Could you burn or freeze your gout away?
Not quite, but a new study in the journal Cells reveals that temperature can drastically affect gout.
Gout is a form of arthritis in which monosodium urate crystals are deposited in your joints. But this is not what causes the pain and disability, which are caused by inflammation.
To understand the effects of temperature on gout, you need to understand the details of how gout happens.
- 1. Uric acid crystals are deposited in your joints, probably because there is too much of it in your bloodstream.
2. Your immune system tries to remove this foreign substance from your joints and sends cells called macrophages to go absorb it.
3. This absorption triggers a system called the NLRP3 inflammasome, whereby a protein sensor tells your immune system to send inflammatory chemicals to help destroy the foreign substance.
4. This causes your immune system to dump pro-inflammatory molecules (the cytokines IL-1beta and IL-18) into your joints, which then cause the pain and swelling.
Thus, you can see that the problem is not really the uric acid in your joints, or even the macrophages that your immune system sends.
The problem only becomes nasty when that NLRP3 inflammasome system is activated, because this leads directly to inflammation.
That’s why researchers tried to determine whether temperature could promote or inhibit inflammasome activation.
Unsurprisingly, since your body’s temperature is 37°C (98.6°F), they took this as their starting point and found that inflammasome activation increased and decreased from there.
Their tests at 25°C and 33°C (77°F and 91.4°F) found an increase in inflammasome activation, while their tests at 39°C and 42°C (102.2°F and 107.6°F) found a decrease.
In fact, they also found that colder temperatures led to higher uric acid deposition in joints, while warmer temperatures led to a decrease.
This probably means that it is a good idea for gout sufferers to avoid living in extreme cold. Or, if you do live in a cold climate, it might be advisable to find some warmer getaway during the winter.
Alternatively, as the researchers recommend, hyperthermia therapy may be a solution.
In a doctor’s office, heat can be delivered to specific areas by ultrasound, radiofrequency, infrared, microwave, or other mechanisms.
At home, you are probably limited to hot water and battery-operated heated gloves or heated socks to protect those joints from gout flareups.