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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March, 2004, 01:25 GMT
Atkins 'could increase gout risk'
meat counter
Eating meat increased the risk of developing gout
Meat-rich diets such as Atkins could increase the risk of developing gout, research has suggested.

A 12-year study of over 47,000 men in the New England Journal of Medicine found eating meat and seafood increased the risk of developing gout.

But the research suggested eating dairy products reduced the risk.

Dubbed the "disease of kings" because of its link to rich food and alcohol, it affects around a quarter of a million people in the UK.

Gout usually affects the big toe and is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis in men - repeated attacks can cause permanent joint damage.

It is caused by deposits of uric acid in blood and tissues, formed by the breakdown of chemicals called purines which are found in meat, seafood and vegetables such as peas, beans, mushrooms, cauliflower and spinach.

Diet survey

The study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health studied 47,000 male health professionals who had no history of gout.

They interviewed them about their diets at the start of the study in 1986, 1990 and 1994.

It may be those people were eating more dairy products and, therefore, less meat
Dr Michael Snaith, UK Gout Society
Researchers then looked at how many had been diagnosed with gout by the end of the study in 1998.

The disease was diagnosed in 730 of the men.

It was found that the more meat the men ate - particularly beef, pork and lamb - the higher their risk of developing gout.

Eating all types of seafood carried an even higher risk.

However, no increased risk was linked with eating purine-rich vegetables.

The researchers said eating vegetable and dairy proteins actually appeared to have a protective effect.

They said their findings took into account other suggested risk factors for gout such as age, being overweight, high blood pressure and alcohol use, which are other suggested risk factors for gout.

Dietary advice

Dr Hyon Choi, of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Rheumatology Unit, who worked on the study, said: "The association of purine-rich foods with gout had long been suspected but never proven.

"Any contribution of protein intake to risk was uncertain, and this is the first evidence that dairy products can be strongly protective."

He said the study's findings could be used to advise people who are at an increased risk of developing gout.

"Dietary manipulation and behavioural modification to reduce risk of gout may have a much more substantial impact than currently believed.

"Reducing red meat consumption may be recommended because it also has been associated with such problems as colon cancer and diabetes.

"At the same time, healthy foods such as vegetables do not need to be restricted."

He said advice on how much seafood or dairy products people should eat depended on other factors, such as cholesterol levels.

Alcohol link

Dr Michael Snaith, a consultant rheumatologist in Derbyshire, and an expert in the treatment of gout, told BBC News Online the study was interesting, but caution was needed in interpreting the findings.

He added: "We cannot be sure that the reduced risk linked with eating more dairy products is a causative effect or just an association.

"It may be those people were eating more dairy products and, therefore, less meat."

Dr Snaith, who is also a trustee of the UK Gout Society, said research was needed into factors which could increase the risk of developing gout.

"Atkins may be linked to more cases.

"Also, because alcohol is linked to gout, we would expect to see it in people who are drinking more.

"But while we are seeing the men, we not seeing the women."

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