Suffered by Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin and King Henry VIII, gout – or the ‘disease of kings’ – is associated with rich living and red wine. But does red wine cause gout?
Gout is a form of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body. Uric acid is produced to break down the ‘purines’, present in all food. If your kidneys don’t process uric acid effectively, purine can form as crystals in the joints, causing severe pain, particularly in the big toe, but also in the instep, heel, ankle, knee, wrist, finger and elbow. Other symptoms include: painful swelling and red skin around the joint, mild fever and firm white lumps beneath the skin.
No one really knows why some people develop gout and others don’t. You will be more likely to suffer if you are a man aged 40 to 65 (women are less likely to suffer), have a family history of the disease, have kidney disease, are overweight, eat a diet that contains high levels of purines, have high blood pressure, or have injured a joint.
Although all food contains purines, some foods have concentrated amounts, including alcohol. Beer and spirits contain more purines than red wine. So if you are at high risk for the disease, it could be worth avoiding the following:
- alcohol (beer has the highest purine content of all alcohol)
- red meat
- fish and seafood
- vegetables such as asparagus, cauliflower, peas and lentils.
Onset of gout can be sudden and it can be incredibly painful. Left untreated, gout attacks may become frequent and long lasting.
What can you do if you have a flare-up? There are a number of steps that you can take, such as:
- eat a diet rich in vitamin C (citrus, for example) and complex carbohydrates
- try eating half a cup of cherries once or twice a day and drink coffee (these foods have been shown to decrease symptoms)
- avoid vigorous physical activity
- keep your joint cool
- apply ice wrapped in a towel to your joint for about 20 minutes to help reduce swelling (avoid placing ice directly on your skin); if you need to repeat this, let your joint return to its normal temperature first
- wear a splint, which you can get from your doctor, to stop you moving your joint
- take medicines prescribed by your doctor.