Cherries may no longer be just for topping off ice-cream sundaes - a US study of people with gout linked eating the fruit with a 35 per cent to 75 per cent lower risk of having an attack.
Doctors have reported that some patients recommend cherries to prevent gout attacks, but the connection has only been studied a few times before, said lead researcher Yuqing Zhang, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine.
"These findings suggest that cherry intake is associated with a lower risk of gout attacks," Zhang and colleagues wrote in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
But Zhang warned that the study does not prove that cherries alone prevent gout attacks, and that patients should stick with their present gout medications.
"They can go out and eat the cherries, but they shouldn't abandon their medical treatment at all," Zhang added.
Gout arises with uric acid crystals build up in the joints. The body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines - substances found naturally in the body but also in certain foods, like organ meats, anchovies, mushrooms and some seafoods.
For the study, Zhang and his colleagues recruited patients over the Internet to take online surveys about their attacks.
All the 633 participants had had a gout attack in the last 12 months, had been diagnosed with gout by a doctor, lived in the United States and were at least 18 years old. They also had to release their medical records to the researchers.
For the next year, the patients filled out surveys every time they had an attack. The survey asked about symptoms, the drugs used in treatment and about certain risk factors, including what they had eaten.
The patients also took similar surveys at the beginning of the study, and every three months when it was underway.
Of the 633 patients, 224 said they had eaten fresh cherries during the year, 15 said they had consumed cherry extract and 33 had both.
During the year, the researchers collected information on 1,247 gout attacks, which works out to about two per patient.
Overall, the researchers found that eating cherries over a given two-day period was linked to a 35 per cent decrease in the risk of having a gout attack during that period, compared to not eating cherries.
Consuming cherry extract was tied to a 45 per cent risk reduction, and eating both fresh cherries and extract was tied to a 37 per cent lower risk.
The biggest reduction, though, came with eating fresh cherries while taking the anti-gout medication allpurinol (Lopurin, Zyloprim.) That combination was linked to a 75 per cent reduction in risk.
Researchers say there are a few possible reasons. One is that vitamin C, which is found in cherries, can influence the amount of uric acid in a person's blood, according to Allan Gelber, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the study.
Zhang said there are still a lot of questions and more studies must be done.