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Gout's on the Rise, and Your Diet May Be to Blame

Jan. 23, 2004 -- Once known as the scourge of the rich and gluttonous, gout may be staging a comeback. But is the popularity of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets like the Atkins diet to blame? Yes and no, say experts.

Recent British news reports linking rising gout rates and the Atkins diet have stirred interest in a possible link between gout and diets. But experts say there is no real proof that any particular weight-loss plan can cause the painful condition.

"We have only anecdotal evidence from individual patients who have had gout in the past that going on an Atkins diet has exacerbated the problem and precipitated attacks," says George Nuki, MD, emeritus professor of rheumatology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Researchers say there are logical reasons to believe that a high-protein, high-fat diet might increase the risk of gout in people already prone to the disease. But the real reason why gout appears to be on the rise may be old-fashioned overindulgence.

What's Gout All About?

Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when abnormally high levels of uric acid build up in the body, causing crystals to form in joints. The crystals cause sudden, severe attacks of joint pain and swelling.

Uric acid is a substance that is normally released by the kidneys when the body breaks down waste products called purines. When the kidneys are no longer able to flush uric acid out of the body properly, it crystallizes and accumulates around the joints.

Some people are born with a genetic condition that makes them prone to uric acid overproduction and buildup, but other factors are known to increase the risk of developing gout, including:

Little is known about the current prevalence of gout in the U.S., but a recent study showed that the condition affects about 1.5% of men and 0.4% of women in the U.K., which is about twice the rate found 50 years ago. -->

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