Sugar and historical incidence of gout and arthritis

So, today I learned that gout and rheumatoid arthritis were diseases that barely existed in Europe — until sugar consumption became widespread.

« The evidence arguing for sugar or fructose as the primary cause of gout is two-fold. First, the distribution of gout in western populations has paralleled the availability of sugar for centuries, and not all refined carbohydrates in this case. It was in the mid-17th century, that gout went from being exclusively a disease of the rich and the nobility to spread downward and outward through British society, reaching near epidemic proportions by the 18th century. Historians refer to this as the “gout wave,” and it coincides precisely with the birth and explosive growth of the British sugar industry and the transformation of sugar, in the words of the anthropologist Sydney Mintz, from “a luxury of kings into the kingly luxury of commoners.” British per capita sugar consumption in the 17th century was remarkably low by modern standards, a few pounds per capita per year at the turn of the century, but the change in consumption over the next century and a half was unprecedented: between 1650 and 1800, following the British acquisition of Barbados, Jamaica and other “sugar islands”, total sugar consumption in England and Wales increased 20- to 25-fold. »

« Gerry Weissmann, a brilliant and imaginative thinker, and colleagues—including my friend and former colleague Elliot Rosenstein—hypothesized that importation of sugar from the West Indies to Europe and a resultant epidemic of periodontal disease was linked to the appearance of [rheumatoid arthritis]. The connection, Porphyromonas gingivalis, occuring in peridontitis, produces peptidyl arginine deiminase, which citrullinates proteins leading to inflammation and consequent RA. »

And sure enough, sugar is on the Arthritis Foundation’s list of foods to avoid because it causes inflammation and makes the condition flare up.

« While nobody knows exactly what causes the complex brain changes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, scientists suspect one of the drivers is the accumulation of plaques of a faulty protein called beta-amyloid. Now, a new study of mice shows how too much sugar in the blood can speed up the production of the protein. »

So that’s:

  • Periodontal disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Gout
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Sugar. Is there anything it can’t do?