You may or may not be aware that when you’ve got gout, you’ve got it for life. But there may be an unexpected upside to having the condition: a recent study has found a possible link between high uric acid, which is linked to gout, and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study was carried out by researchers from Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine, and the University of British Columbia. It was funded by these institutes and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Uric acid is known to be a very powerful antioxidant that helps to protect our bodies’ cells against damage. Previous work had indicated that uric acid could help to protect the brain and lower the risk of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
So, led by Dr. Hyon Choi, professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, the researchers wanted to see if the antioxidant properties of uric acid could help to protect against Alzheimer’s.
They used a database of over 3.7 million UK patients’ medical records from which they selected a group of 59,000 gout patients over the age of 40 and a control group of 239,000 patients over 40 who didn’t have gout. Both groups’ records were tracked from 1995 to the end of 2013 to see how many in each group had developed Alzheimer’s.
Taking a range of variables into account such as age, sex, obesity, heart health, and socio-economic status, the team determined that someone with gout has a 24% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than someone who hasn’t.
Dr. Choi commented that…
“Our work shows the potential protective effect of a high level of uric acid and gout against the development of Alzheimer’s disease.”
But he was also careful to point out that…
“This is just an initial finding. One paper doesn’t make science.”
In other words, this one study does not actually prove that having gout will protect you against developing Alzheimer’s. But it is encouraging nevertheless.
Dr Laura Phipps from Alzheimer’s Research UK, commented…
“While this work does suggest a positive impact of gout on brain health, many of the risk factors related to gout, including obesity and diabetes, are also linked to increased dementia risk. Current evidence suggests that the best ways to maintain a healthy brain are to keep a healthy weight, exercise regularly, not smoke, eat a balanced diet, drink in moderation, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.”
An obvious question that arises out of this recent study is…”If someone with gout is treating it appropriately and maintaining their uric acid at healthy levels, wouldn’t this negate the potential benefit in respect to Alzheimer’s?”
Well, according to Dr. Choi, no…
“By the time a gout patient starts taking anything to lower his levels, a lifelong exposure to elevated uric acid has already occurred, so the future impact on Alzheimer’s risk is likely to be irrelevant.”
My first reaction to this was that this didn’t make sense and where was the evidence? Then duh! it occurred to me: the study tracked the medical records of actual gout sufferers from as far back as 1995. So they must have been, or a majority must have been, getting treatment for their condition. So the calculation of risk would have taken that into account. Wouldn’t it?