Gout used to be known as "the rich man's disease" because it usually struck the wealthy -- the only ones who could afford to over-consume the foods that cause this painful form of arthritis.

Today, you don't have to be rich (or even a man) to suffer from gout -- just fat. And since more people are fatter than ever before, more people are also battling the foot pain that marks this condition.

New numbers show that 4 percent -- or 8.3 million Americans -- fought gout in 2008, compared to just 1 percent between 1988 and 1994.

That's a 400-percent increase inside of a generation -- and in the coming years, it could get even worse. Recent government numbers show 21 percent of us have high levels of the uric acid responsible for gout.

That's an increase of 700 percent from the surveys taken between 1988 and 1994.

But whatever you do, don't turn to Big Pharma's solution for gout. Drugs designed to treat the problem have been known to cause nausea, joint pain, and even liver problems. They've also been linked to chest pain, vomiting, bruising, constipation, allergic reactions, and even more gout flare-ups.

There are better ways to beat gout, and you can get some of the most immediate relief with something that was often dismissed as a folk remedy -- until a recent study found it really worked.

Researchers say 20 cherries eaten over 48 hours can reduce the risk of a gout attack by 50 percent, while cherry extract slashed the odds by 40 percent. I've noticed cherry juice popping up on supermarket shelves, so feel free to give that a try. Just make sure it's 100 percent cherry juice and not cherry-flavored sugar water.

If you don't have any cherries handy, try celery. Celery can keep the enzyme that produces uric acid in check, and some people have reported gout relief from as little as a single stalk.

Others need more -- nearly an entire bunch -- and all the peanut butter in the world won't make it any easier to eat that much. If that's the case, try 75mg of celery seed extract, twice a day, instead.

You don't have to be rich to get gout. And since celery -- and celery seed -- is cheap and plentiful, you don't have to be rich to beat it, either.