A surprising new study linked the painful inflammatory condition gout with a dramatically reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Now–I would never wish gout on a friend or foe…or even a foe’s big toe. But the finding caught my attention. Why would gout, which results from high levels of uric acid in the blood, protect against brain impairment?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gout is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis. And it affects more than eight million Americans. Most often, it starts in the big toe. Though it can also attack the ankles, heels, knees, elbows, wrists, and fingers. When the condition first arises, symptoms normally disappear within a few days. But as time goes on, attacks can occur more frequently and last longer.
Previous studies showed, men and women with gout have a lower risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. So researchers from Boston University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and the University of British Columbia wanted to see if men and women with this painful condition would also have a lower risk of developing dementia. They analyzed data from The Health Improvement Network (THIN), a medical record database representing a sample of the U.K.’s general population. Then, they followed 59,224 patients with gout and 238,805 matched controls without gout for five years.
After five years, 309 patients with gout and 1,942 without gout developed dementia. And it turns out the researchers’ hunch was correct…
Overall, patients with gout were 24 percent less likely to develop dementia.
So–what could account for this effect?
Most experts point to the role of uric acid in the body. Your body normally produces uric acid to break down a chemical called purine. Purine occurs naturally in your body, but it’s also found in “rich” foods like cheeses, certain meats and seafood, as well as legumes, like certain beans.
More importantly, uric acid accounts for more than 50 percent of the blood’s antioxidant activity.
So–if you take this line of thinking one step further, it means someone who has excess uric acid might have more antioxidant activity in their blood. Perhaps this increased antioxidant activity somehow protects the brain against free radical damage. It could also explain why excess uric acid seems to protect against the neurodegeneration of Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Hyon Choi–a professor of medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston–said, “The primary speculation is that uric acid is an effective scavenger of oxidative stress materials, which can be destructive in cells. So it could be the anti-oxidative property of uric acid that plays a role.”
This finding has Alzheimer’s experts interested…
According to Dean M. Hartley, Ph.D., “This study helps set the stage for future [AD] initiatives because it identifies a mechanism that might alter a person’s risk for AD. That risk factor–uric acid level–is likely to reflect both dietary and genetic contributors and might point to opportunities for intervention outside the beta amyloid plaques and tau tangles that characterize the disease.”
Of course, this is all just a theory. Other scientists believe uric acid acts directly on astrocytes (the most abundant type of cell in the central nervous system) and other brain cells.
It’s also quite possible nutrition plays a role…
We know older men and women don’t eat enough meat overall. And low protein can place them at risk for developing dementia.
But men and women who develop gout generally eat more red meat, as well as cheeses and seafood. Actually, eating a lot of red meat is a “risk factor” for developing gout. Perhaps these meat-eating men and women with gout are better nourished in terms of protein and amino acid intake, as well as key neuro-vitamins and minerals, which also nourish and protect the brain.
So, what does this all mean for you?
My former professor H. Ralph Schumacher Jr, M.D. with the University of Pennsylvania wonders if treatment of gout with drugs that lower uric acid actually increases the risk of developing dementia.
Clearly, we still have a lot to learn about gout, the human brain, and nutrition.
If only mainstream medicine would spend a little more time studying nutrition, we might have more answers. For now, nutrition is still the last topic on the agenda at most medical conferences.
In the meantime, if you have gout, consider natural alternatives–like tart cherry juice–first before resorting to drug treatments. (I wrote about all of the health benefits associated with cherries, including their ability to relieve gout, in the September 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. Subscribers can download and view this issue for free by logging on to www.drmicozzi.com with your username and password. And if you’re not already a subscriber, the website also has all the information you need to sign up today.)
- “Gout and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease: a population-based, BMI-matched cohort study,” Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases; published online 3/4/2015
- “Gout Associated With Reduced Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease,” Medscape (www.medscape.com) 3/11/2015