Gout affects around 9 million Americans, and around 50% of those with gout will have their first attacks begin in the big toe. The severity of gout will depend on the individual, but, on average, people with gout miss 4.5 more days of work annually than those without.
If you’ve heard of the term "gout" or have been recently diagnosed with the condition, then you might be wondering what gout is, what the symptoms are, how gout treatment works, and if gout supplements can help improve it. Read on to learn all about using supplements for gout.
What Is Gout?
There are many forms of arthritis out there. But typically, arthritis falls into two categories: inflammation arthritis and noninflammatory arthritis. Gout is one type of inflammatory arthritis. It’s a painful form that causes severe pain and swollen joints. The affected joints may become red and hot to the touch. While gout is commonly found in the big toe, it can happen in other joints too, including the knees, feet, fingers, ankles, and other extremities.
Gout occurs when your body produces extra uric acid. Your body produces extra uric acid when it breaks down purine chemicals found in certain drinks and food. Once broken down, the uric acid filters through the kidneys and exits the body during urination. But sometimes too much uric acid is produced, and the kidneys have difficulty filtering the byproduct. As a result, the extra acid may form into sharp crystals, affecting your big toe and other joints, causing episodes or flare-ups of swelling and pain referred to as gout attacks.
These attacks often happen at night, with no warning.
Gout Risk Factors
Anyone can get gout, but it's more common in men than in women. Women who develop gout are often post-menopause. Men, on the other hand, develop it at younger ages due to the high uric acid levels in their bodies, which women don’t get until after menopause.
There are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing gout, including:
- Congestive heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance
- Metabolic syndrome
- Decreased kidney function
- Certain medications, including diuretics
- Alcohol consumption
- High fructose consumption
- Consuming too many purines from foods like red meat, specific types of seafood, and organ meat
Additionally, a family history of gout can also contribute to an increased risk of developing gout.
Symptoms of Gout
Gout commonly occurs in episodic attacks that cause unexpected pain, typically throughout the night. While gout attacks most commonly happen in the big toe, other joints can experience severe pain and other symptoms, including:
- Joint stiffness
- Warm or hot-to-the-touch skin, or a burning sensation in the joint
While these attacks tend to occur at night, they can last up to two weeks. Between episodes, you may not experience any symptoms. Episodes may occur frequently or years apart. Untreated gout can recur at more frequent and intense intervals.
Medical treatment and self-management tactics are both used to treat gout. Your doctor will work with you to devise a plan to effectively manage your specific symptoms. The plan may include:
- Managing flare-ups: If you’re currently experiencing a flare-up, your doctor will work with you to manage the symptoms and control the pain. Your doctor may prescribe you nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). These medications may include steroids, colchicine, and ibuprofen.
- Preventing flare-ups: You can prevent flare-ups through proactive changes in your lifestyle. Your doctor may recommend dietary changes, including consuming less alcohol and purine-rich foods, like red meat. Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes like losing weight and removing you from diuretics.
- Preventing additional conditions: High uric acid levels can cause additional conditions, like tophi, or hardened uric acid deposits that develop underneath your skin, and kidney stones. Doctors may recommend preventative drug therapy, especially if you have recurrent episodes of gout. These drugs include allopurinol, pegloticase, and febuxostat.
Other considerations in managing gout consist of self-management strategies, including:
- Avoiding food allergies, including gluten, dairy, preservatives, additives, and corn
- Consuming foods rich in antioxidants, including fruits and vegetables
- Adding more fiber to your diet, including in the form of oats, potatoes, yams, and psyllium seed
- Avoiding refined foods, including sugary products, pastas, and white bread
- Consuming more magnesium-rich foods and avoiding calcium-rich foods
- Using olive oil and coconut oil as alternatives to unhealthier cooking oils
- Consuming 6 to 8 glasses of filtered water a day
- Exercising 5 days a week, 30 minutes a day
- Consuming more coffee to help decrease symptoms
While these medications and strategies can help manage gout, it’s important to note that there is no cure for gout, and you will likely experience lifelong episodes.
Can Vitamins Help Gout?
You should avoid certain vitamins, as they can increase symptoms of gout. These vitamins include niacin and vitamin A. But doctors may prescribe some vitamins to gout patients, especially if they have nutritional deficiencies.
Some supplements that help address deficiencies and doctors may prescribe to gout patients include:
- Multivitamins containing A, C, E, and B-complex vitamins, as well as magnesium, zinc, calcium, and selenium
- Omega-3 fatty acids, typically in the form of fish oil
- Inositol hexaphosphate or IP-6
- N-acetyl cysteine
- Vitamin C
- Methylsulfonylmethane or MSM
Another popular nutrient to use to help decrease inflammation and reduce pain is omega-6 fatty acids, or specifically gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). This acid can be found in oils like black currant seed oil, evening primrose oil, and borage oil. Taking a primrose supplement is a great way to increase your intake of GLA.
In addition to these supplements, some herbs are safe for you to take if you have gout. Herbs are healthy and generally safe and can contribute to strengthening and toning the body’s systems. Popular herbs to take include cranberry, green tea, devil’s claw, cat’s claw, bromelain, and turmeric.
Before beginning any new vitamin, supplement, or herbal remedy regime, make sure to consult with your doctor and discuss what regimen is right for you.
If you’ve noticed an onset of sudden, severe joint pain, you should talk to your primary doctor, who may then refer you to a specialist.
Gout is usually diagnosed under the supervision of specialized doctors who focus on patients with gout, like rheumatologists, though your primary doctor may be able to provide you with a diagnosis too. Your doctor will perform a complete physical examination and discuss your symptoms.
You may need a specialized doctor because gout’s symptoms are nonspecific and can be mistaken for other inflammatory conditions.
In addition to a physical examination and assessment of your symptoms, your doctor may perform specific tests like blood work, which is used to measure how much uric acid is present in your blood, and imaging tests, including X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds, which are used to take pictures and examine the affected joints more closely.
One final test that a doctor may use to diagnose gout is an aspiration, where the doctor uses a needle to extract fluid from the affected joint. They then examine the fluid under a microscope, where your doctor will look for uric acid crystals.
After a proper diagnosis of gout, your primary doctor can track your symptoms and help you manage them.