Gout: Can It Offer Alzheimer's Protection?
More than 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease. As the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer's, a type of dementia for which there is currently no known cure, is very prevalent and extremely serious. Researchers are constantly looking for potential cures or treatments for the disease, and they may have stumbled upon a surprising connection. Based on the results of a study that was conducted by researchers at Boston University Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, it appears that a condition called gout may offer protection against the development of Alzheimer's.
About the Study
The results of the study were published in The Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Researchers monitored nearly 60,000 British men and women who suffer from gout. They also watched nearly 240,000 men and women who do not suffer from the condition. Subjects were matched for BMI, alcohol consumption, smoking, sex and other characteristics. Of the participants who suffer from gout, 309 also suffered from Alzheimer's. Of those who don't suffer from gout, 1,942 suffered from Alzheimer's. Thus, researchers concluded that people with gout have a 24 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's.
What is Gout?
Gout, a form of arthritis, used to be known as the rich man's disease because it tends to develop in people who have rich diets that include lots of red meat and alcohol. Due to changing dietary trends, though, it's just as likely to affect poorer people as richer ones these days. It develops due to excessive levels of uric acid, which is a waste produce that develops from the breakdown of chemicals called purines. The buildup of uric acid in the blood causes deposits of sodium crystals to develop in the joints, which leads to excruciating pain.
The Alzheimer's-Gout Connection
Researchers are unclear about what connection there may be between gout and a lower risk of Alzheimer's. However, previous studies have shown that uric acid's antioxidant properties may help to shield brain cells from degeneration by protecting them against oxidative stress. In the past, researchers have found potential connections between high levels of uric acid and a slowing down of the progress of brain disorders like Parkinson's. However, the new study is the first potentially linking elevated levels of uric acid with protection against Alzheimer's. For now, the link is tenuous, and more research is needed to determine if uric acid could be used to treat Alzheimer's.
A Double-Edged Sword
Even if it turns out that there is a strong link between elevated levels of uric acid and a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, it should be noted that gout can cause many serious problems. People who suffer from gout have an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, including stroke and heart attack. They also have an increased risk of developing kidney problems. So, while uric acid may hold promise for the millions of people who suffer from Alzheimer's, a lot more research is needed to determine if the rewards outweigh the potential risks.