Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains strategies to prevent gout flare-ups.
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Stick it to gout flare-ups with celery and a cup of nettle tea
Having spoken over the last couple of weeks about various types of arthritis, I thought I’d bring up the topic of gout. Unlike the more common osteoarthritis that worsens gradually as we age, gout tends to flare up aggressively and eventually die down.
Gout occurs in people that have too much uric acid in their blood stream. This uric acid builds up in the joint, most commonly the joint of the big toe, although it can affect other joints too. The affected area can become red, swollen and incredibly painful, making walking very difficult.
Treatment of gout flare-ups usually involves strong pain medicines that your doctor can provide, but when it comes to managing the condition, prevention is better than cure. Rather than managing gout flare-ups as they occur, herbal strategies tend to focus on minimising the amount of uric acid in the bloodstream to prevent flare-ups. This is done by reducing the amount made by the body and helping to eliminate excess uric acid.
To reduce uric acid levels, try the following dietary adjustments:
l Avoid purine-rich foods. Purine breaks down into uric acid. It’s found in offal, red meat, sardines, mackerel, anchovies and shellfish;
l Avoid alcohol. Beer is high in purines but alcohol in general dehydrates the body reducing uric acid elimination;
l Cut down on sugar. Certain types of sugar raise uric acid levels. In addition, if you’re carrying extra weight due to a sweet tooth, the excess fat will contribute to how slowly uric acid is being removed;
l Drink water. If you help your kidneys, you help your joints. Staying hydrated will ensure that you can flush out unwanted uric acid. I recommend on average six glasses or mugs of water per day. For someone with gout, I’d recommend at least six glasses per day.
Moving beyond simple diet changes towards herbal medicine, the two key herbs I use are celery and nettle. Nettle is easy to get your hands on if you’re not adverse to gathering your own medicines from outside. Nettles can be made into soups, teas or just cooked like everyday leafy greens. The younger leaves are tastier, but all the leaves will be effective medicinally. Try them in curries, stews or get vintage in your kitchen and try your hand at some nettle soup.
Nettle works as a diuretic and has a traditional history of use for various arthritic problems. It acts as a diuretic, helping the body eliminate excess water (helpful when wanting to expel unwanted uric acid) but is also what herbalists call a ‘nutritive’ meaning that it is rich in restorative nutrients, hence why it is often used as a spring tonic. As one of the first greens to pop up after winter, it would traditionally have provided an excellent burst of nutrients for aching joints after a long winter.
We use the seeds of the celery plant, rather than the vegetable. The seeds are used in herbal medicine to actually break down the uric acid crystals that deposit in the joints. This makes it a useful herb to use to prevent uric acid build ups, but in my clinic I also provide it in very high does during acute flare ups, to quicken the uric acid breakdown and speed recovery to get someone (literally) back on their feet.
I use high doses of herbal tincture (a concentrated liquid medicine) but I have known herbalists recommend strong brews with the seeds themselves, simmered and sipped throughout the day.
Both nettle leaves and celery seeds have been shown in studies to be anti-inflammatory, making them pain relieving in and of themselves.
For our busier less kitchen inclined gout sufferers, I stock a simple gout prevention formula in my shop called Celery Seed Complex. It contains nettle, celery and cherry, all of which are known remedies for gout type arthritis. The tablets are inexpensive, easy to take and popular among our local gout sufferers with most people buying a few pots at a time.
They provide a modern, simple and effective means of keeping uric acid down, without a bowl of nettle soup in sight.
For more information contact Nicola at her clinic on 01524 413733.