A few weeks back I wrote about spring detoxing and how useful it is in preventing inflammatory issues such as hay fever and allergies. Following the same theme, I thought I would spend a little time talking about other inflammatory disorders, and in particular, want to share some of my experience treating gout.
Gout is an inflammatory joint disorder that results from an increase of uric acid levels in the blood, forming glass-like crystals that accumulate in the joints. Signs and symptoms often begin without much warning, and can be precipitated by relatively minor events such as stubbing a toe.
The pain typically affects only one joint, which becomes progressively more severe and is often excruciating, resembling an acute infection. The most common clinical manifestation is called podagra: an acute gouty arthritis of the big toe, but gout may involve other joints such as the ankle, knee, wrist and elbow. In prolonged, severe conditions, it can also affect the internal organs.
The typical cause of uric acid accumulation in the blood is a failure of the kidneys to properly excrete it, and is thus more common in patients who suffer from kidney disease. Those who regularly consume alcohol, too, are also at greater risk, from the production of lactate by the liver, which in turn, blocks uric acid excretion by the kidney.
Gout can also arise from disorders of purine metabolism, as well as from eating high-purine foods such as animal products. While generally low in plant-based foods, purines can also be found in legumes, cereal grains, coffee, asparagus, yeasted foods (e.g. beer) and edible fungi.
One overlooked dietary cause of gout is excess fructose consumption, including high-fructose corn syrup. Over the years I have seen several times where folks eating too much seasonal fruit (e.g. sweet cherries in summer), even in an otherwise low purine diet, developed gout and it only resolved when they cut out the fruit.
While a low purine diet is temporarily recommended for acute gout, it can become counterproductive over the long term, forcing the patient to eat a high carb diet. That contributes to metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of gout in a vicious cycle.
Most important is to alkalize the blood, support the kidneys and liver, and assiduously avoid fructose and alcohol consumption.
Sometimes dietary oxalates are also fingered as a cause of gout, but if these other factors are addressed, it doesn’t warrant the avoidance of leafy greens, which while possibly high in oxalates (e.g. chard), also helps to alkalize the blood.
There are a vast number of natural interventions for gout that I do not have the space to explore in this article, including medicinal plants and dietary supplements. Expanding on the theme of detoxification, however, a simple fast on celery juice, with smaller amounts of carrot, beet and ginger, is usually very helpful to address acute issues, followed by a low-purine diet such as a kitchari cleanse (rice and mung bean) for a week or two.
Helpful herbs include nettle seed, cleavers and dandelion leaf to support the kidneys, and turmeric, burdock and Oregon grape roots for the liver. If the bowels are sluggish, I might recommend herbs such as yellow dock and turkey rhubarb root, or the Ayurveda formula Triphala.
Having helped many people with gout over the years, I am very confident that most cases can be addressed through natural means, restoring the body to a resplendent state of health without the worrisome side-effects of conventional treatment.
Todd Caldecott is a medical herbalist and Ayurveda practitioner based in the qathet region, and can be reached through the Dogwood School of Botanical Medicine website (dogwoodbotanical.com) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.