Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Black Cherry Juice for Gout

As a pharmacist, I often get asked questions about alternative medicines and herbal supplements.  It seems that more and more people are turning to nutritional supplements as an alternative to prescription medications.  Myself and my colleagues are certainly not opposed to herbal supplements, however because there is usually not much evidence to back up their claims we are hesitant to recommend them.

Recently, while I was shopping in a local store the staff began asking me questions about black cherry juice.  My husband really loves it when he has to stand there and listen to my "drug talks" (don't worry he will live) and I am always glad to offer a little insight to anyone who asks.  I wanted to share this question because I thought it was interesting and hopefully helpful to other suffering from gouty arthritis.

The question was:
"My son is very overweight and gets very bad gout, he has started taking black cherry juice to help with his flares.  My such-and-such's Aunt Whats-her-name takes allopurinol for her gout and she says it is a lifesaver.  Do you think black cherry juice can help him?"

Before you run to the fridge and chug the remaining juice out of your maraschino cherry jar, lets revisit what causes gout.

Gout is caused from having too much uric acid in your bloodstream which causes uric acid to crystallize in your joints causing a painful "flare".  Affected joints may be warm, swollen, stiff, red and extremely tender.  They may be so painful even the light touch of a sock can cause intense pain.

Treating Gout with Medications
  1. Allopurinol is the drug of choice for chronic gout.  This means it will help reduce the frequency of flares, but will not help once you have one.  It does have some risks associated with it and cannot be used if people have poor kidney function.  When you first start taking allopurinol, it can cause a gout flare until the levels in your blood stream get high enough to start decreasing uric acid production.
  2. It is recommended that you also take an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like ibuprofen or naproxen everyday along with the allopurinol.
  3. Colchicine can be added for short term use to treat an active flare.

Black Cherry Juice
  1. It is a juice concentrate made from black cherries and is said to be high in antioxidants.
  2. Not much research has been done to support its use.
  3. Depending on the product it can have a lot of extra sugar added.  Check the label to make sure it is 100% juice and doesn't have a ton of calories.
  4. Tart cherry juice indicates more promising results than sweetened cherry juice based on research.
  5. Cherry juice concentrate tablets probably do not have as much of the antioxidant qualities as the actual berry or the juice does.

Doesn't it seem that once you start taking one medication for an illness, that you soon find yourself on many more than you ever intended?

So what can you do if you don't want to keep piling more and more medications in your pharmacy shopping cart, but also decrease your gout flares ?

  • Limit intake of high purine and gout inducing foods (red meat, seafood, beer)
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated (sweet tea does NOT count as water; decaffeinated unsweetened tea would be better)
  • Lose weight, but do not eat a very low calorie diet and getting moderate exercise is advised
  • To take advantage of antioxidant rich foods by eating fresh black cherries or by making cherry (or any other berry) breakfast smoothies with low fat milk or yogurt

In conclusion, 100% tart black cherry juice with no added sugar may help relieve some symptoms of gout and arthritis due to its antioxidant properties.  If you incorporate it into a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and avoid high purine foods black cherry juice may help to relieve oxidative stress in your body and therefore reduce uric acid in the bloodstream.