The pain of a gout attack leaves its sufferers with the same shared thought, “I don’t ever want to go through that again!”
Medications, weight loss and dietary restrictions are standard treatments for the preventing future gout attacks. But could the answer be as simple as a bowl of cherries?
Cherries have been touted as a folk remedy for gout for years. The medical community has recently taken notice and a few studies have been conducted. Additional research is needed, but there is some promising preliminary evidence supporting the notion that cherries may be beneficial as part of a larger strategy to avoid recurrent attacks of gout.
Link Between Gout and Diet
Gout is a form of arthritis characterized by sudden, severe attacks of joint pain, usually involving your big toe, ankle or knee. Attacks occur when urate crystals form in the affected joint due to a high level of uric acid in your blood, triggering painful inflammation. What you eat influences your blood uric acid level.
- Foods rich in substances called purines bump up your blood uric acid level because uric acid is produced when your body breaks down purines. Examples of high-purine foods include: liver, sweetbreads, scallops, mackerel, trout, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli and dried beans.
- Other foods can raise your uric acid level by increasing its production in your body or reducing its elimination through your kidneys. Alcohol and fructose-sweetened beverages (like regular soda) are examples.
If you have been diagnosed with gout, your doctor has probably provided you with a list of foods and beverages to avoid. The goal is to keep your uric acid from reaching a level that could trigger another gout attack. Although the standard gout diet is helpful, it primarily focuses on avoiding potentially harmful foods and beverages. Eating cherries is a different approach in that it involves adding a potentially beneficial food to your diet.
Cherries for Gout Attack Prevention
Long-term gout treatment centers on prevention of future attacks and potential joint damage. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine conducted a study involving 663 men and women with gout to determine what factors influence the risk for recurrent gout attacks. The researchers found:
- Eating cherries and/or taking cherry extract over a 2-day period reduced the risk of recurrent gout attacks by 35 percent, as reported in the December 2012 issue of “Arthritis & Rheumatology.”
- The protective effect increased along with the servings of cherries eaten, up to three servings per day (approximately 30 to 36 cherries). Additional servings did not appear to provide further benefit.
While these findings are promising (and exciting), the study authors caution that additional research is need to determine whether cherries or cherry extract can be recommended as a reliable way to prevent recurrent gout attacks.
How Cherries Might Help with Gout
Researchers theorize that cherries may help people with gout via different mechanisms.
- Lower Uric Acid Levels
Given that certain foods increase uric acid levels, scientists theorized that cherries may have the opposite effect. A June 2003 research report published the “Journal of Nutrition” confirmed this theory among 10 healthy women. Study participants’ blood uric acid levels decreased more than 14 percent five hours after eating approximately 45 Bing sweet cherries. By comparison, their uric acid levels did not change significantly after eating similar servings of strawberries, grapes and kiwifruit.
- Decreased Inflammation
A gout attack involves two factors: urate crystals and an inflammatory reaction to them. The inflammation triggers the symptoms you experience during an attack — severe pain, swelling and redness. Sweet and tart cherries contain a variety of substances that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in laboratory experiments.
To determine whether eating cherries would have similar anti-inflammatory effects in people, researchers conducted a study with 18 healthy men and women who ate two servings of Bing sweet cherries daily for four weeks. The researchers found the blood levels of three inflammatory substances dropped by 18 to 25 percent after eating cherries daily for a month, as noted in an April 2006 “Journal of Rheumatology” report.
- Vitamin C
Cherries contain vitamin C, and people with higher levels of dietary vitamin C tend to have lower uric acid levels. However, a study report published in May 2013 in “Arthritis & Rheumatology” noted that an 8-week course of supplemental vitamin C did not lower uric acid levels in people being treated for gout. Additional research is needed to determine whether the vitamin C in cherries is influential in preventing gout attacks.
The Bottom Line About Cherries for Gout
Before you head to the store to stock up on cherries and/or cherry extract, here are a few things to consider:
- Preliminary research indicates that eating cherries and/or cherry extract may help reduce (not eliminate) your risk for recurrent gout attacks — but this has yet to be proven definitively.
- Cherries are not a miracle cure for gout and are unlikely to be beneficial if you’re not also following a gout-healthy diet.
- There is no evidence to date that cherries provide pain relief or shorten the duration of a gout attack.
- Although cherries are nutritious, they are high in natural sugars and calories. Adding cherries to your daily diet could cause weight gain if you don’t make adjustments.
- If you have diabetes, you may need to adjust your nutrition plan to account for the extra carbohydrates from adding cherries to your diet.
- Cherries are a natural laxative and may cause diarrhea.
- Cherries are seasonal and can be expensive if you’re eating them every day. It’s unclear whether canned or frozen cherries are comparable to fresh fruit in terms of potential benefits for people with gout.
Gout is a lifelong condition, so it’s best to develop an ongoing treatment plan in partnership with your health care provider.
- Talk with your doctor if you have questions about whether adding cherries to your diet or taking cherry extract may be beneficial for you.
- Do not stop taking prescribed medications to manage your gout without talking with your doctor about the possible risks.