It has long been known that obesity can raise the levels of uric acid in the blood and may increase the risk of gout. Now a study shows that the reverse is also true – losing weight lowers uric acid levels and may reduce gout risk.

“Now you know if you keep your weight down and keep your uric acid down, maybe you can get off the medicine and reduce gout attacks,” says lead researcher Hyon Choi, MD, DrPH, a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

Gout is a type of arthritis that occurs when uric acid builds up in the body and then crystallizes in the joints causing intense and often crippling pain, inflammation, stiffness and swelling. It’s estimated that three million people suffer from the condition, which affects more men than women. 

Obesity and diabetes are often associated with gout. Genetic factors and diet also play a role in triggering the condition.

In a study published in Rheumatology, researchers parsed data from a study that followed more than 12,000 men between the ages of 35 and 57 for seven years. 

In analyzing the data, Dr. Choi discovered that compared to those with no weight change, those who significantly decreased their size – by about 22 pounds – had a four-fold increased chance of getting their uric acid to normal levels. Losing 10 to 20 pounds doubled the odds of achieving the recommended level, and a 2-pound weight loss was associated with an 11 percent increased chance of reaching that desired uric acid level.

“The more you lose, the higher chance of achieving that therapeutic target,” Dr. Choi explains.

Dr. Choi says while weight loss helped study participants achieve a widely accepted uric acid level of 6 mg/dl, which lessens gout risk, shedding pounds alone might not be enough for patients suffering from severe attacks.