Drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks can do more than increase your waistline and lead to tooth decay. A new study published in the February 9, 2008, issue of the British Medical Journal offers important findings on the relationship between soda and gout. Soda, sugary drinks and fructose consumption, the study said, are strongly associated with an increased risk of gout in men. 

Researchers in the United States and Canada followed more than 46,000 men aged 40 years and older who had no history of gout. Over 12 years, the men regularly completed questionnaires about their intake of more than 130 foods and beverages, including sugar-sweetened soft drinks and diet soft drinks. The researchers also assessed fruits and fruit juices, which are high in natural fructose.

At the start of the study and every two years thereafter, the researchers gathered information on weight, regular use of medications and medical conditions, diagnosing gout among the subjects according to American College of Rheumatology criteria.

During 12 years of follow-up, the researchers documented 755 newly diagnosed cases of gout, and found that soda intake affected the risk of developing the disease. Five to six servings of soda per week significantly increased risk, and the risk was 85 percent higher among men who consumed two or more servings of sugar-sweetened soft drinks per day compared to those who consumed less than one serving per month, demonstrating a clear relationship between soda and gout.

Fruit juice and fructose-rich fruits also were associated with a higher risk of gout. But the authors stress that despite the higher fructose levels in foods such as apples and oranges, they also help prevent chronic disorders such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer, so the findings should be balanced against the benefits. [updated 8/11/10]