Q: My doctor tells me that gout is becoming much more common these days. I was diagnosed a year ago, and I get frequent flare-ups. I'm on medication but don't want to take it for the rest of my life. What type of diet should I follow to avoid getting attacks?
A: Your doctor is right: More and more Americans are getting gout—joint pain and inflammation caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals. This is due in part to the aging of America; the likelihood of developing this form of arthritis increases as you get older. But genetics, diet, and weight gain may be to blame as well. Eating foods with high levels of purines, a protein-related compound, can lead to buildup of uric acid in the blood. In some people, for reasons that aren't completely clear, crystals begin forming and lodging in the joints. You can try avoiding purine-rich foods: organ meats, bacon, lamb, beef, oysters, sardines, and beer (for further information, go to WHFoods.org and look up "purines"). Alcohol in general may be a bigger problem because it can affect the production and clearing of uric acid, causing acid levels to rise. Independent of other dietary factors, obesity seems to increase the risk of flare-ups, so if you're overweight, losing a few pounds could protect you. Finally, drinking plenty of water may help your body flush out uric acid. Just to be clear, though: Taking these dietary steps is wise, but if they don't do the job, you may have to reconcile yourself to a long-term relationship with that medication you're taking.