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Drinking alcohol raises risk of gout

It’s official -- drinking causes gout. But if you must drink alcohol, drink wine, scientists say.
/ Source: Reuters

It’s official -- drinking causes gout. But if you must drink alcohol, drink wine, scientists say.

For centuries, the painful, crippling joint inflammation has been immortalized by poets and playwrights -- more than a few of whom wrote from personal experience -- as the curse of heavy drinkers.

But until a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital took up the task, nobody had actually proved the link between the disease and the bottle.

Beer worse than wine
After analyzing 730 confirmed cases of gout from among a group of 47,000 men over 12 years, the researchers not only demonstrated that drinkers are more likely to get gout, but also that beer is worse and wine is best.

Gout is caused by deposits of crystals of a chemical called uric acid in joints. Alcohol consumption leads to “hyperuricaemia” -- when the body produces too much uric acid.

“Two or three beers per day increased the risk of gout 2.5-fold compared with no beer intake, whereas the same frequency of spirits intake increased the risk by 1.6 times compared with no spirits intake,” said Dr Hyon K Choi of the team. The research was published in the journal The Lancet.

Wine, in moderation, was not a problem. Two small glasses a day caused no increase in gout.

Purine may be to blame
That suggested that something other than the alcohol in the drinks was also playing a role, Choi said.

He said one suspect might be a chemical called purine, which is found in larger quantities in beer than in other alcoholic drinks and could “augment the hyperuricaemic effect of alcohol itself.”

But there are still mysteries for playwrights to ponder.

“Whether there are other risk factors in beer, or protective factors in wine, remains unknown,” Choi said.