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Not enough evidence that ginger could effectively treat gout – speak to your doctor instead

IN SHORT: Ginger has been widely studied for its potential health benefits, including for inflammatory conditions. There is some promising evidence, but not enough to conclude that it can treat gout.

A video circulating on social media in July 2023 claims that a poultice of ginger can treat gout. 

The TikTok video, a reel with the description “Easy home remedy for gout”, shows a talk by controversial naturopath Barbara O’Neill

The video has been posted elsewhere, but the claim for ginger as a treatment for gout has also appeared on other social media platforms here, here, here. Ginger has also been listed among other natural gout remedies here. Some of the posts received hundreds of likes. 

Naturopathy is the study of how to use herbs and other nature-based products to treat illnesses, claiming to combine centuries-old traditional treatments with modern science. Many of these methods are, however, unsupported by evidence.

Gout is a type of arthritis that causes bouts of inflammation and pain in the joints, often the big toe. According to US-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the condition is caused by a build-up of uric acid. Uric acid is normally produced when ingredients in certain foods are broken down in the body. 

When too much uric acid is produced, it can form crystals that build up in joints and other places, causing gout. Symptoms occur in the affected joint, and include redness, swelling, heat and usually intense pain. 

Some factors make a person more likely to develop gout. These include a diet high in purines, an ingredient that breaks down into uric acid in the body. 

Foods that contain lots of purines are red meat and some seafood. Consuming alcohol or food and drinks high in a type of sugar called fructose can also increase risk. 

According to the CDC, there is no cure for gout, but the pain can be effectively managed and future flare-ups prevented. Non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs are often used to reduce pain. Diet and lifestyle changes can also reduce the chances of future flare-ups, including eating less red meat and purine-rich seafood, and limiting alcohol. 

Drugs that lower uric acid levels in the blood may also be prescribed for people with frequent flare-ups. 

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Ginger and gout

The potential health benefits of ginger have been explored by researchers. There have been some promising results, and compared to some other natural remedies, ginger has the advantage of having been tested in randomised control trials, which is a type of high-quality study. 

Ginger, or its main ingredients, has been shown in numerous studies to help with symptoms of inflammatory diseases and a variety of other conditions. See reviews of the evidence here, here and here

But this research involved consuming ginger or its ingredients, rather than using it as a compress. There are fewer high-quality studies assessing compresses or topical application, which means applying it on the skin. 

Some studies showing beneficial effects on pain using a compress have been done, but they only studied one specific type of ginger, Cassumunar ginger, found in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia. 

There are also limitations when looking at the extensive research around consuming ginger or ginger ingredients. Researchers who summarised available studies into ginger’s potential for inflammatory diseases in January 2020 concluded that “the benefit of ginger among the studies was inconsistent in terms of effectiveness”. 

Some studies compared ginger to anti-inflammatory drugs, with one concluding that ginger was an effective addition to anti-inflammatory drugs but the other finding no overall benefits. 

The available studies had small sample sizes, and had many different designs, like using different dosages and time periods. More research with larger sample sizes and similar study designs needs to be done before effects can be confirmed, the researchers said. 

So what’s the bottom line? Ginger might be effective in reducing symptoms of inflammatory diseases like gout, but it has not been scientifically proven to cure it. 

It can be dangerous to use treatments that are not based on scientific evidence instead of treatments that are known to work effectively. Always speak to a qualified health professional before starting any new treatment.

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