Got gout? Life may be a bowl of cherries

Purine-restricted diet

Story by Jamie Lampros
Mon, Nov 12, 2012
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Standard-Examiner correspondent

A new study has found that eating cherries may just keep the gout away.

Patients with the painful form of arthritis who consumed cherries over a two-day period lowered their risk of attacks by 35 percent, according to the study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism. The study was conducted at Boston University and included 633 gout patients.

Approximately 3.4 million adults in the U.S. have gout, according to the study. Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis triggered by crystallization of uric acid within the joints. When the body breaks down substances called purines, it creates the chemical uric acid.

Purines can be found in certain foods and drinks, such as liver, anchovies, mackerel, meat gravies and beer. Although gout can occur in any joint, the most common symptom is a sore big toe that can become so red and swollen that a person has trouble walking.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Nutrition Care Manual states that gout occurs predominantly in men and usually occurs in middle age. It tends to be rare in women until they reach menopause.

Prevalence of the disease is increasing in the United States and Europe, and has been associated with diet, alcohol intake, obesity and increased use of medications such as thiazide and loop diuretics, which are used in the treatment of hypertension and other ailments.

The patients in the study were followed online for one year and were asked about the date of onset, symptoms, medication and risk factors, including cherry and cherry extract intake in the two days prior to a gout attack. A cherry serving was 1/2 cup or 10 to 12 cherries.

“Our findings indicate that consuming cherries or cherry extract lowers the risk of gout attack,” Dr. Yuqing Zhang, professor of medicine and public health at Boston University, said in a press release. “The gout flare risk continued to decrease with increasing cherry consumption, up to three servings over two days.”

While the researchers aren’t certain why cherries may be helpful, it could be from the vitamin C and bright red pigments called anthocyanins, which are natural anti-inflammatories, said Ogden Regional Medical Center dietitian Jennifer James and McKay-Dee Hospital’s director of food and nutrition services, Kathleen Nielsen.

Researchers also noted that the study focused on dietary intake and the risk of recurrent attacks, but advises patients to continue with their usual treatment as prescribed by their physicians.

Though this is just one study, it’s an interesting one and a good starting point for more research, said both local experts.

“I read an article about this study, which found the biggest reduction in gout attacks was when they took their medication along with eating the cherries,” James said. “So obviously, taking the medication is very important.”

Until more research is done, James and Nielsen said medications are the main treatment for gout.

“The goal of nutrition therapy is to reduce uric acid concentration in the blood. Eight to 16 cups of liquid should be consumed a day, with half of it being water,” Nielsen said.

In addition, James said, avoid alcohol, maintain a desirable body weight and avoid fasting and high protein diets such as the Atkins diet — and including a few cherries in your diet certainly won’t hurt anything, and might even be helpful.

“About 35 years ago when medications were introduced that effectively treated the symptoms of gout, dietary treatment was viewed as unnecessary,” Nielsen said. “In my 33-year career, I’ve given very few anti-gout diet instructions, but now with obesity and poor diet, I think nutrition therapy has become important again.”

Features, Gout, Purine
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