Q: Can I drink wine if I have gout?—Greg, Sarasota, Fla.
A: Gout is a form of arthritis that causes severe pain, redness and swelling in the joints, often at the base of the big toe. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have identified numerous genes that contribute to gout risk, but the primary risk factor is hyperuricemia, or elevated uric acid levels. Because there is a genetic component to this condition, people with a family history should consult their physician to establish a diet and lifestyle that mitigates other contributing factors, such as consuming foods and beverages that are high in purines, such as organ meat, seafood, alcohol and sugary beverages (uric acid is a byproduct of purine digestion).
"Alcohol consumption increases uric acid," Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University, told Wine Spectator, "and has been associated with increased risk of gout attacks." However, she acknowledged, not all types of alcohol appear to have the same impact on gout risk. A 2004 Harvard Medical School study on the effects of alcohol on gout patients concluded that wine drinkers showed no greater or lesser chance of developing gout compared with nondrinkers. Spirits drinkers' chances of developing gout grew by 15 percent for every shot of liquor they consumed each day, and beer drinkers' proclivity grew by 49 percent with each daily beer.
According to the Mayo Clinic's suggested "gout diet," beer and liquors are associated with an increased risk of gout and recurring attacks, but moderate wine consumption has not appeared to pose a risk. Whether or not you are experiencing gout attacks, consult your physician before including moderate wine consumption as part of a gout-friendly diet.