“How about alcohol? Beer, wine and hard liquor can elevate uric acid levels,” Wei continued.
Strike three. I admit, for a forty-something mom, I can drink like a party girl.
And there it was: By chance, I'd cherry-picked enough “healthy” foods that, mixed with a few cocktails a week, added up to a big fat gout diagnosis.
“You know, if you just ate the shellfish and vegetables, you'd probably be OK,” Wei said delicately. “Maybe what tipped you over the edge was the alcohol.” He paused. “It doesn't take that much, really.” He was trying to be diplomatic. But the numbers are on his side. In 2010, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine found that more than five drinks a week—not quite the equivalent of the “one cocktail a night” that most health experts say is OK for women—will triple a woman's risk for gout. Apparently, even before menopause, vodka can trump estrogen.
One diagnosis and three powerful anti-inflammatory injections later, I was back on my feet. I've since had to make some lifestyle changes to avoid additional flare-ups. And it isn't only my big toes that are at risk. Though that's where men typically suffer from gout, “in women, it just as often affects spots such as the instep, ankle, heel, knee, Achilles tendon, wrist, finger or elbow,” says N. Lawrence Edwards, MD, chairman of the nonprofit Gout & Uric Acid Education Society.
So I'm trying to follow the rules. While I'm delighted to finally have a medically sanctioned excuse for the three mugs of Italian roast I drink in the morning (coffee is associated with lower uric acid levels), I've also had to give up a few things: asparagus, seared ahi and tuna sushi (I ask the sushi chef to substitute yellowtail or salmon in my favorite rolls). And, oh yes, I finally accepted that I had to give my well-worn cocktail shaker a rest and climbed (albeit reluctantly) on the wagon. As a result, in the 18 months since my diagnosis, I haven't had a single flare-up, not even a twinge of toe pain.
I believe that calls for a drink. Shirley Temples, anyone?
Originally published in the December 2011/January 2012 issue ofMore.
Next: How to Prevent Gout
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