Gout is a condition which can be incredibly painful and frustrating, but that should not cause any lasting damage if it is treated promptly. The condition is sometimes referred to as a disease of high living since it can be aggravated by foods that are rich in purines. Historically, those who are well-off were more likely to develop it.
Gout is a form of arthritis. Indeed, it is the most common form of the condition, and the number of gout cases is on the rise. In the United Kingdom, gout cases rose by almost 30 percent between 1997 and 2012.1 While arthritis is something that is more commonly associated with older people, it can affect individuals of all ages, including children.2 However, gout tends to affect adults and is more common in men than women.3
Symptoms of Gout
Gout is a form of joint pain that typically affects the feet (in particular the big toe) but that can also affect the elbows, knees, and fingers. During a gout attack, the skin around that joint may feel red, hot, or swollen. The swelling and pain comes from a build-up of monosodium urate crystals in the tissues around the joints.4
These crystals form if someone has too much serum uric acid in their body. There are many factors that can lead to such a build up and a gout flare-up, but it is thought that genetic predisposition plays a major role.5
History of Gout
Gout is the oldest known form of arthritis, and it has been described in documents that date back as far as ancient Egyptian times.6 It is known as the “disease of kings,” and the assumption historically has been that it is fine living, wine, and meats that cause the condition.7 Now that more people in the world have access to fine foods and rich diets, it is clear that gout can affect anyone and that the pain it causes should not be ignored.
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Hippocrates called gout the “unwalkable disease,” and many other historical accounts also describe the condition. For example, Roman literature includes many accounts of aristocrats suffering from gout.8
Ancient physicians proved to be fairly wise when it came to the management of gout. Physicians in the Byzantine empire used Colcicum autumnale (autumn crocus) to treat Gout, and even today there are some people who swear by it as a treatment.9
However, most doctors today would prefer that their patients focus on changing lifestyle factors so that their risk of a gout attack is reduced, but educating patients in this matter and ensuring that they comply with the recommendations is proving to be an ongoing challenge.10
If you are suffering from joint pain, redness, or swelling that lasts more than a few days, it is a good idea to go to a doctor and seek medical advice. They may be able to help you with pain relief in the short term and perform tests to diagnose the cause of the condition.
If you are suffering from gout, then your doctor may recommend changing your diet. Lifestyle changes can help with gout because weight loss can reduce urate levels in the body, and reducing intake of alcohol and purines can also be beneficial.11
While gout is an old disease, it is one that still fascinates researchers. In the Western world, one to two percent of women, and three to six percent of men suffer from gout at some point in their lives, and this prevalence increases to 10 percent in males and six percent for females over the age of 80.12
Prevalence of goat is greater in parts of the world where there is a pattern of access to fast food, sedentary lifestyles, and a high rate of occurrence of metabolic syndrome.13 This highlights how important it is that people make lifestyle changes to avoid the condition. Pain relief is only a short-term solution, and proper treatment of the condition is needed to prevent lasting damage to the kidneys and joints.14
There are several promising new drugs which are being used to help manage gout. For example, Interleukin-1 beta is being tested as a method of reducing gout-related inflammation.15 Many doctors have been using this drug as an off-label medication for managing symptoms in patients that do not respond to other mainstream medications such as xanthine oxidase inhibitors.
Coping with Gout
The first warning sign of a gout attack may be a slight burning or itching sensation in the joints, followed by a bit of stiffness or soreness. Some people don’t experience this initial phase and suddenly wake up in the middle of the night because their joints are aching.
Typically, the pain will be limited to just one joint at the start of a flare-up. Usually, it occurs in the big toe or ankle, but the pain can spread and can affect other joints. If you experience symptoms similar to these for the first time, then it is important to get the pain properly diagnosed and have the condition monitored by a medical professional.
Acute gout itself is usually nothing to worry about, but if the condition keeps flaring up or if it does not subside quickly, then it can be harmful. Chronic gout is the term used to describe long-term, persistent gout. This condition is usually managed with a medication such as allopurinol that will help to reduce levels of uric acid in the blood.16
It can take a while for medication to work, and while you wait, it is worth making a few small changes to your lifestyle and trying some home remedies to supplement your healing process. Even simple changes like drinking more water can help you to get over a flare-up.17
Complementary Remedies for Gout
A gout flare-up can be quite distressing. Complementary treatments can be a good option for improving your wellbeing and potentially helping you get over the symptoms more quickly. Note that these treatments are not a substitute for professional medical attention, and if you have not had an official diagnosis for gout, then you should see a doctor before trying alternative remedies. Even if you have been diagnosed, if you find that complementary treatments prove ineffective, and an attack of gout lasts for a lot longer than normal or you experience multiple flare-ups in the space of a year, you should seek professional medical advice immediately.
