If you awaken from a sound sleep to excruciating joint pain in your big toe, you may be experiencing one of several gout symptoms. (1) Gout is on the rise in America, affecting millions of people each year. In fact, the latest research, from 10 years ago, found that the rates of gout doubled in 20 years prior. More than eight million Americans have gout. (2)
Many believe this dramatic increase is due to poor diets, obesity and a lack of exercise, although genetics is also thought to play a role.
Too much uric acid in the body can also cause kidney stones and in more severe cases lead to kidney failure due to the blockage caused by uric acid crystals. (3) In addition, if the root cause of gout is not addressed, you may be at a greater risk of developing certain types of cancer and heart disease.
Statistically, men are far more likely to get gout than women. However, it is becoming more common in women, particularly after menopause. (4)
What Is Gout?
Gout is a painful condition considered a complex form of arthritis that is caused when too much uric acid builds up in the body. High levels of uric acid causes the formation of crystals in the joints, creating intense pain and inflammation. The body produces uric acid as it breaks down purines, which are commonly found in meats, seafood, legumes, alcohol, fructose, yeast and some vegetables.
When the body is functioning optimally, the uric acid dissolves into the blood stream and then passes through the kidneys and into the urine where it is released. However, if you have too much uric acid, or your kidneys can’t keep up, the acid builds up and forms the needle-like crystals in a joint that cause the intense pain.
Without adequate treatment and dietary changes, gout attacks are likely to recur, and generally will become more frequent, more painful, and last longer than the first attack.
In addition to the pain and discomfort, if you have recurrent gout attacks, you may be at a greater risk of developing other conditions including heart attacks and cancer, with prostate cancer being of particular concern for men. (5), (6) It is imperative to find the gout treatment that works for you to protect against future serious health conditions.
Signs & Gout Symptoms
As mentioned above, the first sign of gout symptoms may be the sudden onset of severe pain in one of your big toes or other joints. In fact, this first attack often occurs at night and causes enough pain and discomfort to awaken you. Many individuals experience pain so severe that even lying under a sheet may become unbearable.
For some, the pain may go away on its own in a week or 10 days, only to recur in the weeks or months following. For others, the pain may last for extended periods of time, or slightly ebb and flow over weeks or months.
Typically, the pain is at its greatest in the first 12 to 24 hours of the attack; however, this can vary depending on your diet and other factors. In addition to severe pain in the big toe, other common gout symptoms include: (7)
- Severe pain in joints including feet, ankles, knees, hips, wrists, hands, fingers and back where even the weight of a sheet or clothing is intolerable.
- Noticeable discoloration in the joints; they may become deep red or even purple at onset, and change color through the attack.
- Joints that are swollen and stiff and hot to the touch.
- A fever of up to 102.2F, with or without chills.
- Joints that are inflamed and tender accompanied by decreased mobility.
- Lingering discomfort as the joint pain and inflammation can last for days or weeks.
- Hard lumps or bumps at the joints.
Additional attacks are likely to last longer, affect more joints, and be more painful. In recurrent attacks, bumps just under the skin may appear on the hands, feet, elbow, knee or by the outer ear. In fact, these lumps are extremely painful leading to the destruction of the joint and deformity. When this occurs, it is called chronic tophaceous gout. (8)
While persons afflicted with gout may experience gout symptoms once or twice a year, when gout becomes chronic, and it relapses without previous resolution of the pain and symptoms, uric acid tophi may occur. Tophi are deposits of uric acid that cause visible bumps and disfigurement in the joints, and they can lead to the destruction of both bone and cartilage. (9)
Because uric acid tophi can appear like other chronic inflammatory arthritis conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, it is vital that you inform your doctor of all gout symptoms you are experiencing.
At the onset of gout symptoms, your physician will do a physical examination and may order joint fluid tests, blood tests, and imaging tests to confirm a gout diagnosis. As gout is not curable, conventional treatments focus on the relieving of the pain and discomfort associated with the condition. Physicians may also prescribe certain medications to ward off future attacks while reducing the risk of additional complications, including chronic tophaceous gout and kidney stones. (10)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including over-the-counter ibuprofen, naproxen sodium as well as prescription Indocin and Celebrex.
- Colchicine may be prescribed for acute attacks and to prevent future attacks. Severe side effects include diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.
- Corticosteroids like prednisone, which is known to cause mood changes, dramatically effect blood sugar levels, and elevate blood pressure.
- Xanthine oxidase inhibitors may lower your uric acid levels. Side effects include rash, low blood counts, and reduced liver function.
- Probalan/Benemid may remove excess uric acid and prevent recurrence; side effects include rash, stomach pain and kidney stones.
- Allopurinol is not safe for those with kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure patients, and those taking any chemotherapy drugs. (11)
- Febuxostat side effects include: chest pain, sudden numbness and weakness, sudden headache or confusion, problems with vision, speech, or balance, nausea, stomach pain, fever, dark urine and jaundice. (12)
- Pegloticase prescriptions come with significant warnings and safety information; review with your doctor all possible interactions and side effects before taking. In addition to severe allergic reactions, gout flares may significantly increase within the first three months. (13)
5 Natural Gout Treatments
As gout is believed to be caused, at least in part, by certain foods, changing your diet may help to reduce gout symptoms and prevent future attacks. In addition, natural gout remedies can help speed the healing cycle, providing relief without the serious side effects common with conventional gout medications.
