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When in Gout, Reach for Cherries

Gout and cherries

Gout usually attacks suddenly, and the episodes of intense pain can occur again and again, with each event lasting days or even weeks. Some scientists are now suggesting if you want to help prevent attacks of gout, you might reach for cherries.

Ten cherries a day keep gout away?

The quaint saying about apples keeping doctors away may have a companion, and it involves cherries. According to investigators at Boston University, just a few cherries per day can help keep gout away.

Specifically, under the direction of Dr. Yuqing Zhang, professor of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University, a research team followed 633 gout patients for one year. All participants were questioned about their symptoms, medications, risk factors, and intake of cherries and/or cherry extract.

The investigators gathered the following information:

  • 92 percent of the 1,257 gout attacks that occurred during the one-year follow-up period affected the big toe
  • Individuals with gout who ate cherries for two days before an episode of gout had a 35 percent lower risk of experiencing gout attacks when compared with people who did not eat the cherries.
  • Risk of flares of gout was reduced by 75 percent when individuals ate cherries along with taking allopurinol, a drug that reduces the amount of uric acid in the body. Uric acid buildup is a cause of gout.
  • A servings of cherries was one-half cup, or 10 to 12 cherries
  • 35 percent of the participants ate fresh cherries, 5 percent consumed both fresh cherries and cherry extract, and 2 percent took cherry extract

What is gout?
Gout, also known as gouty arthritis, is a form of arthritis that typically affects the big toe but can also affect the ankles, feet, and knees. Symptoms include sudden burning pain, joint swelling, redness, and stiffness that occur at night, and recurrence of these attacks can eventually damage your tendons, joints, and other tissues.

More than 8 million adults in the United States experience gout, which is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the bloodstream that results in the development of crystals in the joints. Risk factors for gout include being overweight, excess alcohol consumption, use of diuretics, and eating too much of foods that are high in purines, such as organ meats, fish, gravies, beer and other alcohol, liver, beans, and poultry.

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Conventional treatments for gout include corticosteroid injections or daily doses of various medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen) or colchicine, which need to be taken until symptoms disappear.

Similarly, preventive measures include medications that can reduce the accumulation of uric acid in the blood. These include xanthine oxidase inhibitors (e.g., allopurinol, febuxostat), which limit the amount of uric acid the body produces; and probenecid, which improves the body's ability to eliminate uric acid from the body.

Why this study is important
Although there are several gout medications on the market, they are associated with side effects, and the preventive drugs do not always stop gout attacks. Therefore, individuals who suffer with gout are often looking for alternatives.

According to Dr. Zhang, "Our findings indicate that consuming cherries or cherry extract lowers the risk of gout attack." He noted that the risk of experiencing a flare of gout "continued to decrease with increasing cherry consumption, up to three servings over two days."

The authors stress that randomized clinical trials are needed to verify that consuming cherries and/or cherry extract may prevent gout attacks. Until then, if you have gout, it is best to avoid the risk factors (especially dietary intake), and it could help to add some cherries to your menu as well.

Zhang Y et al. Cherry consumption and the risk of recurrent gout attacks. Arthritis & Rheumatism 2012 Sept 28. DOI:10.1002/art.34677

Image: Wikimedia Commons