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Alcohol Increases the Risk of Gout

Got beer? Get gout.

Men who drink alcohol, particularly beer, may double their likelihood of developing gout. Humankind has known about this link between alcohol and gout for ages through anecdotal evidence, but now the results of a medical study verify the connection.

Gout is a form of acute arthritis marked by severe pain and inflammation in the joints, particularly the big toe. Episodes of gout strike suddenly without warning. Severe cases of gout may lead to major disability and even kidney failure. More men experience the condition than women, although the difference is less dramatic among the elderly. Researchers believe that while both hereditary and environmental factors lead to gout, environmental causes, such as regular alcohol consumption, are behind the increase in cases of gout in the past thirty years.

In a study published in The Lancet medical journal this spring, researchers followed over 47,000 male medical professionals with no history of gout for up to 12 years. By the end of the study, close to 2 percent of the men had experienced attacks of gout. Men who drank the most alcohol daily had twice the risk of developing the disorder as men who did not drink. Beer drinkers increased their risk by 50% for every daily serving, while those who drank hard liquor increased their risk by 15% for each drink. Men who drank wine did not appear to increase their risk for gout, although few men had more than two glasses of wine daily so these results are less conclusive.

The researchers believe beer consumption leads to gout because of its high purine content. Through the process of digestion, the purine compound breaks down to form uric acid. Normally, uric acid leaves the body through urine. But if the kidneys are unable to process all of the uric acid, levels in the blood become too high. The uric acid may then form crystal deposits in the joints. These deposits are the cause of gout.

While powerful medications are available to treat gout, it makes sense to try to lower your risk of developing the disease in the first place. You may be able to ward off gout attacks by avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol and choosing your drink wisely.

August 2004 Update

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