Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that is known for its intensely painful attacks.1 Long referred to as “the disease of kings,”2 many people and even some healthcare professionals associate gout with excess—specifically, eating and drinking too much.3 Unfortunately, the stigma (and often shame) that can be associated with the disease prevent many patients from seeking the medical help they need.3 But does diet cause gout? Or is gout hereditary?
Gout is caused by a buildup of uric acid in the bloodstream, a medical condition called hyperuricemia.4 As the amount of uric acid rises above normal levels, it can begin to form sharp, needlelike crystals.1 These crystals can cause episodes of sudden and intense pain, swelling, redness and/or extreme tenderness in the affected joint called attacks or flares.1
Your risk of gout
Perhaps you have a parent or grandparent who suffered with gout. Maybe you remember watching your loved one experience painful gout attacks. You may worry that you will eventually suffer the same fate. But how can you know if you will develop gout?
A number of gout risk factors can contribute to development of the disease, including your gender, your age, certain medications and other health problems you might have.5 For years it has been known that genetics and diet also play a part in gout development.1,4,5 However, new research shows that the relationship between genetics and gout may actually be stronger than the relationship between diet and gout.6-8
A 2018 meta-analysis of the genetics and eating habits of more than 16,000 healthy American adults showed that the impact of genetics on the risk of developing gout was much greater than that of diet.6 Tanya Major, PhD, of the University of Otago in New Zealand and her colleagues reported that even the foods most closely associated with gout—beer, red meat and certain types of seafood, to name a few—accounted for less than 1 percent of the difference in the study patients’ uric acid levels. Genetics, on the other hand, accounted for nearly 24 percent.6
According to Dr. Major, “Our results challenge widely held community perceptions that hyperuricemia is primarily caused by diet, showing that genetic variants have a much greater contribution to hyperuricemia in the general population than dietary exposure.”6
The results of two recent Japanese and Taiwanese studies (Higashino, Takada, Nakaoka, et al; 2017 and Chang and Chen, et al; 2018) provide further evidence supporting the connection between genetics and gout.7,8
The importance of a healthy lifestyle
Unfortunately, you can’t change your genes. But here’s some good news: There are things you can do to work toward a healthy lifestyle, including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight—Maintaining a healthy weight may make it easier for your body to rid itself of excess uric acid.1
- Drinking more water—Research has shown that drinking more water can reduce your risk of gout flares.9
- Following a gout-friendly diet—Although diet does not appear to have quite the impact on uric acid levels that genetics does, it is nevertheless important to eat healthfully.6 Choose moderate portions of healthy foods that are lower in purines.6 Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and poultry and low-fat dairy products are good options.9
Talk with your doctor
If you’re concerned about your risk of gout or suspect that you might be having gout symptoms, talk with your doctor. To help you start the conversation, consider downloading and completing the Gout Flare Questionnaire (from Resources for Patients) before your appointment.
NOTE: This article was not written by a medical professional and is not intended to substitute for the guidance of a physician. These are not Hikma’s recommendations for gout flare prevention, but rather facts and data collected from various reliable medical sources. For a full list of resources and their attributing links, see below.