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What Is Uric Acid?

Uric acid is a waste product and high levels within the body can lead to gout and kidney stones.

Uric Acid symbol

What Is Uric Acid?

Uric acid, also known as urate, is a waste product produced when cells are naturally broken down within the body. When cells reach the end of their life they go through a natural breakdown process which releases uric acid.

Uric acid is also produced by the body when food and drink containing purines - which contain nitrogen - are broken down during digestion. A small number of foods contain high levels of purines, such as seafood, offal and alcohol.

When digestion occurs or cells break down, the uric acid produced is transported in the bloodstream to the kidneys. The blood is filtered by the kidneys and uric acid, along with other waste products, are excreted from the body in urine. Any uric acid which isn’t removed from the body in urine will leave in the faeces.[1]

How Does Uric Acid Affect My Wellbeing?

High levels of uric acid in the body can cause gout and kidney stones.

Gout

Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis where uric acid crystals are deposited in the joints and soft tissue causing symptoms such as:

  • Sudden and severe joint pain
  • Red, hot and swollen skin around the affected joint[2]

A common place for gout to occur is in the ankle joints. It is common in people who drink lots of alcohol and/or are overweight, women who have been through the menopause and those who take diuretic medication.[3]

Kidney Stones

Uric acid kidney stones can be caused by:

  • Eating a high protein diet consisting of lots of meat
  • An inherited condition which causes you to have naturally higher uric acid levels
  • Gout
  • Chemotherapy

A small kidney stone may not cause any symptoms and may even leave the body through urine. However, if the stones get stuck, travel down the tube that attaches the kidney to the bladder (ureter), or cause an infection, symptoms may include:

  • A constant ache in the lower back
  • Intense pain in the back, abdomen or groin
  • Nausea
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Blood in your urine
  • Feeling the need to urinate more than usual
  • Feeling restless[4]

How Can I Lower Uric Acid Levels?

If you are over-weight, then a combination of a healthy balanced diet and regular physical activity is the best way to safely lose weight which in turn can reduce uric acid levels.

Alcohol can increase uric acid levels and lead to gout. Beer is particularly susceptible to causing gout. Reducing your alcohol intake can help to keep your uric acid levels low.

Diet

If you have high uric acid levels making changes to your diet can help to reduce them. You should avoid foods like:

  • Offal
  • Oily fish
  • Seafood
  • Marmite
  • Bovril
  • Game

Instead, you should eat foods which contain low-moderate levels of purine, including:

Moderate

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Baked beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Wholegrains

Low

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Pasta
  • Noodles
  • Bread
  • Cereals[5]

Protein is an important part of a balanced diet. However, a high intake of meat which contains high purine levels can lead to gout. Generally, we need around 1g of protein per kg of body weight.[5]

Exercise

Exercise can help to prevent the risk of further gout attacks. However, you should avoid intense exercise or putting lots of pressure on your joints. Swimming and Pilates can be good exercise options for gout sufferers.[6]

Learn more about uric acid.

References

  1. [1] Lab Tests Online UK. (2013). Uric Acid Test. Available at: https://labtestsonline.org.uk/tests/uric-acid-test

  2. Kuo, C, F., Grainge, M, J., Mallen, C., Zhang, W and Doherty, M. (2013). Rising Burden of Gout in the UK but Continuing Suboptimal Management: A Nationwide Population Study. Ann Rheum Dis: 74, pp 661-667.

  3. National Health Service. (2017). Gout. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gout/#causes

  4. National Health Service. (2016). Kidney Stones. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/kidney-stones/symptoms/

  5. UK Gout Society. (2018). All About Gout and Diet. Available at: http://www.ukgoutsociety.org/docs/goutsociety-allaboutgoutanddiet-0113.pdf

  6. Kim Y., Oh H, C., Park J, W., Kim I, S., Kim J, Y., Kim K, C., Chae D, S., Jo W, L., Song J, H. (2017).   Diagnosis and Treatment of Inflammatory Joint Disease.   Hip Pelvis: 9(4), pp 211-222.

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