Gout is an unfortunately, common yet often painful health condition and thus, often people ask what is the link between alcohol and gout?
While many associate gout with overindulgence, it’s a bit more complex than that. We’re here to clear up the misconceptions. We delve into the causes of gout, discuss its symptoms, and explore the relationship between alcohol and gout.
What Is Gout?
Gout is a common and complex form of arthritis that can affect anyone, but it’s most commonly seen in men. Gout presents itself as sudden, severe attacks of painful swelling and inflammation in joints, which may also be visibly red and tender, depending on the severity of the flare-up.
The affected joint is often hot, swollen, and so sore that it cannot bear any weight. Often, gout presents in the big toe – and it usually occurs suddenly and at night time.
Some symptoms of gout include:
- Intense joint pain
- Lingering discomfort e.g. joint discomfort continuing for several days to a few weeks.
- Inflammation and redness of the affected joint(s)
- Limited range of motion in the affected joint(s)
What Causes Gout?
Gout is caused by urate crystals accumulating in your joint, causing the inflammation and intense pain of an attack. So, is gout caused by drinking? Not necessarily, no.
Urate crystals can form when you have high levels of uric acid in your blood – which occurs when your body breaks down purines, which are substances found naturally in your body.
Uric acid is usually dissolved in the blood and passed through the kidneys into the urine. In some circumstances, the body can produce too much uric acid, or the kidneys can excrete too little.
This ultimately leads to the build-up of uric acid in the body – which forms sharp crystals in the joint, resulting in pain, inflammation and swelling.
Gout attacks can also be triggered by having an illness that causes a high temperature, drinking too much alcohol or eating a large fatty meal, dehydration, joint injuries, and certain medications.
Something else to keep in mind is that gout sometimes runs in families, and it’s more common in men as they get older.
Risk Factors of Gout Development
There are a range of risk factors, like being a frequent drinker – hence why the question of ‘does alcohol cause gout’ is so commonly asked.
However, alcohol isn’t the only player in gout development. Some risk factors can include, but aren’t limited to:
- Being overweight
- Drinking alcohol
- Being a female who is through menopause
- Taking diuretics or medicines for blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Kidney issues
- Having had surgery
- An injury
While some of these are avoidable, some aren’t. That being said, trying to avoid gout by limiting your exposure to risk factors that are under your control is crucially important, particularly if you’re somebody who is already at risk.
One thing you can avoid however, is the overindulgence in alcohol.
Alcohol and Gout: What is the link?
As mentioned, Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the body, so how does this link gout and alcohol together?
Essentially, high levels of uric acid building up in the body are caused by the body breaking down purines.
Some alcohol beverages have high levels of purines, particularly drinks like beer or those that are sweetened. Not only that, but alcohol also affects the rate at which uric acid is secreted, causing it to be excreted slower as the kidneys are trying to flush out the alcohol first.
This can lead to increased levels of uric acid in the blood – in turn leading to a gout attack.
What Alcohol Can You Drink with Gout?
Technically speaking you shouldn’t drink any alcohol without gout. In order to ensure this isn’t a risk factor that is contributing to the aggregation of your gout, completely avoiding it is the most sensible option.
However, there are alcoholic drinks that offer a higher level of purines than others.
- Beer has the highest amount of purines, compared to other alcohols – and is strongly associated with gout attacks. As well as the link between beer and gout, beer intake is also associated with an increased risk of hyperuricemia in men – which is an abnormally high level of uric acid in the blood.
- Alcoholic drinks sweetened with fructose (from fruit sugar) can also trigger gout attacks – so avoiding cocktails or spirits mixed with fruit juice can help.
Although beer is the worst when struggling with gout, any type of alcohol could trigger a gout attack. You shouldn’t think that you’ve avoided a flare up altogether after drinking, because it could be triggered the days following alcohol consumption too.
However, although there are strong links between gout and alcohol, you shouldn’t think “well, will gout go away if i stop drinking?” because the answer is no. But, your flare ups will be reduced and you’re removing one extra risk factor to make it worse.
How to Prevent Gout Flare-Ups
There are many tips for preventing gout flare-ups – from limiting alcohol to simply maintaining a healthy diet, but these are the top 3 tips on controlling what you can in terms of lifestyle changes.
Limit alcohol consumption
Research has shown a link between alcohol and gout, as alcohol can increase the amount of uric acid in the blood due to being a source of purines – causing the body to produce uric acid when it is broken down. Alcohol also increases the metabolism of nucleotides, another source of purines that can be turned into uric acid. Limiting alcohol can decrease the number of purines your body has to break down, therefore limiting the amount of uric acid in the blood and preventing the formation of painful crystals in the joints.
Drinking plenty of water and remaining hydrated can help your body flush uric acid out, preventing a build-up of uric acid – and therefore preventing a gout flare-up.
Follow a healthy diet
Following a low-purine diet can help cut your risk of developing gout, or having a gout flare-up. Avoid foods such as organ and glandular meats, red meat, sugary foods and beverages.
How to Manage a Gout Flare Up
There are a variety of methods for treating gout and preventing flare-ups – including medications to prevent the build-up of uric acid, medications to treat the symptoms and lifestyle changes.
There are a variety of medications that can treat gout or its symptoms. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) tablets can be purchased over the counter in the first instance before discussing other treatment options with your doctor.
As well as this, lifestyle changes can work for treating gout – including eating healthy and reducing your alcohol intake.
If you’re already experiencing a gout attack, resting and raising the limb can help with symptoms. Keeping the joint cool and applying an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel can reduce symptoms (do not ice for longer than 20 minutes).
Alcohol and Gout: FAQs
Can Changing Drinking Habits Prevent Gout?
Lowering your alcohol intake can help prevent gout, but if you do want to consume alcohol, avoiding beer or sugary cocktails can help, as they are highest in purines.
If you’re struggling with your relationship with alcohol, it may be wise to consider professional support through a private rehabilitation programme. A
clinic setting will allow you to detox in comfort and place you on the right path to managing your alcohol consumption in the future.
Can Alcohol Cause Flare-Ups?
Alcohol can cause gout flare-ups as it increases the amount of uric acid in the blood and prevents the kidneys from flushing uric acid out, as they flush the alcohol out first. This leads to raised levels of uric acid in the blood and, therefore, can trigger a gout attack.
Could Stopping Alcohol Reverse the Effects of Gout?
Stopping alcohol consumption can help prevent gout flare-ups in some cases, but it depends on how high your uric acid levels are. If uric acid levels are raised significantly, then cutting out alcohol can help but may not lower your uric acid levels as much as medication would – and therefore would not reverse the effects of gout.
Can You Still Drink Alcohol When You Have Gout?
You can still drink alcohol, but it’s not a good idea and it may lead to a gout flare-up in the days following consumption. Since alcohol increases the amount of uric acid in the body, you can expect a flare up.