It used to be called “the king’s disease,” but many Americans are as much at risk for gout as Henry Vlll, who was obese and, historians believe, a type 2 diabetic. For the very same reasons – unhealthy eating habits, consumption of too much alcohol and lack of exercise – obesity and type 2 diabetes are rampant in the United States and Canada. Just as these conditions led to gout for King Henry, incidences of gout are among the consequences for an increasing number of people.
Gout is a form of arthritis that causes sudden and severe pain and swelling in the joints. The large toe is usually the most affected, but gout also flares in knees, ankles and feet and in hands, wrists, fingers and elbows. The pain often starts during the night, waking victims from sleep and lasting for days. Symptoms include:
- Red or purplish skin and swelling around the affected joint
- Limited movement in the affected joint
- Peeling and itching skin around the affected joint as the condition resolves
- Permanent joint deformity if gout becomes chronic
Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the blood. The body produces uric acid as part of the digestive process when breaking down substances called purines, which are found in abundance in certain kinds of food. Most uric acid dissolves in blood, travels to the kidneys and leaves the body in urine. However, it can overwhelm the kidneys and, instead of passing out of the body, crystalize around the joints to cause gout. (Uric acid crystals can also cause kidney stones and in some instances, kidney failure.)
These foods are high in purines and increase risk for gout:
- Organ meats including liver, kidneys, sweetbreads and brains
- Meats including beef, lamb, pork, venison and poultry
- Anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel, fatty fish and scallops
- Certain vegetables including asparagus, cauliflower and spinach
- Alcohol, particularly beer
Gout occurs most often in men between the ages of 40 and 50. When women develop gout, it usually occurs after menopause.
If you are prone to gout:
- Limit meat, poultry and fish. Limit consumption to four to six ounces daily.
- Cut back on saturated fat. Saturated fat lowers the body’s ability to eliminate uric acid. Eat more plant-based protein, such as beans, legumes and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
- Limit high-purine vegetables (see above). Eat more broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrots.
- Limit or avoid alcohol. Alcohol interferes with elimination of uric acid from your body.
- Limit or avoid foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Fructose increases the body’s production of uric acid. Limit or avoid soft drinks, sweetened juice drinks and sweetened coffee and tea.
- Eat more whole grains and fruits.
- Cut back on white bread, cakes and candy.
- Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water. Fluids help remove uric acid from your body. Aim for eight to 16 glasses a day.
- Engage in 30 minutes daily of moderate physical activity. Brisk walking is an example.
Help from the LHSFNA
The Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers program can help Laborers improve dietary and exercise habits, thus reducing their risk for gout and other health problems. For more information, call 202-628-5465.
Fund publications including Becoming Physically Active, Build a Better Body and Weight Matters provide additional tips and information on exercise and diet. Order these and other materials by going to www.lhsfna.org and clicking on Publications.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]