A high concentration of uric acid in the body can cause gout. This ancient disease, characterized by recurrent attacks of acute arthritis with pain, redness and swelling generally in a joint of the hands or feet, is caused by the deposit of uric acid crystals. The joint most frequently affected, in about 50% of the cases, is the metatarsophalangea of the first toe of the foot, from which comes the name of gout. Uric acid can also be deposited in the tendons and surrounding tissues, generating so-called tophi, even at the renal level, inducing the appearance of gouty nephropathy. With Professor Carlo Selmi, head of rheumatology at Humanitas and lecturer at the University of Milan, we talk about the importance of a balanced diet in the prevention and treatment of this disease.
The role of purines and uric acid
How important is food and diet in the treatment of gout? According to specialists, they have an important role to play. Most of the uric acid in our body (about two-thirds) is produced internally. The rest comes from the foods we eat in the diet, often in the form of purines. These molecules, present in all animal and plant substances, are converted by the body into uric acid and eliminated through the urine. When this acid is not eliminated through the kidneys it can accumulate in the blood and deposit itself in the form of needle-shaped crystals in the joints. These crystals cause severe inflammation and intense pain that can be felt with a gout attack.
The right combination of drugs and diet
To keep the symptoms of gout at bay, it is necessary to play on a double front: on the one hand, take drugs that reduce the levels of uric acid in the blood, on the other, observe a diet that reduces the consumption of foods that contain a high content of purines.
What are the causes of gout?
The causes of gout, in general, do not come exclusively from nutrition. This is a false myth that revolves around the long history of this disease. Gout is a metabolic disease with primary genetic origins.
Some people are predisposed to higher uric acid levels and less ability to eliminate uric acid. Afro-Americans, for example, are more prone to gout than whites.
The risk of developing the disease increases with age. Sex is also of great importance: younger men are four times more likely to develop gout than women who are protected until menopause and after 65 men are three times more likely to develop gout than women.
Being overweight, however, is a major risk factor for the development of gout and metabolic syndrome since the combination of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and obesity is linked to the development of this disease.
Although a diet low in purines alone cannot be sufficient to prevent gout, eating well and achieving a healthy weight will decrease the overall risk of gout and the complications of metabolic syndrome.