Q. As a mother of a 6-month-old baby, I'd like to know if there is any harm in warming baby foods and formula in a microwave oven. I've heard you're not supposed to heat formula, but don't know why. Do the microwaves break down the mineral and vitamin content of foods?

A. Burns are the main danger of heating baby foods and formula in a microwave oven. Because microwaves heat some foods faster than others, or heat them unevenly, the part of the serving you touch may just feel warm while another part may be dangerously hot. Mouth and esophageal (food tube) burns have been caused in just this way.

Baby bottles, especially those with plastic liners, have been known to explode after microwave heating. For this reason, the Committee on Accident and Poison Prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend heating baby bottles in a microwave oven.

But if you do use a microwave oven to heat baby foods or formula, be sure to mix foods thoroughly and shake or stir liquids well before testing them. If heating a bottle, remove the top and use a low-energy setting for a short time. Also, there is no real need to get baby foods warmer than body temperature. Heated food is more a parent's preference than a baby's.

Cooking by any method decreases the B and C vitamin content of foods by heat breakdown. Both vitamins and minerals may be lost if cooking water is discarded. In general, however, such losses are not nutritionally significant.

Q. What can you tell me about gout? Are there certain things you shouldn't eat or drink if you have it? What's the best medicine to use for attacks of gout?

A. Gout is a type of arthritis caused by an over-accumulation of uric acid in the body. It mostly affects adult men and is known for causing attacks of severe joint pain, especially in the big toes. It can also affect other joints, particularly the wrists, ankles, elbows and knees. Left untreated, gout can cause kidney stones and kidney damage as well.

Actually, there are several forms of gout, but I'll talk about the most common variety, which accounts for about 90 percent of cases.

Although by reputation gout is associated with affluence and overindulgence in fine food and wine, gout in fact strikes all income groups, and diet plays a smaller role than once thought. More commonly, gout is triggered by fluid pills (diuretics), generalized illness or injury to a joint.

In most instances, high levels of uric acid in the blood precede the development of gout. This uric acid may form crystal deposits in joints and tendons, leading to inflammation and arthritis. It may also form deposits in the kidneys or skin. Uric acid deposits in the skin are called tophi and usually occur in the outer ears, hands, feet or elbows.

One treatment strategy aims to lower the uric acid level, either by increasing the output of uric acid in the urine using the drug probenicid (Benemid), or interfering with the body's production of uric acid using the drug allopurinol (Zyloprim).

For a sudden, severe attack of gout, many physicians use indomethacin (Indocin), a powerful anti-inflammatory drug. Its chief adverse effect is stomach upset, even to the point of causing stomach ulcers. Phenylbutazone (Butazolidin) is a similar medication.

Colchicine is another antigout drug, good not only for the acute attack but also helpful in preventing flare-ups, especially when starting the uric acid-lowering drugs, which themselves may trigger an attack initially. Its main side effect is stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Diet therapy includes weight control, drinking plenty of liquids (two quarts a day), and avoiding certain foods particularly high in substances known as purines. High-purine foods include anchovies, sardines and organ meats such as liver, kidneys, sweetbreads and brains. Alcohol should be used moderately or eliminated if its use seems to trigger attacks.

The Metropolitian Washington chapter of the Arthritis Foundation (276-7555) can provide more free information on gout or other forms of arthritis.