There’s been previous debate among researchers about how gout (also known as hyperuricemia) affects the brain, with some believing it may actually protect patients from disease. But according to new research presented at this year’s Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR), gout is associated with a higher risk of dementia among elderly patients. The study examined claims data of 1.23 million Medicare patients and found 65,324 with dementia. After adjusting for age, race, sex, comorbidities, and certain other factors, the data revealed that patients with gout are 17-20% more likely to develop dementia.
What is Gout?
If you’ve ever suffered from gout, you know how painful it can be. A form of arthritis, gout causes sudden attacks of redness, swelling, and joint pain, most often at the base of the big toe. People with gout often have high levels of uric acid in their blood. This leads to a buildup of sharp urate crystals that cause pain and inflammation in the surrounding tissue.
Risk factors for gout include:
- Diet: Foods like meat and seafood, and drinks sweetened by fructose all increase uric acid, which increases the risk of gout. Alcohol consumption (especially beer) is also a risk factor.
- Obesity: If you’re overweight, your body will produce more uric acid and your kidneys will have a harder time eliminating it from your blood.
- Medical Conditions: Certain chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, and heart and kidney disease can increase your risk of gout.
- Family History: You’re more likely to develop gout if other people in your family have also had the disease.
- Age & Sex: Men are more likely to develop gout because they have higher levels of uric acid. They’re also more likely to develop the disease earlier, usually between the ages of 30-50. Women are more likely to develop gout after menopause as their uric acid level rise closer to men’s.
Prevention is Possible
If you’re concerned you might be at risk for developing gout, or would like to avoid another attack, there are steps you can take.
- Stay Hydrated – Drink plenty of fluids and avoid sugary drinks, especially ones sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
- Avoid Alcohol – Evidence suggest that drinking beer increases the risk of gout, especially among men. So it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol.
- Limit Your Consumption of Meat, Fish, and Poultry – Some of these foods may affect your differently than others, so monitor your intake carefully.
- Get Your Protein From Low-Fat Dairy Products – There’s evidence that these foods may actually protect you against gout. And they’re a good protein alternative to meat, fish, and poultry.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight – Losing weight may decrease levels of uric acid and reduce your risk of developing gout.
Protect Your Future Health
While research has linked gout and dementia, the exact nature of the relationship is still unknown. In a press release accompanying the study, lead researcher Jasvinder A. Singh, MD, MPH of the University of Alabama Birmingham said, “Our study found a considerable increased risk of dementia associated with gout in the elderly. Further study is needed to explore these relationships and understand the pathogenic pathways involved in this increased risk.”
Even though there’s still much we don’t know about dementia, hopefully this new information will lead some to make more healthy lifestyle decisions.