It turns out that genetics has a lot to do with whether someone will suffer from gout – the disease once associated with gluttonous indulgence and King Henry VIII.
Diet clearly plays a role, but genetics has a big influence on whether a person will develop this painful form of arthritis, which is caused by high uric acid levels.
Estimates are that about four percent of people in the U.S. have gout at any given time, and 10-20 percent of people may suffer a gout attack at some point in their lives.
Gout has become increasingly prevalent in recent decades as rich diets have become more commonplace. But genetics also plays an important role in the condition, specifically variants in genes involved in the excretion of uric acid from the kidneys.
Variants in the genes ABCG2 and SLC2A9 are associated with increased risk for gout. The gene ABCG2 encodes a protein that transports uric acid out of cells, while SLC2A9 encodes a protein that helps regulate the amount of uric acid removed from the blood by the kidneys.
Gout can be quite painful. When the body produces too much uric acid, the uric acid can form crystals in the joints that trigger attacks from the immune system. Consuming rich foods, sugary drinks, red meats and beer can increase the risk for developing the condition. For those at risk or who already have the condition, there are treatments and recommendations for keeping attacks at bay. Among the recommendations are staying well-hydrated, limiting the intake of red meat, beer and sugary drinks and regular monitoring of the uric acid level in your blood. There are also some medications used to help control the condition. Gout is also associated with other conditions including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, kidney disease and obesity.
“KING OF DISEASE”
The answer goes by the name “uricase.” This gene produces a protein that breaks down uric acid. Uricase evolved a very long time ago and exists in organisms ranging from single-celled bacteria to almost all vertebrates. Its existence protects against uric acid build-up and, therefore, against gout.
Unfortunately, for us humans, the uricase gene in our DNA is so mutated it no longer works. But we are not the only species to suffer from the so-called “King of Disease.”