But new research has found a positive aspect to gout: It may help protect against Alzheimer's disease.
Writing in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases last week, researchers said they had found 24 percent lower risk of Alzheimer's disease among the people who had gout in a very large population from the United Kingdom, once they controlled for other factors, such as age, gender and weight.
The scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University Medical Center looked at 59,224 people with gout and 238,805 similar people without the condition. Drawn from 10.2 million patients in the United Kingdom's Health Improvement Network, they had an average age of 65; 71 percent were men.
Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood (though not everyone with high levels will get gout), and diet is indeed suspected as the cause of that. Uric acid can cause kidney stones and lead to cardiovascular problems, but there has been previous evidence that it slowed the progression of Parkinson's disease and provided protection against other neurodegenerative conditions.
Why would that be? Uric acid has strong anti-oxidative properties, according to the study. It may be scavenging free radicals, atoms or molecules with unpaired electrons that combine easily with other molecules, and helping to repair damage to cells and DNA that free radicals cause.
Of course, finding this association is not the same as being able to say uric acid protects against Alzheimer's disease; that day is many years and multiple studies away, said Hyon Choi, a professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and leader of the new research.
"If this happens to be true," he said, "then we are talking about potentially major implications. But, again, [it is] still speculative at this point."
So that makes it obvious that, at this point, you shouldn't be taking uric acid either, though some tests of a drug similar to it, inosine, on Parkinson's patients have shown that it's safe. Whether it's effective remains to be seen.