Today much of the media (newspapers, radio and TV) have reported on the painful condition gout, after the publication in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases of a population-based study reporting a significant increase in both prevalence and incidence of gout in the UK1 (for full paper click here). This study also highlighted the suboptimal management of this condition in primary care.
As part of my final year’s study to become a medical herbalist I conducted a research project examining the role of Western herbal medicine in the treatment of gout: which was subsequently published2. I took three approaches:
The majority of medical herbalists survey had treated patients with gout at some point and had reported beneficial effects (for both acute and chronic gout). Overwhelmingly, the most popular herbs prescribed by herbalists were celery seed (Apium graveolens) and nettle (Urtica spp.): this mirrored the most frequent herbs identified in herbal texts. In general the herbs used by herbalists were mainly chosen for their ability to eliminate uric acid (celery seed, nettle and dandelion [Taraxacum officinale]) or as anti-inflammatories (Cat’s claw [Harpagophytum procumbens], meadowsweet [Filipendula ulmaria], willow [Salix spp.], birch [Betula spp.], tumeric [Curcuma longa] and lignum-vitae [Guaiacum spp.]).
In addition to prescribing herbal remedies, most herbalists also suggested dietary and/or lifestyle advice including the reduction of purines, meat, alcohol and caffeine, and increases of fluids, vegetables and fruit in the diet, along with increasing exercise levels: advise consistent with that given by GPs.
Finally, the evidence review found few studies into the effectiveness of Western herbal medicine for gout: only one clinical trial was identified but this was of poor quality. However, with herbalists reporting beneficial effects of herbal medicines for gout there is clearly a need for more research.
1Kuo, C-F., Grainge, M.J., Mallen, C., Zhang, W. and Doherty, M. (2014). Rising burden of gout in the UK but continuing suboptimal management: a nationwide population study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-204463
2Corp, N. and Pendry, B. (2013). The role of Western herbal medicine in the treatment of gout. Journal of Herbal Medicine. 3: 157-170. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.hermed.2013.08.002