Researchers have found that two days of cherry intake can reduce recurrent gout attacks by 35 percent. Researchers found that when combined with allopurinol, the risk of recurrence was lowered by 75 percent. (14) Cherries are known to reduce inflammation and promote weight loss; drinking unsweetened cherry juice during a gout occurrence can provide relief.
2. Celery Seed Extract:
Rich with antioxidants, celery seed extract helps to decrease uric acid in the body. Buy high-quality supplements or drink celery juice throughout the day to help relieve gout symptoms while reducing the length of the occurrence.
Drink coffee; both regular or decaf coffee has been shown to lower uric acid levels in the body. While researchers haven’t been able to determine how it works, numerous studies indicate it may help. (15), (16)
4. Vitamin C:
Multiple studies, and a recent double-blind placebo-controlled randomized trial have shown that higher vitamin C intake significantly reduces uric acid levels. If you’ve had gout before, be sure to consume vitamin C rich foods, or take a high-quality supplement daily. (17)
One of the most effective anti-inflammatory compounds available, turmeric can help relieve the inflammation and pain associated with gout. Multiple studies have shown turmeric’s active compound’s (curcumin) power at fighting inflammation. Select a supplement with piperine (black pepper) to improve turmeric’s absorption.
Dietary Changes to Improve Gout Symptoms
As gout is associated with diet, here are my top foods to avoid or minimize:
Foods to avoid or minimize:
- Purine-rich foods including: beef, goose, organ meats, sweetbreads, mussels, anchovies, herring, mackerel, yeast, spinach, asparagus, beans, lentils, mushrooms and dried peas. (18)
- Oxalate-rich foods including: spinach, rhubarb, beets, nuts, chocolate, black tea, wheat bran, strawberries and beans.
- Common allergens including dairy, wheat (gluten), corn, and food additives.
- Refined foods including white breads, pastas and sugars.
Foods to eat and enjoy:
- High fiber foods including: barley, bran, rye, brown rice, avocados, potatoes and bananas.
- Vitamin C-rich foods including: oranges, red and green bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, guava, kiwi and Brussels sprouts.
- Magnesium-rich foods including: pumpkin seeds, yogurt or kefir, almonds, avocados, figs, artichokes, cashews and wild-caught salmon.
- Cherries and unsweetened cherry juice. Try my recipe for cherry limeade.
- Omega-3 rich foods like wild-caught salmon and tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, natto and grass-fed dairy.
Causes & Risk Factors
While natural gout remedies do help to relieve the pain and discomfort, for true healing it’s important to address the underlying causes of gout and address any risk factors you may have to prevent future gout attacks.
Gout Risk factors
Consuming moderate to high levels of purine-rich foods including beef, seafood, alcohol, legumes, certain vegetables and fructose is a leading cause of gout. (19)
When obese, more uric acid is produced and the kidneys may have a difficult time eliminating the excess.
3. High Blood Pressure:
Natural high blood pressure remedies can help bring your numbers into the normal range. Partner these treatments with regular exercise and stress-relieving activities for the best results.
Stay hydrated by drinking a minimum of eight glasses of water each day. During the summer months or when exercising, be sure to drink more.
5. High Levels of Triglycerides:
Work to reduce your triglycerides by losing weight, avoiding sugary foods, reducing alcohol, and replacing unhealthy fats with healthy ones.
Follow a diabetic diet plan and exercise regularly to lower your A1C numbers naturally.
7. Metabolic Syndrome:
Incorporate burst training and essential oils into your daily routine while following a diet for metabolic syndrome to reduce your chances of gout.
8. Heart Disease:
Preventing heart disease is the best defense; incorporate the top natural remedies for coronary heart disease, and avoid foods that cause inflammation.
9. Kidney Disease:
If you’ve had a urinary tract infection or symptoms of kidney stones, following a kidney cleanse diet can help fight inflammation, improve circulation and rid your body of some toxins.
Certain common medications including diuretics, aspirin, cyclosporine (a common treatment for autoimmune diseases and for organ transplant patients), and levodopa (a common treatment for Parkinson’s disease) are known causes of gout. (20)
Gout can run in families. If a member of your direct family has gout, you are at a greater risk.
12. Trauma or Surgery:
When healing from a trauma or surgery, it is imperative that you eat a diet rich in nutrients, avoid artificial sweeteners, and practice safe activities like yoga and Pilates that strengthen the mind and body.
- Gout is an excruciatingly painful condition that comes on quickly and without warning.
- It is most common in men; however, the rates of gout are increasing exponentially across many demographics.
- Improving your diet and removing foods that are high in purines may help stave off recurrences.
- Left untreated, gout can develop into chronic tophaceous gout, a serious condition that can result in tophi bumps and permanent deformity in the affected joints.
- Individuals with gout are at an increased risk for certain types of cancers, heart disease and kidney disease.
- Regular exercise may help to flush uric acid out of the system more quickly.
- Higher vitamin C intake is associated with a lower overall risk for developing gout.
- Staying hydrated is key; dehydration may trigger an attack, so drink at least 64 ounces of fresh water daily.