However, given that you have established a treatment regimen with your healthcare provider and are looking for additional ways to boost your overall well-being and supplement your treatment, some of the top complementary remedies for gout are highlighted below.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is very popular in the world of alternative medicine. Many people swear by it as an anti-inflammatory. While there are some studies that show that apple cider vinegar has modest health benefits thanks to the presence of acetic acid, there is not yet any clear research that shows how apple cider vinegar could help in the management of gout.18
With that said, many people who take apple cider vinegar mix it with honey, turmeric, and other home remedies, and the combined effects could prove beneficial.
Cherries are another natural remedy that a lot of people swear by. The theory is that if someone eats 10–12 fresh cherries three times per day, then they will experience fewer gout attacks. Drinking cherry juice is thought to have similar positive effects.
One recent study found that cherries can help reduce the risk of recurring attacks in individuals prone to gout.19 While this evidence is promising, it is important to note that cherries are high in sugar and that eating large amounts of cherries could be dangerous for someone who is diabetic. Diabetes and gout are comorbid, so this is something to be aware of.20
Bananas are rich in Vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that can help reduce swelling and pain. In addition, the potassium that found in bananas can help convert the uric acid crystals in the body into a liquid that can be excreted.
There are diet-related recommendations for gout dating back as far as the first century AD, and some modern studies suggest that eating one to two bananas per day can help prevent gout.21
Activated charcoal is a well-loved home remedy recommended for everything from nausea to joint pain. The theory goes that soaking yourself in a bath full of warm water that has had half a cup of charcoal powder mixed into it, or making a paste with charcoal powder and applying it directly to the sore joint, can help to absorb uric acid and reduce the symptoms of gout.
While there are a lot of anecdotes supporting the idea of using activated charcoal to manage gout, the practice is not something that is backed by clinical studies at this time. It may be that it is not the charcoal that is providing the benefit, but the act of soaking in warm water or massaging the joint.
Activated charcoal is safe to use, however, and can even be consumed in small quantities with research suggesting it can help with digestive issues, so you are unlikely to do your body any harm by trying this remedy.22
Just like activated charcoal, the idea with Epsom salts is that you soak yourself in a bath of warm water with the salts dissolved into them. Epsom salts are rich in magnesium, which can help to maintain healthy blood pressure and therefore reduce swelling.23
Aromatherapy treatments are often used to help improve well-being and reduce the perception of pain, and studies show that aromatherapy treatments with essential oils can be beneficial for older people who are suffering from joint pain.24
Additionally, researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that aromatherapy reduces stress and provides a feeling of empowerment, which can be hugely beneficial for pain management. Pain-relieving and stress-reducing essential oils can be used aromatically or topically to provide a range of health benefits. For an on the go option, essential oils can be inhaled through a personal diffuser like Zen or Relieve MONQ.
Massage treatments with essential oils are another good option for people who are struggling with joint pain and inflammation. There are two potential mechanisms here. One is that the act of massage promotes circulation, induces relaxation, and reduces inflammation. The other is that the ingredients in the essential oils can help to reduce levels of TNF-alpha and IL-1 beta, thereby reducing inflammation and pain.25
Essential Oils That Can Help with Gout
If you want to go down the essential oils route, then there are several oils that have been found to be helpful when it comes to reducing uric acid levels or managing pain.
- Lemongrass Essential Oil – Studies suggest that lemongrass essential oil can help reduce uric acid levels.26
- Celery Seed Essential Oil – This oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.27
- Ginger Essential Oil – This is a well-known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that may also help reduce uric acid levels.28
- Cassia Essential Oil – This oil has been used for a long time in traditional Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory and to relieve stomach pain. It can also be useful for reducing uric acid levels.29
In general, essential oils are quite safe, and as long as you use oils that come from a high-quality supplier as directed, you should be able to use them safely to your benefit. Because essential oils are quite potent, however, make sure you are diluting them in a carrier oil like almond, coconut, or jojoba oil before applying them to your skin.
Also remember that essential oils and alternative therapies are beneficial but not a cure-all, and it is still a good idea to work with healthcare experts to get access to pain relief and medical tests. However, the short-term wellbeing benefits that essential oils and other home remedies can provide can be quite beneficial.
Prevention Is Better Than a Cure
If you or someone you know is suffering from gout, it is a good idea to look at ways that future attacks can be prevented. While there is a genetic component to gout, a lot of attacks are caused by diet and lifestyle choices, and gout can be considered the body’s warning sign that your current lifestyle is not as healthy as it could be.
Modern lifestyles tend to push individuals towards fast food and limited movement. A little moderation and thoughtfulness can go a long way towards protecting your health.
Simply drinking more water and loading your plate with more vegetables and a smaller cut of red meat can go a long way towards improving your overall health. You don’t have to deprive yourself of festive cakes or refuse every glass of wine, but limiting how much of these foods you eat can prove very beneficial in the long term.
Gout can affect people from all walks of life, and it is not a condition that you should be embarrassed about. The more people that know about gout, the risk factors for it, and how it can be prevented, the better the chances that rates of the condition can be reduced and that people will start living a healthier lifestyle.
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