Study finds DASH diet good for gout

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Embracing the DASH diet may be the trick to avoiding the most common inflammatory arthritis condition – gout - affecting more than 8 million Americans.  Over 25 years of analysis and follow-up of data published in the BMJ, a recent study found a significantly lower incidence of gout in men who consumed a dietary pattern similar to the DASH diet.  The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension which emphasizes a higher consumption of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products while minimizing the typical Western diet high in salt, sugar, unhealthy fats and meat.

The study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) looked at data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which has followed more than 50,000 male health professionals aged 40 to 75 when the study began in 1986.  Over the years, participants provided information on their current weight, medication use and medical conditions every two years and then every four years, they completed a detailed questionnaire on their eating habits.  Participants were not instructed or assigned to follow any certain diet but rather simply reported how frequently and what foods they typically ate.

The information for this study was provided by 44,444 participants with no prior history of gout before joining the study.  As researchers gathered dietary information, two scoring systems were applied to the participants reported intake – the DASH score was increased for whenever a participant consumed fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, low-fat dairy products and whole grains but reduced when they ate red or processed meats, sodium, sweets, desserts, French fries, refined grains, and sweetened beverages. 

Over the course of the 26 year study period – 1986 to 2012 – 1,731 participants were newly diagnosed with gout.  Participants who had a higher DASH score were less likely to be diagnosed with gout while those who followed more of a Western diet had a higher risk of developing gout. 

The findings from this study makes sense to follow the DASH diet as more than half of individuals at risk for gout also have hypertension.  By consuming the dietary components of the DASH diet, a person who already has gout or is susceptible to it, can be eating foods that can reduce their risk of gout and high blood pressure.

The underlying cause of gout is a buildup of excess uric acid in the body called hyperuricemia.  The excess uric acid crystals get deposited in the joint cartilage causing excruciatingly painful symptoms within the joints.

Uric acid is a substance formed when our bodies break down purines.  Purines are naturally found in all the cells of the body and in certain foods.  Uric acid dissolves in blood where it is transported to the kidneys and eliminated in the urine.  However, some people make too much uric acid to where the kidneys can’t process it efficiently causing a buildup of uric acid in the body. 

The DASH diet avoids excessive consumption of red and organ meats known to have high purine levels while encouraging high intake of fruits and vegetables.  Consuming more produce and drinking plenty of fluids helps people with gout by getting rid of uric acid buildup.

Lifestyle factors also play a role in gout development which can include a diet high in purines, obesity, consuming high amounts of alcohol, and a high intake of sugar-sweetened beverage and foods high in fructose.