Gout - a common type of arthritis
Gout is a common type of arthritis that can cause sudden and very severe attacks of pain and swelling in the joints, particularly in the feet. It affects about one in 100 people, with men two to three times more likely to be affected than women and it occurs when excess uric acid crystallises in the joints.
Traditional treatment options come with unpleasant side effects
Treatment options currently include keeping pressure off the affected joint, the use of ice packs during attacks, and taking anti-inflammatory drugs. In extreme cases, patients use corticosteroids. However, like all drugs, these carry the risk of side effects including heart and stomach problems, especially when used for a long time. Medication to inhibit the formation of uric acid crystals is also prescribed but only in extreme circumstances as side effects can also be severe.
Dietary choices can help alleviate symptoms
The condition can be managed through diet as some foods are found to be high in purines, the naturally occurring chemicals that are broken down into uric acid by the body. By limiting intake of these foods, including game and oily fish, it can help to reduce the risk of a gout attack. Foods that contain yeast or meat extract are also high in purines so are best avoided. This includes alcohol!
Generations of people have reported that cherries help keep painful osteoarthritis and gout flares in check. Now, scientists are putting this popularly thought of remedy to the test, and with promising results.
Cherries may hold the answer
Northumbria University conducted a study which showed that drinking a concentrate made from tart Montmorency cherries (containing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties) helped clear excess uric acid from the body in just a few hours. The study, which was published in the Journal of Functional Foods, looked at 12 volunteers who were given cherry concentrate mixed with 100ml of water twice a day. Over the next few days, their urine and blood were tested for markers of inflammation and uric acid before and after taking the cherry supplement. Researchers found that when participants drank the cherry concentrate, it acted as a catalyst for the body to eliminate excess uric acid through the urine.
In a study by Boston University Medical Center 633 gout patients with an average age of 54 were recruited, and followed for one year. Researchers found that those participants eating at least 10 cherries a day were protected from recurrent attacks. The findings were published in 2012, in a supplement to the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
Co-author of the study, Hyon K. Choi, MD said: “Cherry intake was associated with a 50 percent lower risk of gout flares over a 48-hour period.”
The positive effects are attributed to anthocyanins which are plant pigments that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Anthocyanins are found in red and purple fruits, including raspberries and blueberries, but cherries contain higher levels.
Arthritis Research UK welcomes research
Prof Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK welcomed the research: "It has been thought for some time that some fruits, in particular cherries, may have benefits for diseases such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis which are characterised by chronic inflammation. "It has been suggested that antioxidant compounds found in cherries may be natural inhibitors of enzymes which are targeted by common anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen."
He added: "This research provides good evidence to suggest that cherry intake, combined with traditional uric-acid reducing drugs, can significantly reduce the risk of painful gout attacks. However, we'd like to see additional clinical trials are necessary to further investigate and provide confirmation of this effect."