Gout can be extremely painful, as anyone who has it knows. It can occur anywhere in the body but most often affects the big toe. Many people will tell you to avoid drinking coffee if you have it, which leads many to wonder if caffeine can cause gout. Fortunately, caffeine does not cause gout, and in fact, drinking coffee regularly may help you avoid getting gout.1 However, if you already have gout, the caffeine in coffee can contribute to flare-ups. Keep reading as we cover what causes this painful disease and what you might be able to do to reduce the frequency of flare-ups.
What Is Gout?
Gout is a form of arthritis that results from urate crystals building up in the joints. Too many crystals between the joints cause inflammation and pain.
Symptoms of Gout
Like many other types of arthritis, people that suffer from gout often experience flare-ups that come on strong and fade over time. Most suffers will suddenly experience intense pain that usually affects the big toe. Other areas of the body that are often affected include the knees, ankles, wrists, fingers, and elbows. Many people will wake with what feels like a burning joint that will continue to be extremely painful for up to 12 hours. The area might also remain sore for several days or even weeks. You may notice that the area is red, swollen, and tender, and you may even experience a limited range of motion in the affected area.
What Causes Gout?
Urate crystals come from uric acid, which breaks down purines, a naturally occurring substance in the body. Normally, when uric acid completes its task, it dissolves in the bloodstream, is filtered by the kidneys, and leaves through the bladder. However, if the body produces too much uric acid or the kidneys cannot filter enough out, it can build up in your system and form urate crystals. If this occurs too often, the crystals can build up between the joints, leading to gout.
What Causes the Body to Create More Uric Acid?
A Medical Condition
Several medical conditions can cause the body to create more uric acid. These medical conditions include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, kidney disease, and several others. If you see your physician regularly, they will be aware of any conditions that can cause the body to produce more uric acid and can help you make adjustments with medication, diet, etc. However, left untreated, it can be a major factor contributing to gout down the road.
Your body produces more uric acid when you’re overweight. Many people don’t seek treatment for obesity until other problems develop. But it can be a significant contributor to the formation of gout.
Some medications, like low-dose aspirin, can cause your body to produce more uric acid. We recommend reading the packaging of all your medicines to see if any increase in uric acid production. Certain vaccinations can also lead to gout.
One of the biggest factors contributing to increased uric acid is diet. Foods like red meat, shellfish, and fructose sweeteners can increase the level significantly. Alcohol is another item that can increase uric acid production, especially beer.
If other people in your family have gout, you are more likely to get it. Many doctors believe that there is a genetic link.
Males produce more uric acid than females, so they are more likely to contract gout later in life.
Why Do People Recommend Avoiding Coffee If You Have Gout?
Although many people recommend avoiding coffee if you have gout, at least one recent study suggests that drinking coffee can reduce your risk of getting gout. This 2007 study found a 40% lower risk of contracting gout in men who drank four or five cups of coffee a day, compared to men who didn’t drink coffee at all. This may be because coffee contains an antioxidant called chlorogenic acid, which can reduce the amount of insulin in your blood. Insulin and uric acid (which causes gout) are closely linked, so when insulin levels are lower, uric acid levels are typically lower as well.
And what if you already have gout? As it turns out, drinking coffee occasionally may be worse than drinking it regularly! Caffeine is similar to a drug many people with gout take called allopurinol. When you first start taking allopurinol, you may experience more gout attacks as the drug moves uric acid around your body. If you consistently take the medication, you will eventually experience fewer attacks as the levels stabilize. The same thing may be true with caffeine — randomly drinking coffee can cause gout attacks, but a long-term moderate coffee habit may have the opposite effect.
Coffee and caffeine do not cause gout by themselves. In fact, drinking coffee may help your gout long-term and can even prevent you from getting out in the first place! However, always talk to your doctor before you make changes to your diet. The primary contributors to gout are genetics, obesity, and eating red meat and shellfish, but you may want to consider your level of caffeine consumption if you learn you have the disease.
Featured Image Credit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash