Gout is a type of arthritis that develops when blood uric acid levels are abnormally high. The uric acid forms crystals in the joints, often in the feet and big toes, which causes severe and painful swelling.
Some people need medication to treat gout, but diet and lifestyle changes may also help. Lowering uric acid can reduce the risk of gout and may even prevent subsequent flares in people with this condition.
However, gout risk depends on several factors, not just lifestyle, so it is important to talk to a doctor about the best gout prevention strategies.
In this article, learn about eight natural ways to lower uric acid levels.
Purines are compounds that occur naturally in some foods. As the body breaks down purines, it produces uric acid. The process of metabolizing purine-rich foods may lead to gout by causing the body to produce too much uric acid.
Some foods that are high in purines are otherwise healthful, so the goal should be to reduce the intake of purines rather than to avoid them altogether.
Foods with high purine content include:
- wild game, such as deer (venison)
- trout, tuna, haddock, sardines, anchovies, mussels, and herring
- excess alcohol, including beer and liquor
- high-fat foods, such as bacon, dairy products, and red meat (including veal)
- organ meats, for example, liver and sweetbreads
- sugary foods and beverages
Foods with moderate purine content include:
- deli meats
- most other meat, including ham and beef
- oyster, shrimp, crab, and lobster
By switching from foods with a high purine content to those with a lower purine content, some people may be able to steadily lower their uric acid levels or at least avoid further increases. Some foods with low purine content include:
- low-fat and fat-free dairy products
- peanut butter and most nuts
- most fruits and vegetables
- whole-grain rice, bread, and potatoes
Dietary changes alone will not get rid of gout, but they may help prevent flare-ups. It is also important to note that not everyone who gets gout eats a high-purine diet.
Other factors, such as genetic susceptibility, also play a role. African Americans are more vulnerable than white people to gout. Postmenopausal women and people with obesity also have a higher risk.
Certain medications may elevate uric acid levels. These medicines include:
- diuretic drugs, such as furosemide (Lasix) and hydrochlorothiazide
- drugs that suppress the immune system, especially before or after an organ transplant
- low-dose aspirin
Drugs that raise uric acid levels may offer essential health benefits, however, so people should speak to a doctor before changing any medications.
Reaching a healthy body weight may help reduce the risk of gout flares. Obesity increases the risk of gout, especially in people of a younger age.
Being overweight also increases a person's risk of metabolic syndrome. It can raise blood pressure and cholesterol while increasing the risk of heart disease. While these effects are harmful in their own right, being overweight also has an association with a higher risk of elevated blood uric acid levels, raising the risk of gout.
Rapid weight loss, especially when it occurs due to fasting, may raise uric acid levels. Therefore, people should focus on making long-term sustainable changes to manage their weight, such as becoming more active, eating a balanced diet, and choosing nutrient-dense foods.
The heavy consumption both of alcohol and of sugary drinks — such as sodas and sweetened juices — correlates with an increased risk of developing gout.
Alcohol and sweetened drinks also add unnecessary calories to the diet, potentially causing weight gain and metabolic issues.
Some research indicates that people who drink coffee are less likely to develop gout. For example, a 2010 analysis of data from female participants in the Nurses' Health Study found that gout risk decreased as coffee consumption increased.
Women who consumed 1 to 3 cups of coffee per day had a 22% reduction in their risk of gout compared with those who drank no coffee. Women who consumed more than 4 cups of coffee per day had a 57% decrease in their risk of getting this condition.
A handful of studies have also linked coffee consumption to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. A 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis of long-term coffee consumption found that people who consumed 3–5 cups of coffee per day had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.
As people with gout have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, drinking coffee may help improve their overall health.
Reduced uric acid levels could lower the risk of gout attacks. Research has not conclusively proven that vitamin C treats or prevents gout, however — only that it lowers uric acid levels.
Preliminary research suggests that cherries might reduce the risk of gout attacks, particularly in people with a prior history of the disease.
A 2012 study of 633 people with gout found that eating cherries for 2 days lowered the risk of a gout attack by 35% compared with eating no cherries.
This effect persisted even when researchers controlled for risk factors, such as age, sex, alcohol consumption, and use of diuretics or anti-gout medication.
Among people who also used allopurinol, an anti-gout drug, the combination of the drug and cherries lowered the risk of another attack by 75%.
Gout is a painful medical condition that often occurs alongside other serious conditions. While a healthful lifestyle may lower the risk of subsequent flares, it may not be enough to treat the disease.
Some people with balanced diets still get gout, and not all people who eat high-purine diets develop gout symptoms.
Medication can help reduce pain and may prevent the risk of future gout flares. People can talk to a doctor about their symptoms and ask for advice on which lifestyle changes might be most beneficial.