Dealing with gout

Bowl of Cherries

I used to think that gout was a minor problem. Your big toe hurts? That sounds uncomfortable, but how bad can it be? As I’ve come to realize, it can be quite bad.

Those who cope with this curious form of arthritis know that the pain can be excruciating. And to make matters worse, attempts to control the pain are often very frustrating. My colleague Ramsey, for instance, has gout, and when his attacks occur, he sometimes has to struggle to make his way to his desk – if he’s even able to walk into work that day at all.

After Ramsey’s first episode with gout, his doctor recommended rest, elevating the feet (Ramsey’s gout mostly affects his toes, which is typical), and Advil to control the pain. He also prescribed a nonsteroidal anti- inflammatory drug, which came with a warning that it could be toxic over time. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for gout, which is a hereditary disease.

When Ramsey didn’t get much relief from this protocol (nor much comfort in the idea of long-term toxicity), he took matters into his own hands and did for himself what his doctor couldn’t do: He found a natural way to relieve the pain and control the duration of his gout episodes.

The uric acid cherry test

Gout is caused by the crystallization of uric acid. This metabolite normally dissolves in the blood and is passed out of the body in the urine. Writing about gout in a Health eTips column last year, Amanda Ross explained that the body sometimes produces too much or excretes too little uric acid. The resulting buildup forms sharp crystals in a joint or the surrounding tissue, causing pain, inflammation and swelling.

In Ramsey’s case, attacks of gout began reappearing every three months or so, and would last about a week. Usually only the toes of one foot were affected, but once when both feet became painful he couldn’t even walk.

Ramsey is a young man in his mid-30s, so the prospect of going through this cycle four times a year for the rest of his life was uninviting, to say the least. When Ramsey began doing his own research, he came across what was described as an old wives’ tale: Cherries relieve gout. The source he found said to eat two pounds of cherries at the onset of an attack.

Two pounds! That’s a lot of cherries, but when he tried it, the attack duration was cut down to about three days. One downside to eating that many cherries is that they’re a natural laxative. They’re also sometimes hard to find when not in season, in which case Ramsey resorts to maraschino cherries. So, the cherry method is not a perfect solution, but it’s far better than spending a full week in pain.

Ramsey also found help from a book, titled “Getting Rid of Gout: A Guide to Management and Prevention” by Bryan Emerson (Oxford University Press, 1996), which has information about foods that can trigger gout attacks (such as fish, broccoli, asparagus, coffee and orange juice), and tips for lessening the effects of an attack (such as drinking cherry juice, in addition to eating cherries). Drinking lots of water also helps flush uric acid from the system.

Organ meat is another trigger that Ramsey has to steer clear of. In fact, high protein diets in general can increase uric acid production and aggravate gout symptoms.

Going way back

In Amanda’s Health eTips article, she discussed another natural formula that Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., uses for treating gout.

An AMA Journal article dating back to the 1880s noted that uric acid could be made more soluble (thus less likely to crystallize) if lithium were added to the solution containing uric acid. Then, in the 1970s, researchers found that high doses of vitamin C prompt the kidneys to excrete more uric acid into the urine. This can present a problem for those who are prone to forming uric acid kidney stones. But for people suffering from gout, it’s exactly what they need.

Amanda writes: “Following these two clues, Dr. Wright has found that recommending lithium orotate, 5 to 10 milligrams, three times daily, and vitamin C, 1 to 2 grams three times daily, is often all that’s needed to control gout.

“Although Dr. Wright has never observed any toxic effects from taking such low quantities of lithium, because of the possibility of toxicity linked to high doses of lithium in some patients (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hand tremors, muscle weakness, increased thirst and urination, fatigue, drowsiness, kidney and cardiovascular disease) he advises that you take preventive measures even while using the product in low doses. To counteract any possible negative side effects, take about 1-2 teaspoonfuls of flaxseed oil (or another fatty acid) a day, along with 400 IU of vitamin E.”

Obviously, before attempting a regimen of lithium or high doses of vitamin C, anyone who’s suffering from gout should first consult a doctor who’s familiar with complementary and alternative medicine. But if you have a doctor who tells you that all you can do is elevate your feet, take Advil and fill a prescription for a potentially toxic medication, you’ll know it’s time to find a new doctor.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute