What is Uric Acid?
When the body breaks down substances found in all foods called purines, the chemical byproduct is uric acid. In normal individuals, the blood will dissolve most uric acid as it travels into the kidneys and is excreted in urine. When too much uric acid is produced, or if kidneys are not functioning properly to remove it from the bloodstream, the levels in blood increase.
High amounts of uric acid is referred to as hyperuricemia. Factors that can raise levels include:
- Alcoholism or alcohol abuse
- High caffeine intake
- A diet rich in purines, such as shellfish and animal organs (such as the liver and brain)
- Overexertion in exercise
- Medications, including those for diuretics and immunosurpressents
- Excessive Niacin (Vitamin B3)
- Certain diseases, including: Hypothyroidism, Leukemia, and Obesity
Hyperuricemia can lead to:
- Kidney Stones
- Kidney Failure
Low amounts are also unhealthy, and can imply a root cause or lead to:
- Hyponatremia: lower than normal salt levels. When the body lacks sodium, water is sent into cells to balance the levels, which causes swelling.
- Fanconi Syndrome: a kidney disorder where certain nutrients are absorbed in the urine instead of bloodstream as intended.
- Wilson's disease: a rare disorder genetically inherited, there is excessive copper in body tissue, which can lead to candida imbalances and damage in the liver and nervous system.
Even when uric acid levels are within a normal range, they may crystallize in the joints and cause gout attacks. Inflammation is a critical factor in controlling these painful attacks: lifestyle factors such as too much exercise, stress, poor diet, recurring illness, and unhealthy joints can contribute to inflammation. To learn more about uric acid levels, see the related article.
Gout and Uric Acid
Gout is a form of arthritis caused by excessive uric acid. The acid may be high in blood, urine, and tissues, as it is not properly excreted from the body. However, some people may have gout while having normal ranges of uric acid. Other factors, such as enzyme production, weight, proper digestion and elimination of waste, heart health, and blood circulation can contribute to gout.
A deficiency in uricase, a digestive enzyme, is also common in cases of high acid levels. Uricase changes insoluble acid into soluble allantoin: a chemical compound that protects skin and supports cellular structure in connective tissues. In persons with low uricase, the excessive uric acid will crystalize in the joints, creating sharp points that can tear into the surrounding joint tissue and fluids.
The first signs of gout are acute pain in a joint, usually the ankle or big toe. As a flare up of gout worsens, the area becomes inflamed and swollen with red or purplish skin around the area. The spot may be sensitive to touch or hot. Gout is similar in symptoms to other problems, such as infections or rheumatoid arthritis. Establishing a typical diet and matching symptoms to identify gout can be done with our online quiz.
As uric acid comes from many foods, altering the diet can naturally improve levels, however if the kidneys are not functioning properly, seeking professional medical attention may be required.