Q: On the advice of a friend, I’ve been drinking cherry juice every day to prevent a gout attack. I have not had a gout attack in more than four years. Can you explain how cherry juice prevents gout? — S.M., Philadelphia
A: Cherries, whether they are in the form of juice or in a bowl, are probably the No. 1 home remedy used in preventing and treating gout.
For those of you fuzzy on what gout is, it’s an inflammatory joint condition resulting when a supersaturated mixture of uric acid and tissue fluid form needlelike crystals under just the right set of conditions.
Does it really work? I can’t say for sure, because there’s just not enough clinical research behind the numerous anecdotal claims like yours.
One theory is that dark cherries rich in anti-oxidants may help combat inflammation.
A preliminary study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service published in a 2003 issue of the Journal of Nutrition suggests that cherries transiently decrease the amount of uric acid in blood of healthy volunteers (and increase the amount of uric acid excreted in the urine).
Measurements of three blood markers of inflammation were not statistically lower.
Limitations of the study are its small size (10 subjects) and healthy young (ages 22-40) female volunteers.
The 2002 follow-up study involved 18 women and two men and more cherry consumption. Although the results of this study are not yet available, one weakness is its small size.
A potential bias is that the California Cherry Advisory Board helped fund the research.
There doesn’t seem to be any harm in using cherries to prevent gout attacks, but some of the more clear risk factors you should address are avoidance of gout-provoking foods like sardines, organ meats and lentils; alcohol (especially wine and beer); and avoiding daily aspirin and thiazide water pills.
Obesity is also a risk factor, so weight loss can reduce attacks.
Lastly, get your uric acid level below 6.0 with an adequate dose of medication like allopurinol. Uric acid crystals won’t precipitate at a level below 6.0.
Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: “Ask Dr. H,” P.O. Box 767787, Roswell, GA 30076. Because of the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.