Cherries Back on Top for Gout Treatment
While cherries have been used as a natural remedy for gout pain for many years the evidence supporting their use has remained elusive, even resulting in some supplement companies becoming the target of the FDA for misleading advertising and marketing practices. It may soon be prime time for such companies, however, as this research suggests a 45% reduction in risk of gout attack following two days of cherry extract consumption.
Allopurinol and Cherries for 75% Reduction in Gout Risk
The research was carried out by Yuqing Zhang, DSci, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine. Along with colleagues, Dr Zhang, noted a 75% reduction in gout attacks in patients taking the cherry extract along with allopurinol, a common gout medication. Alone, allopurinol reduced attacks by 53%, with the cherry extract reducing risk by 32%, demonstrating the benefits of combination therapy. Those patients consuming cherries, rather than the extract, had a 35% lower risk of gout attacks in the two days following consumption of the fruit.
Patients with gout were recruited for the study following diagnosis by a physician and they were asked when their gout started, what symptoms they experienced, medications they were taking and potential risk factors that could trigger gouty flare-ups and symptoms such as neck pain from gout. The study used the patients as their own controls by assessing them for two-day periods with and without the cherry extracts or cherries.
How Many Cherries Are Enough to Lower Gout Risk?
A serving of cherries was defined as a half-cup or ten to twelve cherries, although the researchers did not pay particular attention to the type of cherries used. Montmorency cherries have been marketed previously as a treatment for gout, over and above the cherries generally available in the grocery store. The benefit of cherry consumption, or cherry extract consumption increased up to three servings over two days, with no additional benefit seen at higher consumption levels.
How Helpful is this Study?
This study looked predominantly at older, white, male sufferers of gout, which could affect the applicability to others suffering with the condition. The average age of participants was fifty-four, 88% were white and 78% were male. Many already consumed some cherries with fresh cherries the most common source (35%) but with some consuming cherry extract (2%) or both (5%). The protective effect was still present even after accounting for patients’ body mass, purine intake, alcohol use, diuretics, gout medications and sex.
How Might Cherries Help Gout?
The proposed mechanism behind the ability of cherries to reduce gout is that the fruit increases glomerular filtration or reduces tubular reabsorption, thus reducing uric acid levels. Cherries also contain high levels of anthocyanins, potent anti-inflammatories, but the researchers are careful to note that they do not recommend, on the basis of these findings, that patients abandon conventional medicine for neck pain and other symptoms of gout in favor of drinking cherry extract. There is also the worry that added consumption of cherries may lead to weight gain and extra stress on the joints, as well as increasing risk of diabetes, systemic inflammation and arthritis or other joint conditions.
The Future of Gout Treatment
Randomized clinical trials to assess the efficacy of cherry extracts over current gout medications is warranted it seems, but in the meantime physicians may be a little more confident in answering patients’ queries about nonpharmacological ways to reduce disease burden from gout. Cherries may prevent gout flares and neck pain from the condition but patients should exercise caution over ceasing any medications prescribed for the condition.
Zhang, Y., Neogi, T., et al, Cherry consumption and the risk of recurrent gout attack, Arthritis Rheum. Published online September 28, 2012.