Do Clams Cause Arthritic Reactions?

Your big toe might be really grateful if you lay off the all-you-can-eat shellfish buffet. One of the most painful types of arthritis, gout, can be triggered by eating foods high in purines, and shellfish like clams, shrimp, and mussels can make a gout attack more likely to occur.

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Editor's note: This article was medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD.

Men who ate more seafood, which is very high in purines, were 50 percent more likely to develop gout than men who ate little seafood.

A Harvard Medical School study

What Is Gout?

Gout is a type of arthritis caused by high levels of uric acid in your blood. This uric acid can form crystals inside your joints that can then cause painful inflammation. The most commonly affected joint is the base of the big toe, but other joints can also be involved.

Gout tends to run in families, but certain behaviors can make having a gout attack more likely. Indulging in certain rich foods can increase the levels of uric acid in your blood. In fact, of all the forms of arthritis, gout is the type most tied to what you eat.

Research Connecting Gout to Shellfish

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the intake of proteins and foods high in purines, a component of DNA. Dr. H.K. Choi and his group at Harvard Medical School followed more than 47,000 men and tracked their diets for 12 years.

They found evidence that men who ate more seafood, which is very high in purines, were 50 percent more likely to develop gout than men who ate little seafood. Shellfish like clams are so high in purines that a gout attack may soon follow that delicious briny meal.

Other Foods That Can Lead to Gout

The same study showed that eating meats like liver, beef, lamb, and pork, which are also high in purines, led to a 40 percent increase in the risk of gout. Beer is also known to increase uric acid levels in your blood.

But it’s not all bad news.

Wine seems to have little effect on gout, and low-fat dairy products actually have a protective effect against gout. So drink that glass of milk or have a late night yogurt -- you may be safe from gout interfering.

Clams and Arthritis

Clams -- well, shellfish at least -- are not necessarily bad when it comes to all types of arthritis. One specific kind of shellfish may actually be beneficial in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Extracts from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) have a combination of omega 3 fatty acids and chondroitin that may reduce inflammation and treat joint pain. But be aware that mussels still contain those pesky purines.

If you have gouty arthritis, rather than osteoarthritis, you could end up triggering a gout attack. Always talk with your doctor before taking any medication or dietary supplement.

About the Author

Christine Case-Lo, MS is a freelance writer and special needs advocate. She completed her Master’s degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco and her Bachelor's degree in Bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Case-Lo is a member of the American Health Information Management Association.