The Healthy Geezer: Can Alcohol Give You Gout?

Question: Can drinking alcohol give you gout?

Answer: Gout, which is one of the most painful forms of arthritis, is caused by a build-up of crystals of uric acid in a joint. Alcohol can lead to increased production of uric acid so it puts you at a higher risk of getting gout.

Alcohol leads to gout in multiple ways:

  • It contains purines, proteins that are broken down into uric acid. Purines are found naturally in your body and in some foods.
  • It promotes dehydration which raises the uric-acid level in the blood.
  • It leads to the production of lactic acid, which can increase the level of uric acid.
  • It stimulates enzymes in the liver that break down proteins to produce more uric acid.

Often, gout affects joints in the lower part of the body such as the ankles, heels, knees, and especially the big toes. However, it can also attack the elbows, wrists and fingers.

Pseudogout has similar symptoms and is sometimes confused with gout. However, it is caused by calcium phosphate, not uric acid.

Gout is more common in men. Men are more likely to develop gout in their forties. Women generally get gout after menopause.

Early attacks usually subside within 3 to 10 days, even without treatment, and the next attack may not occur for months or even years. Uric acid buildup can lead to kidney stones. Untreated gout can cause permanent joint and kidney damage.

Most people with gout are able to control their symptoms with treatment. The most common treatments are high doses of oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or corticosteroids, which are taken by mouth or injected into the affected joint. Patients often begin to improve within a few hours of treatment.

More than two drinks a day for men and more than one for women increases the risk of getting gout. Other factors include family history of gout, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, narrowing of the arteries, thiazide diuretics and low-dose aspirin.

No specific dietary changes have been proven to reduce your risk of gout. However, even though there is no absolute proof that a gout diet works, it seems like a sound idea to avoid purines. Foods high in purines include organ meats, anchovies, herring, mackerel, asparagus and mushrooms.

Some iffy stuff:

There are studies that show an association between coffee drinking and lower uric acid levels. The current evidence isn't strong enough to begin a coffee habit.

Vitamin C may reduce uric acid in your blood. However, vitamin C hasn't been studied as a treatment for gout.

Cherries have been linked to reduced uric acid in your blood, but it is unclear if they affect gout symptoms.

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Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."