The dilemma of treating pain

Vice Squad

Vice President Cheney recently visited the hospital when he experienced shortness of breath. This was apparently a minor crisis, but it demonstrates the dilemma of treating pain with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Representatives for Mr. Cheney told the New York Times that the VP’s shallow breathing was the result of fluid buildup in his lungs, caused by an anti-inflammatory drug. He’d been using the drug to address pain from chronic foot problems that include tendonitis and possibly gout.

As most people are aware, Mr. Cheney’s health is complicated by a serious heart condition that’s being treated with a host of drugs, according to the Times. But if his foot pain is mostly gout related, maybe someone from his medical team will have the wisdom to add a simple home remedy to his drug regimen.

Bowl of cherries

An HSI member named Max apparently has something in common with the Vice President. Max recently sent an e-mail with this simple request: “What is good for Gout?”

To answer that question I’ll start with the culprit: uric acid.

Most gout patients have inherited a genetic condition that inhibits the excretion of uric acid. Kidney failure and a high intake of diuretic drugs or diuretic foods (such as liver) can also cause this problem. The other precursor of gout – the excessive production of uric acid – is triggered by hereditary factors too, as well as excessive alcohol consumption and obesity.

In the e-Alert “Bowl of Cherries” (1/28/04), I told you about a colleague of mine here at HSI named Ramsey who has coped with gout for several years. When Ramsey was first diagnosed he did some research and 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. That’s a lot of cherries, but when he tried it, the duration of his gout attacks was cut in half.

Ramsey also found helpful advice 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.

Cherry helpers
In previous e-Alerts I’ve shared messages from HSI members who have found natural ways to treat gout.

A member named Ernie wrote: “Celery seed will stop gout attacks, and it has many other benefits.” Several other members wrote to suggest using celery seed, which can be taken in extract form. In addition to gout relief, celery seed is also reputed to reduce inflammation, calm muscle spasms and fight bacteria.

Another botanical used to reduce gout pain is extract of juniper, rich in antioxidant flavonoids. A member named Lee writes: “A friend who also has gout suggested Juniper. It works well for me and relief is usually within a few hours! I take 2,500 mg capsules 2 or 3 times the first day. I then take 1 cap. 3x/day until the pain is gone completely, rarely more that 3 days.”

A visit to the chiropractor was so effective for a member named Kris that she categorizes it as a cure. And practicing yoga might lead to relief, according to a member named CL who says, “I teach the Bikram Style of Hatha Yoga and I have seen many students heal their gout pain thru Yoga.”

I find it hard to picture Vice President Cheney doing yoga, but you never know; pain is a powerful motivator.

“Cheney Makes a Morning Trip to the Hospital” David E. Sanger and Lawrence K. Altman, The New York Times, 1/10/06,