J. D. Heyes
For those who suffer from gout – a form of arthritis that is marked by sudden, attacks of painful joint inflammation – there may be a sweet note of relief on your horizon: New research suggests that eating cherries can lower risk of an attack.
Yuqing Zhang, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, the lead researcher in the study, says doctors in the past have said some patients have recommended that eating cherries would prevent gout, but that the connection had not been examined much in the past.
But his research might be the most extensive yet; he and his team said their study found that those who ate cherries had a 35 to 75 percent lower chance of having an attack.
“These findings suggest that cherry intake is associated with a lower risk of gout attacks,” Zhang and his team wrote in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
However, Zhang said despite the results, his research does not prove that cherries by themselves prevent gout attacks, and he added that patients currently taking gout medications should continue to do so.
“They can go out and eat the cherries, but they shouldn’t abandon their medical treatment at all,” he said.
What causes gout in the first place is a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. Your body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines, which are substances that occur naturally in the body but also are found in certain foods – some seafood, anchovies, mushrooms and organ meats.
Zhang and his team recruited patients from over the Internet for the study. They took online surveys and provided details about their attacks.
All of the 633 study participants had suffered a gout attack in the past 12 months, had been given a diagnosis of gout by a doctor, lived in the U.S. and were at least 18 years old. In addition, they had to agree to release their medical records to the research team.
Over the next year, patients filled out surveys every time they suffered a gout attack. The questions solicited details about symptoms, drugs used to treat the attacks and certain risk factors, including what they had eaten.
Participants took similar surveys at the beginning of the study, as well as every three months while it was underway. Of the 633 patients, 224 said they had eaten fresh cherries during the year, while 15 said they had consumed cherry extract and 33 said they had both.
Over the course of the year, the research team collected survey information on 1,247 attacks, which is about two per patient.
Good first results but more needs to be done
In general, the research team discovered that eating cherries over a set two-day period was tied to a 35 percent decrease in the risk of having a gout attack during that period, compared to not eating cherries. Those who consumed a cherry extract were linked to a 45 percent reduction in risk, while eating both – cherries and extract – saw a 37 percent lower risk.
“The effect of cherry intake persisted across subgroups by sex, obesity status, purine intake, alcohol use, diuretic use, and use of anti-gout medications,” said the study.
Researchers said the biggest drop in risk; however, came when participants ate fresh cherries and took the anti-gout medication allopurinol; together, that combination saw a 75 percent reduction in risk.
The research team said that could be due to a couple of reasons. One may be that vitamin C, which is found in cherries, may be tied to the amount of uric acid in a person’s blood, according to Allan Gelber, the co-author of an editorial accompanying the study.
Zhang went on to say that more questions need to be answered so more studies need to be done.