Even if your home-remedy-loving grandma swore that cherries were good for fighting gout, your doctor may have expressed skepticism due to a lack of scientific data. In fact, the FDA issued warning letters to producers of cherry products, cautioning them against making claims of disease-related benefits.

Now, though, there is some evidence lending support to Grannie’s stance. But before we talk about that new study, let’s go over some background.

No-good gout: An excruciating form of arthritis, gout most often affects the joint at the base of the big toe, though it also can affect other parts of the foot or leg. It flares up at unpredictable intervals, causing pain that can linger for days. Men are at higher risk for gout, but women develop this potentially disabling condition, too, especially after menopause.

Gout tends to be a recurrent problem, with attacks occurring when a chemical called uric acid crystallizes within the joint, causing inflammation. Uric acid forms when the body breaks down purines, substances found in some foods and beverages, including dried beans, peas, liver, anchovies and beer.

Since certain foods can trigger flare-ups, researchers set out to determine whether certain other foods could help prevent gout attacks. Among the foods they focused on were cherries, because previous small studies had had encouraging results.

Sweet study: Participants included 633 gout sufferers who, for one year, provided information about their flare-ups, diets and other gout risk factors. Then the researchers, noting the dates of each participant’s gout attacks, did an analysis of what the person had eaten in the two days prior to the flare-up…and compared that dietary info with various two-day “control periods” that had not preceded a gout attack.

When patients consumed cherries, their risk of suffering a gout attack in the two days that followed was 35% lower than when they did not eat cherries. Generally speaking, the more cherries they ate, the greater the protective effect, with benefits peaking when people ate three servings over a two-day period (one serving equaled 10 to 12 cherries). Consumption of cherry extract produced similar benefits.

Among patients who took the uric acid–lowering medication allopurinol (Lopurin, Zyloprim), use of the drug reduced the odds of a gout attack by 53%—but when these patients also consumed cherries, their flare-up risk was reduced by 75%. It is worth noting, however, that the drug can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, painful or bloody urination, eye irritation, vision changes and other potentially serious side effects.

Why cherries work: Cherries are thought to help prevent gout attacks by lowering uric acid levels in the blood and reducing inflammation.

This observational study did not separate out the data on different types of cherries or cherry products—fresh or dried, tart or sweet, juice or extract. So until randomized controlled trials can provide more information, researchers cautioned patients against abandoning their standard gout treatment. In the meantime, though, if you suffer from this toe-torturing ailment, it may be worthwhile to ask your doctor whether cherries should play a part in your gout prevention plan.