Gout and Alcohol
You’ve probably heard beer is a common culprit in gout flares, but is it off-limits for everyone? How about spirits and wine? Can you drink any alcoholic beverage when you’re prone to uric acid build-up?
While everything in moderation is a good rule of thumb for most people, those with gout may need to adjust their concept of moderation when it comes to diet. Before you join in on happy hour, consider how alcohol interacts with gout, and whether or not the risks outweigh the benefits of a tipple now and again.
Why Beer Is a Problem
Beer is a notorious gout trigger, but what sets it apart from other beverages? There are a couple of reasons for beer’s bad reputation, and unfortunately, switching brands won’t make much of a difference.
If you’ve discussed gout triggers with your doctor, you’ve undoubtedly heard about purines. These are the naturally-occurring compounds in certain foods that break down during digestion to form uric acid.
The more you take in, the more uric acid is produced, and the greater the chances uric acid crystals will develop and lodge in your joints. Beer is high in alcohol and brewer’s yeast, both of which have plenty of purines, and can set the stage for gout attacks.
Lots of Calories, Little Nutrition
Alcohol is exceptionally high in calories, and that can spell trouble for any regular drinker. At seven calories per gram, booze is nearly as calorie-dense as fat.
Different alcoholic drinks will bring different calorie counts, and while beer doesn’t seem as bad as sugary liquors, it packs a much bigger punch than you might think. One pint of lager contains about as many calories as a small bag of potato chips.
Down two pints, and you’re taking in about as much as a glass of cream, reports the U.K.’s National Health Service. Opting for a light beer might save you some calories, but as it turns out, it won’t do much for purine content.
Bad News for Wine Lovers
For many years, beer shouldered the blame for gout attacks, and wine seemed to be an exception to the alcohol-gout relationship. Unfortunately, recent research has shown that wine can also lead to uric acid crystals lodging in the joints.
A 2004 study had found that, among gout-prone men, drinking beer and hard liquor raised the prevalence of gout attacks, while enjoying a glass or two of wine had much less effect. However, experts are wary of those results, especially since an American gout survey conducted between 2003 and 2012 revealed that wine was just as bad as any other type of alcoholic drink, once participants passed the two-drink-per-day mark.
Drinking Habits Matter
Consuming too much booze in one sitting is bad for anyone, but how often you drink may also impact your gout risk.
The 2012 survey suggests that the frequency of drinking plays a bigger role than the type of drink you consume. This confirms previous findings from a study that measured non-drinkers against regular drinkers to determine how a dose of alcohol impacts uric acid in the body.
In the study, a group of healthy men who rarely drank any alcohol were given one drink, after which their blood was taken. The concentration of uric acid and xanthines in their bodies did not change after they enjoyed that one drink.
In contrast, when the group of regular drinkers consumed a drink, uric acid levels and xanthine levels in the blood rose measurably.
If you suspect alcohol might be feeding your gout attacks, your best move will be to cut it out completely and see what happens. However, the only way to know for sure how any drink is affecting your body is to measure your uric acid levels before and after you drink (for your reference, the safe level is 5mg/dL).
In order to determine which kinds of drinks are better or worse for you, you’ll have to measure one type for a week or two, then switch to another beverage and measure for the same amount of time to get a fairly accurate picture.
To be honest, alcohol serves no purpose in a gout diet plan. It won’t provide the compounds and nutrients you need for a healthy body, nor will it protect your joints and tissue from uric acid accumulation.
Of course, gathering for a drink is more about enjoyment than it is about health, and when you live with a chronic disease, it’s certainly important to take time to genuinely enjoy yourself, and connect with a social circle.
For some people some of the time, a drink or two won’t cause a problem. On the other hand, if you drink regularly, you might be setting the stage for uric acid build-up.
No gout sufferer will benefit from regular drinking, and some gout patients would do best to abstain from alcohol completely — you’ll have to determine how alcohol reacts in your body, and honestly decide (with the help of your doctor) if there’s a place for it in your gout treatment plan.