Why Natural Sugar Can Be Bad for Your Joints

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A new study has found that drinking beverages rich in “fructose” — such as sugar-sweetened sodas and orange juice — is associated with an increased risk of gout. It found such effects among women, who are typically not struck as often by gout as are men, but it’s significant enough to be a big study published in the prestigious “Journal of the American Medical Association.”

Gout is a common and very painful form of inflammatory arthritis. It typically strikes susceptible joints far from the heart, such as the big toe. It presents as very red, very swollen and extremely painful. It has been an increasing disease burden in the United States over the last few decades, coinciding with a substantial increase in soft drink and fructose consumption.

Fructose-rich beverages such as sugar-sweetened soda and orange juice can increase “uric acid” levels in the body, and thus the risk of gout. Uric acid builds up in joints and forms crystals there, which are the cause of gout.

In the new study, Boston University researchers examined this possible link between fructose-rich drinks and gout. It came courtesy of the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term study that has been ongoing since 1984. This one included data from 79,000 women with no history of gout at the study’s start, including dietary information via food-based questionnaires.

In 22 years of follow-up, researchers documented 778 new cases of gout. They found that increasing intake of sugar-sweetened soda was associated with a higher risk of the painful condition. Compared with drinking less than one serving per month, women who consumed one serving per day had a 74% higher risk of gout. Those with two or more servings per day had a 240% higher risk.

How about orange juice? The link is not as big, but it’s still significant. Compared with women who consumed less than six ounces of orange juice a month, women who consumed one serving per day had a 41% higher risk of gout. And there was a 240% higher risk with two or more servings per day. Women who drank the most orange juice had a 62% higher risk of gout, compared to those who drank the least amount.

These risks are substantial, according to the researchers. It’s easy to say “Who cares?” about gout until it strikes, because, at that point, it is extremely painful and occupies most moments of the day until it dissipates.

The less sugary a drink is, the better it will be for your joints.