Gout is a form of arthritis that tends to affect one joint at a time. It is characterised by the sudden onset of pain, inflammation and swelling of the affected joint, which is often the big toe, ankle or knee.
What causes gout?
Gout is caused by high blood levels of uric acid, a by-product created during the body’s metabolism of foods containing compounds called purines.
Under normal circumstances, uric acid is dissolved in the bloodstream, filtered out by the kidneys and excreted in your urine. However, when there are excessive uric acid levels in the blood, it causes needle-like crystals to form, which may be deposited in the small joints, soft tissues, tendons, kidneys and other tissues. The crystals inflame the affected joint, causing severe pain, swelling, debility and damage.
Who gets gout?
Gout affects more men than women, usually after the age of 45, and becomes increasingly common as we age. Although it is less common in women, it does occur, predominantly after menopause. Among others, risk factors for the development of gout include:
- Having diabetes, metabolic syndrome or high blood pressure.
- Being obese.
- Consuming large quantities of alcohol.
- Genetic factors (for example, people of Maori descent are genetically predisposed to experiencing episodes of gout).
How can I prevent gout?
Diet plays a significant role in causing gout, and may also help to prevent it or reduce the severity of attacks, so following these tips is a great way to start:
- Reduce your intake of purines by reducing your intake of red meat, organ meats and shellfish and other forms of seafood.
- Include regular servings of low-fat dairy products in your diet, as a higher intake of low-fat dairy products was associated with a lower risk of gout in a large research study.
- Avoid soft drinks, beer and spirits, and keep consumption of fruit juices low.
- Vitamin C in quantities of at least 250mg per day may help to prevent gout by lowering uric acid levels , so supplementation may be beneficial.
Other steps you can take to avoid gout include:
- Drinking at least two litres of water each day to facilitate the elimination of uric acid via the kidneys and prevent dehydration (which can sometimes trigger attacks of gout)
- Eating cherries or drinking their juice, as cherries have been shown to lower uric acid levels.
- Losing weight if necessary – but make sure you aim for gradual weight results as crash diets and rapid weight loss may lead to increased uric acid levels and could trigger a gout attack
- Maintaining an active lifestyle; people who exercise regularly are less likely to get gout.