Does Drinking Beer Really Increase Your Risk for Gout?

Glass of beer on the bar
Marianna Massey/Getty Images

Since ancient times, people have suspected a link between drinking alcohol and gout, a form of arthritis that causes inflammation of joints, tendons, and other tissues. The condition is extremely painful and affects mostly men.

Considered one of the most painful of the rheumatic conditions, gout afflicts an estimated 840 out of 100,000 people, accounting for about 5 percent of all cases of arthritis.

Gout used to be called "the disease of kings," and it is indeed linked to eating rich foods (meat, alcohol) that in past centuries were more widely available to the wealthy.

What's the Link Between Beer and Gout?

Beer, as well as other alcoholic drinks, contains purines. Purines are part of all human tissue and they are found in many foods. In addition to beer, they're found in yeast, legumes, mushrooms (and some other vegetables), meat extracts, and gravies. Eating foods high in purines can raise uric acid levels in the blood and precipitate gout attacks in some people. That's why a diet low in purines is important for people with gout.

Beer tends to have higher levels of purines than other forms of alcohol. That being said, all types of alcohol increase your risk of gout, particularly if you already suffer from gout.

Research on Beer and Gout

In a 2004 study reported in The Lancet, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that men who drink two or more beers a day were two and a half times more likely to get gout than their nondrinking counterparts This was a prospective study, meaning it tracked 47,000 male medical staff for 12 years.

They found that although wine and spirit drinkers had an increased incidence of gout, they were still less affected than those men who drank beer. This suggested that the alcohol content was not the only culprit. Beer contains more purines than spirits and wine.

A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Medicine also confirmed an increase in gout that related to the amount of beer (as well as wine and liquor) the participants consumed.

In this study, researchers tracked 724 people with a history of gout (three-quarters of whom were men) for one year and had them report on how much and what types of alcohol they consumed.

Take Home Message

Beer is likely to increase your risk of gout. Drinking beer and other alcohol can also increase your risk of recurrent gout attacks if you've previously been diagnosed with gout. Minimize your alcohol consumption to lower your risk of gout.