Painful, stiff and inflamed joints are a few of the characteristic symptoms of gout, which is a type of arthritis that is typically, but not always, located on your great toe.
When an attack occurs, the pain can be debilitating, with sufferers often describing it as being burned by a flame or skewered with a hot poker.
Gout symptoms usually go away within three to 10 days, and the next attack may not occur for months, or even years, if at all. However, oftentimes gout becomes a lifelong problem, with attacks occurring with increasing frequency and severity. In time, this can permanently damage your joints and surrounding areas.
Needless to say, preventing gout attacks is essential to maintaining your quality of life—which is why new research showing tart cherries might do the trick is worth shouting from the rooftops.
10-12 CHERRIES A DAY CAN REDUCE GOUT ATTACK RISK
In a study of over 600 people with gout, those who ate a ½-cup serving of tart cherries a day, the equivalent of about 10 or 12 cherries, or consumed cherry extract, had a 35 percent lower risk of a subsequent gout attack. Those who ate more cherries, up to three servings in two days, had an even lower, 50 percent reduction in risk.
You only need to eat a small amount of cherries to get the benefit, and the sugar contribution is small. Plus, they contain powerful compounds like anthocyanins and bioflavonoids, which are known to fight inflammation. They may also be beneficial because of their impact on your uric acid levels.
Gout occurs when the metabolic processes that control the amount of uric acid in your blood fail to do their job effectively. The stiffness and swelling are a result of excess uric-acid-forming crystals in your joints, and the pain associated with this condition disease is caused by your body’s inflammatory response to the crystals. Past studies have found:
- Eating two servings of cherries after an overnight fast lead to a 15 percent reduction in uric acid, and lower nitric oxide and C-reactive protein levels (which are associated with inflammatory diseases like gout.) The researchers noted the study supports “the reputed anti-gout efficacy of cherries” as well as “evidence that compounds in cherries may inhibit inflammatory pathways.”
- Consuming tart cherry juice daily for four weeks may lower your levels of uric acid
FRUCTOSE AND URIC ACID: THE CONNECTION
Drinking just one soda or 6-ounce glass of orange juice a day has been linked to a significant increase in gout—74 percent and 41 percent, respectively—compared to drinking these only rarely. We believe the primary culprit is fructose, which typically generates uric acid within minutes of ingestion.
You probably already know that fructose is a sugar, but you may not realize is that it’s distinctly different from other sugars as it’s metabolized through very specific pathways that differ from those of glucose, for example, and through its distinct metabolic action, uric acid is generated.
Fructose ALONE drives up uric acid. And elevated uric acid levels are not only a factor in gout, they’re a factor in many other health conditions, including hypertension, insulin resistance/diabetes, obesity and kidney disease. Not coincidentally, many of these conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, also increase your risk of gout (as does the use of thiazidediuretics, which are commonly used to treat hypertension).
The connection between fructose consumption and increased uric acid is so reliable that a uric acid level taken from your blood can actually be used as a marker for fructose toxicity. I now recommend that a uric acid level be a routine part of your blood screening.
According to the latest research, the safest range for uric acid is between 3 and 5.5 milligrams per deciliter, and there appears to be a steady relationship between uric acid levels and blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, even down to the range of 3 to 4 mg/dl.
As you probably know, two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight, and most of these people likely have uric acid levels in excess of 5.5. Some may even be closer to 10 or higher (this may explain why being overweight also increases your risk of gout). Dr. Richard Johnson, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, suggests that the ideal uric acid level is probably around:
- 4 mg/dl for men
- 3.5 mg/dl for women
TOP TIPS FOR PREVENTING AND MANAGING GOUT
Be careful not to overdo it on cherries. They key is moderation, as large amounts of fructose on a regular basis are not a good strategy for health.
According to Dr. Johnson’s research, a quarter of the U.S. population consumes a whopping 134 grams of fructose a day. This is a staggering amount of fructose when you consider the fact that you need to restrict your fructose intake to below 25 grams a day in order to maintain good health.
If you have gout, this is extremely important, and you must take into account the fructose you consume from fruit. For instance, if you eat cherries for their therapeutic value, 10 sweet cherries or 1 cup of sour/tart cherries contain about 4 grams of fructose.
So if you had no other sources of fructose, 25 cherries would put you at 10 grams of fructose. You would need to eat more than 60 cherries to put you over the limit. My guess is that if you only did this occasionally and did not have insulin resistance this would likely not be a problem. However, you would activate your fat switch and put on some storage fat. But that is fine, as you have the metabolism designed to burn it, especially if you are not consuming cherries every day.
Limiting fructose in your diet is one of the most important parts of managing and preventing gout attacks. You’ll want to be sure to cut out soda, fruit drinks and other sweetened beverages, as these types of drinks are a primary source of excessive fructose.
Instead, drink plenty of pure water, as the fluids will help to remove uric acid from your body.
Alcohol in general, and beer specifically, may also raise the levels of uric acid in your blood, so this should also be limited or avoided.