Drinking coffee lowers risk of gout

A few cups of java every day over many years cuts the risk of gout in postmenopausal women in half, Boston researchers report.

Characterised by a build up in the blood of uric acid that forms needle like crystals, gout is rare in younger women but occurs in about one in 20 postmenopausal women. It comes and goes and in early stages mostly affects the feet.

"The pain is described as one of the most severe pains a human being experiences, like a breaking bone. You can't walk and even the weight of a bed sheet is not bearable," lead author, Dr. Hyon Choi of Boston University's School of Medicine said.

Previous research by Choi demonstrated drinking coffee lowers gout risk for men. He and his colleagues wanted to see if the same held true in women, especially older women who, after menopause, lose the uric-acid clearing benefits of oestrogen.

The case

The Choi team looked for cases of gout in 89,433 women enrolled in the large and long-term Nurses' Health Study that began in 1976. The researchers also analysed the lifestyles, diet, and beverage consumption habits of the women documented since 1980 through questionnaires filled out by study participants every two to four years.

After statistically controlling for other gout risk factors such as body-fat mass, alcohol consumption, use of diuretics and dairy intake, they found that a lifetime of drinking coffee appeared to make a significant difference in the risk of a first attack of gout.

"The higher the consumption level, the lower the risk," Choi said.

896 cases of gout were confirmed among the study participants. But within that group, the number of cases dropped as coffee consumption increased from less than a cup a day (226 cases) to more than four cups a day (85 cases).

Gout risk lower

"The risk of gout was 22% lower with coffee intake of 1-3 cups a day and 57% lower with a coffee intake of more than 4 cups a day" compared to those with no coffee consumption, the authors wrote in an issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Similar risk reductions were not seen in women who drank a lot of caffeinated tea or soda pop, whereas drinking decaffeinated coffee did offer a "modest" benefit. That observation led the researchers to conclude that "components other than caffeine may also contribute" to the risk reduction.

But what it is about coffee that staves off gout is still not clear, Choi said. And not everybody can tolerate it, he added, so he is not advocating that all older women start gulping coffee.

Too big of a jump

As a practicing doctor, it would be "too much of a jump" to recommend someone, especially an older woman, take up coffee drinking to reduce their gout risk, he said. Not only can caffeine raise blood pressure and leach calcium, upping the risk of osteoporosis, he noted, the research only speaks to a benefit in long-term consumption.

"If you start coffee in a gout patient, it's possible this benefit does not exist and might make it worse," he said.

On the other hand, if you already drink coffee, and have a family history of gout -- it does run in families -- "I wouldn't stop," Choi said.

(Reuters Health, Rachael Myers Lowe, September 2010)

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