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How Diet Affects Gout

Fatty Red Meats Are Bad; Dairy Found to Be Protective
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Red Meat High in Purines continued...

"We don't clearly understand the 'whys,' and there several possible explanations," Choi tells WebMD. "It might be there's a different type of purines in meats and seafood than in vegetables, or different foods have different levels of purines. Or maybe the body absorbs purines differently, depending on the food type."

The role of food -- and in particular, purines -- has long been suspected in gout but never proven. And that's what makes Choi's study important, say experts.

"Gout is no longer a disease of the wealthy; rather, its appearance reflects an increase in access to fatty meats and a decrease in the intake of dairy products worldwide associated with Westernization," write Richard J. Johnson, MD, and Bruce A. Rideout, DVM, PhD, in an accompanying editorial.

"Gout should thus be considered part of the current global epidemic of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. Diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), may reduce not only blood pressure, but also the frequency of gout."

In addition to diet, obesity and frequent alcohol consumption are also associated with gout, which is five times more common in men than women and affects some 5 million Americans. Alcohol contains purines and also interferes with the body's excretion of uric acid.

"This study confirms some of our suspicions and exonerates others," Choi says. "Even if you don't have gout, reducing intake of red meat is generally recommended because it's associated with other major health problems."

But what about fish, advised for good nutrition and known to help protect against heart disease and other problems? In Choi's study, all types of seafood -- including tuna, shellfish, and "heart-healthy" fish like salmon -- increased risk, most noticeably in men who were not overweight.

"You want to get the protective components like omega fatty acids that are in fish," he says. "So if you have gout, maybe the way to go is with fish oil capsules, rather than eating a lot of seafood."

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