Gout is a type of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in a joint, most often in the big toe. A painful condition that causes redness and swelling in the joint as well as fever, gout affects mostly men over age 40 and most often occurs in those with a family history of the disease, overweight people, alcohol abusers and women after menopause. Studies show both positive and negative effects of caffeine on gout, depending on how it's obtained.
Caffeine contains small amounts of deoxypurine. Since high purine intake, particularly from meats, increases the risk of developing gout, some experts theorize that caffeine could increase gout, especially since one of the metabolites of caffeine found in the urine, called methyluric acid, can trigger gout in rare cases. On the other hand, caffeine has a chemical structure similar to that of allopurinol, a medication that treats gout by lowering uric acid levels.
A 12-year-long multicenter study, which included researchers at the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada as well as the Harvard School of Public Health, among others, followed 45,869 men over age 40 with no previous history of gout. In this study, published in the June 2007 issue of "Arthritis & Rheumatism," men who drank four or more cups of coffee per day had a 40 percent lower risk of developing gout, while men who drank six or more cups per day had a 59 percent lower risk over men who did not drink coffee at all. A second study found lower uric acid levels in those with high coffee intake.
While long-term coffee drinkers appear to have a lower risk of developing gout, short-term coffee "binges" may increase the risk of bringing on a gout attack in people who already have the disorder, according to a study conducted at the Boston University School of Medicine and presented by Tuhina Neogi, M.D., at the November 2010 American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in Atlanta. A person who normally drank two to three cups of coffee per day who suddenly raised his intake to three to four cups per day increased his risk of a gout attack by between 40 and 80 percent, the study found. Allopurinol also has a similar effect, sometimes causing short-term flare-ups when first taken.
The multicenter 2007 study found that tea drinking did not have the same effect as coffee on gout development, leading researchers to speculate on whether something other than caffeine spurred the results. There was also no association found between uric acid levels and overall caffeine consumption, according to the Arthritis Foundation, strengthening this theory.