Research: Tomatoes Can Trigger Gout Flares

People who are told they have gout usually are advised to avoid certain foods because they can trigger gout flare-ups. Among the most common are organ meats such as liver and kidneys, certain seafoods (anchovies, scallops, herring, mussels and others), red meat and beer. But researchers are continuing to learn about the relationship between certain foods and gout.

Recently, researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand surveyed 2,051 people who had been diagnosed with gout. They asked these patients if any of them had experienced any food triggers and learned that 71% of them had. The first three were no surprise: seafood, alcohol and red meat. But the fourth most mentioned food trigger was somewhat unexpected: tomatoes.

The researchers decided to pursue this lead further and collected and analyzed data from more than 12,000 people who had participated in three long-running U.S. studies. That data indicated that tomato consumption was related to higher levels of uric acid in the blood. Because high uric acid levels cause gout, it made sense that tomatoes could be a trigger food.

The researchers cautioned that the aim of their research was not to prove that tomatoes trigger gout flare-ups. But their study indicated that tomatoes can raise uric acid to a level that compares with other proven trigger foods.

They also advised their research does not show that people with gout should never eat tomatoes. For one thing, not every gout patient who eats a tomato will suffer a gout attack; it’s best to think of tomatoes as a “possible trigger.” Second, there are medications that reduce uric acid levels. If people with gout are diligent in taking one of these medications, they most likely can eat tomatoes without harmful effects.

Joseph Gustaitis is a freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area.

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