five list of illnesses I NEVER want to have, right up there with kidney stones and cluster headaches.
We’ve known for a long time that gout risk is tied to lifestyle factors. It used to be known as the “disease of kings” and was associated with a rich diet, obesity, and alcohol intake. Recent research suggests that a huge percentage of gout risk is related to four risk factors: overweight and obesity, not eating a heart-healthy diet, alcohol intake and taking a diuretic medication.
First of all, what is gout? Gout is the most common inflammatory joint disease in the US. It is related to high blood levels of a substance called uric acid. When levels of this substance get high, it creates crystals in the joints that look like tiny needles under the microscope. Just looking at the crystals hurts! No wonder this illness is so painful!
A patient’s gout risk is directly related to serum uric acid levels. What makes uric acid go up? You got it – overweight or obesity, alcohol, a diet rich in meat, saturated fat and sugar, and diuretic medications.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School analyzed NHANES survey data and found that the most important risk factor for high uric acid levels was weight. People with a body mass index (BMI) over 35 were 3.5 times more likely to have high uric acid levels (and therefore increased gout risk) compared to people with a BMI less than 25. The higher the BMI, the higher the risk.
The closer people stuck to the DASH diet (the standard heart-healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, sugar and saturated fat) the better, too. Alcohol use increased the risk, and so did taking diuretics (water pills) for blood pressure and water retention.
If you or someone you love has gout, there are real things you can start to do TODAY to lower your uric acid levels and reduce your risk of gout attacks. You DO NOT want gout attacks. Trust me, I’ve seen them, it’s not pretty, and it is VERY painful. It will destroy your joints.
- Stop drinking alcohol
- Download a guide to the DASH diet and start following it. Reduce your intake of soda, sugar, processed foods, meat, dairy, eggs and shellfish. Add more fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fatty fish.
- Over time, work on bringing your weight down. It won’t happen overnight but you CAN do it!
- Talk to your doctor if you take water pills. The risk of causing gout isn’t huge, but it is there.
QUESTION: Do you know someone who has gout?