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What Is Gout?
Gout is a common arthritic condition that occurs when there is too much uric acid in the body. In normal amounts uric acid is actually a normal and even beneficial compound. With gout sufferers, uric acid accumulates in blood and tissues and eventually crystallizes. These uric acid crystals can affect joints, causing stabbing pain and swelling. Over time gout attacks can result in damage to the joint. Although the big toe joint is often affected, gout can affect other joints as well, including the knee, wrist or fingers.
Gout is the result of too much uric acid in the body, but why does this happen? According to the Prescription for Natural Healing, by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, about 70 percent of people with gout produce too much uric acid and 30 percent have trouble eliminating it from the body. Factors such as a rich diet and alcohol consumption are associated with the development of gout. Heredity, stress, the use of some medications and surgery may also play a role for some people.
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Alcohol and Gout
There are clear reasons why poor drinking habits could potentially lead to the formation of uric acid crystals. Alcohol actually increases the production of uric acid while also decreasing the elimination of this compound. This means that any type of alcohol may increase the likeliness of developing gout or aggravate the condition. Beer in particular may be problematic because it contains a high amount of purines — uric acid is a byproduct of the metabolism of purines.
According to research published in The Lancet medical journal (The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide), men who regularly drink have an increased risk of developing gout. The increase in risk for beer drinkers may be extremely high — the study found that each daily serving increased the risk by 50 percent. For every daily drink of hard liquor the risk increased by 15 percent. The study followed 47,000 male medical professionals who had no history of gout for up to twelve years.
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Alcohol does affect gout. Understanding this association, people who do consume alcohol regularly can try to lower their alcohol consumption to help reduce the risk of developing this type of arthritis. Stopping drinking, drinking less and even choosing hard liquor over beer may help to prevent gout. Drinking lots of water, avoiding purine-rich foods (anchovies, shellfish, asparagus, meat and meat gravies, peanuts, brewer's and baker's yeast and sweetbreads) and eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can help as well.
Gout can be treated with medications, but taking measures to try and prevent this disease and to maintain well-being may make life much easier.
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The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Alcohol Increases the Risk of Gout. http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0804a.shtml
Balch, Phyllis A. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006)
photo by Jeramey Jannene/flickr