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Gout is an extremely painful inflammatory condition affecting the joints, most common in men. It affects around 4% of New Zealanders over the age of 20, and is particularly prevalent amongst Maori and Pacific Islanders. A form of arthritis, gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the bloodstream that goes on to form sharp crystals which are then deposited in the joints – usually the big toe, but others may also be affected, including elbows, ankles, knees and fingers. Symptoms generally include excruciating pain around the affected joint, with redness, tenderness, heat, and possibly some swelling. Left unmanaged it may lead to chronic attacks with the occurence of tophi – deposits of uric acid crystals in soft tissue, presenting as nodules under the skin, which while usually painless can be disfiguring and limit the mobility of affected joints and tissues.

Everybody has some uric acid in their bloodstream at any given time, and when kept to a safe range this should cause no problems for most people, as any excess is excreted via the kidneys. It is when those levels rise and become too high that symptoms may appear, as the acid crystallises and is deposited in the joints and surrounding tissues. There are a number of things that may predispose to this, including kidney problems, diabetes, and being overweight. But one of the biggest factors in terms of managing gout can be watching ones’ diet. As gout is triggered by high uric acid levels, the key to management – both naturally and pharmaceutically – is keeping those levels within a normal range.

Diet – The Good and The Bad

In terms of diet, there are a number of things that are known to potentially trigger attacks of gout. These include the consumption of too many sugary foods, with soft drinks particularly implicated. Fructose in particular can cause problems, as can foods high in purine such as fish and red meat when consumed in excess. Over-consumption of orange juice and other acidic foods may trigger attacks, and alcohol is a key cause in many cases as it not only dehydrates the body but slows the excretion of uric acid from the bloodstream.

So now we have some idea of what foods can trigger gout attacks, what about those that can help to prevent it?

One of the keys is to choose foods that reduce inflammation in the body, and help to prevent build-up of uric acid. This means choosing a diet high in vegetables, with an emphasis on leafy green vegetables in particular, and fresh fruit. Activated nuts and seeds can be helpful, as can minimally processed dairy, plus eggs. Essentially making your diet one that is centered around plentiful fresh, whole foods, organic where possible, and loaded with anti-inflammatory properties with very few processed and packaged products is the key to ensuring healthy, happy joints. Avoiding inflammatory grains and refined plant oils may also be helpful to some, switching instead to good oils such as coconut. Ensure plenty of pure water is drunk daily to help flush any excess uric acid from the body and aid kidney function.

Celery Seeds and Cherry

Besides these general guidelines, there are two particularly popular foods historically associated with the prevention and alleviation of gout that are worth mention. These are cherries and celery – particularly celery seeds – both of which have been consumed by sufferers for centuries to assist the body in clearing uric acid and alleviating symptoms, and may help the body to manage this painful disease.

Herbal Medicine

In terms of herbal medicine, there are numerous options that can assist with arthritic conditions including gout. The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric and ginger may both help with the reduction of inflammation during attacks, and are both great to include in ones’ diet or as supplements. Boswellia, devil’s claw and nettle are all herbs traditionally associated with the reduction of pain and inflammation in conditions affecting the joints, and may be of help in supporting the body’s response to gout. These are readily available in numerous forms. Antioxidant superfoods such as astaxanthin may also alleviate inflammation, thus reducing the duration of attacks.

HealthPost carries a range of products that may assist in the management of gout. This includes a variety of herbal medicines, superfoods and topical creams that may assist in the body’s management of uric acid levels, as well as helping relieve inflammation.

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What natural health supplements have you tried for gout management and how were they working for you?