What is Uric Acid and Why Should You Care about it?
First, let's start with what Uric acid is...
Uric acid is a type of waste product found in the blood that is produced when substances called purines are broken down. Purines are a type of compound found in certain foods such as meat, red wine and fruits. Uric acid is usually dissolved in the blood and passes through the kidneys, where it is removed from the body in urine.
When too much uric acid is produced, or when the kidneys are unable to remove enough of it, it can build up in the blood, leading to a condition called hyperuricemia. If left untreated, hyperuricemia can lead to a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, known as gout. Furthermore, chronic hyperuricemia can also increase the risk of kidney stones, heart attack, and stroke.
That was a lot of official medical jargon, so let's break it down...
So, what is the big deal with uric acid builidng up? Uric acid crystals are small, sharp, needle-like crystals that form when there is an excess of uric acid in the body. They deposit in the joints and tissues, and can cause pain, swelling, and inflammation when they accumulate. Does that sound comfortable! No... It's very painful. In the picture above, I included a picture of what uric acid crystals look like. If you had those in your joints, would you feel great? Probably not.
But, here's the kicker. Unless you had pain in your big toe specifically, most doctors don't test your uric acid levels. It's part of my routine panel because so many people have elevated levels, yet not the very specific big toe type of pain and levels that are above the reference range for uric acid. Instead, they have diffuse pain all over the body and their levels are higher than optimal, but still "In range". For example, a "Reference range" for Uric acid is 2.6-6.2, but when those levels get to about 5.5 in women or 6.0 in men, pain starts to be felt. This can then earn you a diagnosis of something like fibromyalgia which is to say that you have unidentified pain in your muscles and joints. So often, I find this is elevated uric acid.
What causes elevated uric acid levels? Red meat and Red wine are the two classic things that raise uric acid levels. The specific type of sugar found in fruit (called fructose) also will raise uric acid levels. One of the big things I am seeing lately, is low dose aspirin useage and elevated uric acid levels. Low dose aspirin is used to by some physicians to lower risk of blood clots and strokes. However, it does raise uric acid levels (1) Most of the cases I see of elevated uric acid levels are in individuals taking aspirin for this purpose. There are some other medications, like blood pressure medications that can do this also. However, the aspirin connection has been pretty consistent for me in my observations.
So, What does this mean? I think this is a great time to ask questions. Is there a way to achieve the results we are looking for without the consistent use of aspirin? In addition to raising uric acid levels, there is also research on aspirin and the lining of the gut. Specifically, that it can have negative impacts on gut health. Namely, increased bleeding in the GI tract, and damage to the gut mucosa or lining. (2) When you take those things into account, you will want to start looking for other options that help reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke. Things like a focus on an anti-inflammatory diet low in sugar and grains and high in vegetables, fruits and healthy proteins and fats. Therapeutic doses of fish oil can also be helpful.
If you do have elevated levels of uric acid, what can you do to feel better? I think looking at aspirin use is huge and having that discussion with the provider that recommended it in the first place. Then you can reduce your red meat and red wine consumption along with your fruit intake for a short time to drop the uric acid levels. Additionally, using tart cherry juice has been shown to help lower uric acid levels (3) By doing those things, most people start to feel better. When they feel better, they are more motivated to eat better, exercise more and can sleep better. That goes a long way to improving health!
If you have any questions about this or would like to speak with us about having some labs done to see if you have this issue, please use the link below to schedule a time for us to give you a quick call to see if we can help!
To your health,