Inflammatory arthritis can affect many of the joints of the body, from the hands down to the feet. Gout is a type of arthritis that most commonly affects the feet and toes. It develops when uric acid builds up in the body, a condition also called hyperuricemia.

Uric acid is the byproduct of chemical compounds called purines. These chemical compounds can be found in foods like red meat and seafood.

When uric acid isn’t flushed out of the body properly, it can build up and create crystals. These crystals most commonly form in the kidneys and around the joints, causing pain and inflammation.

Roughly 8 million adults in the United States have gout. The most common risk factors for gout include:

  • dehydration
  • a high-purine diet
  • a high intake of sugary or alcoholic drinks

These dietary factors can all cause high uric acid levels in the blood, leading to the development of gout. For this reason, they’re also considered to be triggers in people who already have gout.

Can drinking too much alcohol cause gout or trigger a gout flare-up if you already have the condition? Conversely, can cutting back on alcohol relieve your gout symptoms?

Let’s take a closer look at the connection between alcohol and gout.

Alcohol is a source of purines. These compounds produce uric acid when broken down by the body. Alcohol also increases the metabolism of nucleotides. These are an additional source of purines that can be turned into uric acid.

In addition, alcohol affects the rate at which uric acid is secreted. That can lead to increased levels in the blood.

When it comes to purine content, not all alcohol is created equal. Spirits have the lowest purine content. Regular beer has the highest.

Past research found that both beer and liquor substantially increase blood uric acid levels, with beer playing a more significant role. Beer intake seems to be associated with an increased risk of hyperuricemia in men. This is especially true for men with a high alcohol intake (12 or more drinks per week).

In other words, although not everybody who drinks alcohol will experience hyperuricemia or gout, research supports a possible connection.

In other literature on alcohol and gout, several studies were analyzed to explore the link between alcohol consumption and the development of gout. In one analysis, researchers discovered that a high intake of alcohol led to twice the risk of developing gout.

However, it’s important to note that the relationship only seems to be present for those who drink more than just a “moderate” amount of alcohol.

One recent study investigated the self-reported triggers of gout in over 500 participants. Of those that reported a dietary or lifestyle trigger, 14.18 percent stated that alcohol intake was a trigger for an acute gout attack.

That number was almost 10 percent higher than some other reported triggers, such as eating red meat or dehydration. The researchers do note that 14.18 percent is quite a bit lower than a previous research study on over 2,000 participants with gout. In that study, alcohol was the second-highest self-reported gout trigger at 47.1 percent.

Another recent observational study took a deeper look into the characteristics of both early onset (before age 40) and late-onset (after age 40) gout in over 700 people. The researchers found that alcohol intake was more likely to be a trigger in the early onset group as opposed to the late-onset group.

In the early onset group, more than 65 percent of participants reported drinking alcohol, especially beer, before a flare-up. With beer being a popular drink for the younger crowd, this could possibly explain the connection between alcohol intake and gout attacks in younger people.

When you have gout, it’s important to keep your uric acid levels as low as possible to avoid a flare-up. Because alcohol increases uric acid levels, many doctors will recommend drinking only in moderation or cutting back significantly.

If you enjoy alcohol, making simple changes to your drinking habits may help avoid future flare-ups. Even if you don’t have gout, avoiding heavy drinking may even help prevent a first-time gout experience.

What is moderation?

Moderate alcohol intake refers to:

  • up to one drink per day for women of all ages
  • up to two drinks per day for men ages 65 and younger
  • up to one drink per day for men older than 65

In addition to knowing your recommended amounts for moderate alcohol consumption, it’s just as important to understand what one drink means:

  • one 12-ounce (oz.) glass of beer with 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)
  • one 8- to 9-oz. glass of malt liquor with 7 percent ABV
  • one 5-oz. glass of wine with 12 percent ABV
  • one 1.5-oz. shot of distilled spirits with 40 percent ABV

Whether you’re enjoying a glass of wine after dinner or a night out with friends, drinking the right amount in moderation may help lower your risk of an acute gout attack.

While there are many factors that can increase your risk of developing gout, some are within your control. Avoiding purine-rich foods, drinking in moderation, and keeping hydrated are a few lifestyle changes you can make almost immediately to lower your risk.

If you already have gout, making these lifestyle changes may help reduce the frequency and severity of your attacks.

As always, speak with a doctor to determine which changes are best for your body. For additional dietary recommendations, seeking a nutritionist can help you choose the healthiest diet for your gout.