Gout was often referred to in the past as “the disease of kings” due to its association with excess consumption of rich food and alcohol.
Gout is a form of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) caused by the crystallisation of uric acid in the joints.
While poor diet and lifestyle can be a significant factor, it is now believed this condition can affect almost anyone.
Uric acid is a normal waste product, which gets processed in the kidneys and excreted during urination. When there is malfunction in that organ, the acid builds up inside the body causing inflammation, usually in the feet, but also in the hands, elbows, and ankles.
Gout is a very painful condition, and the attacks come up quickly causing severe pain, redness, heat and swelling of the affected joints.
Often the first manifestation occurs in the big toes, during the night.
Usually, the inflammation improves and the pain gradually decreases after three to 10 days as the uric crystals gradually break down, before being eliminated by the body.
Subsequent attacks may not occur for months, but once there has been an initial attack the condition can flare up at any time.
Uric acid is the by-product of the metabolic breakdown of purine. The excess production of purine is, in most cases, due to a genetic predisposition. Risk factors include being of African-American racial background, or being male or overweight.
Other causes are prescribed medications, which have a diuretic effect and can impair the kidney function, as well as stress, and exposure to lead in the environment.
The Western medical approach is to test the level of uric acid in the blood, and if it is excessive to prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) or, if the pain is severe, corticosteroids such as prednisone.
According to American rheumatologist Dr Edwards, over 60% of uric acid is produced by the body naturally, while the rest is absorbed from the ingested food in the form of purines, which are animal or plant products that the body converts into uric acid. These include beef, kidneys, game meat, and brains, and seafood like sardines, mackerel, scallops, and anchovies. Excess intake of alcohol, especially beer, can also be a causative factor. According to this specialist, while a change of diet will decrease the severity of the attacks, the problem will not cease until urate-lowering medications are taken.
Unfortunately these medications can cause severe side effects on the intestines, which encourage many sufferers to turn to alternative remedies.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine gout is classified as a manifestation of damp heat, and phlegm caused by fluid retention (dampness) and excess heat from digested foods and poor lifestyle.
Too much alcohol and rich food can cause a build up of internal heat in the body and an accumulation of fluids leading to a damp environment. The combination of dampness and excess heat in the body and the joints can result in urinary infections, if it occurs in the bladder, or different forms of rheumatoid arthritis, including gout, if it accumulates in the joints.
The first step towards prevention and recovery is to avoid fatty foods, especially fried foods, and limit alcohol consumption.
Since potassium increases the absorption of uric acid in the body, a sufferer should increase their intake of potassium-rich foods like avocados, bananas, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, dried apricots, pomegranate, white beans and carrots.
As an aside, in countries like the USA, junk foods are now cheaper to buy than fruits and vegetables.
Consequently, it is now people on lower incomes who are increasingly affected by gout, as well as other metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity.
But a change of diet and herbal medicine will only alleviate the symptoms until the long-term deficiency in several organs is fully addressed.
The three channels involved in the manifestation of gout - the spleen, the liver, and the kidney - have channel pathways circulating close to the big toe. The spleen organ is very prone to accumulating fluids (dampness), while a liver dysfunction will very quickly transform into excess heat. This explains why seasoned drinkers easily become aggressive due to excess heat from the alcohol affecting their liver function and rising to the head. The kidney is the third organ affected. As it is responsible for filtering and eliminating waste products, poor kidney function will result in an inability to dispose of the build up of excess heat and dampness via the bladder.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can address the cause of this dysfunction. This method is slower acting than Western medications, but it will treat the internal source of the problem, instead of only its physical manifestations.
It might take up to eight months of regular treatments to strengthen your kidney or liver but the benefit could last a lifetime.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com