Our body is equipped to balance the good and the bad – that which needs to be retained and that which needs to be expelled. The human body stores the required nutrients and promotes beneficial chemical reactions to produce favoring compounds. In the same process of reactions, there are unwanted compounds are produced as well. Fascinatingly, our body can maintain homeostasis by excreting and choosing only what is good for us.
Uric acid is one such naturally occurring compound in the body that is produced during the breakdown of purines (a compound that is part of our DNA). Purines can be found in certain foods and are also formed within the body. Under normal circumstances, the body can eliminate excess uric acid through the kidneys. At times, the body fails to maintain a healthy balance of uric acid levels. Thus, when uric acid levels become elevated, it can lead to a condition known as hyperuricemia. Let’s understand more about this condition, prevention, and management.
Persistent hyperuricemia can increase the risk of developing gout, kidney stones, and other health complications. Hyperuricemia is often asymptomatic; individuals may not experience any signs or symptoms. However, in some cases, hyperuricemia can lead to certain health conditions, such as gout and kidney stones, which may present with specific symptoms.
Here are the symptoms and methods of diagnosis for hyperuricemia:
Symptoms of Hyperuricemia:
Asymptomatic: In many cases, hyperuricemia does not cause any noticeable symptoms and is often detected incidentally during routine blood tests.
Symptoms of Gout (a condition caused by hyperuricemia): Gout – the formation and deposition of uric acid crystals which usually get stored in the joints of bone due to excess amounts in the blood.
- Acute Joint Pain: Gout is characterized by sudden and severe joint pain, typically affecting the big toe. However, it can also affect other joints such as the ankles, knees, fingers, and wrists. The pain is often described as sharp, intense, and unbearable. The deposition of the uric acid crystals often manifests as Tophi – a swollen, bulbous mass of crystals visible under the skin, usually the big toe joint and sometimes on the ears.
- Swelling and Redness: The affected joint(s) may become swollen, red, and tender to the touch.
- Warmth: The skin over the affected joint may feel warm.
- Limited Mobility: Due to pain and swelling, movement of the affected joint may be limited.
- Recurring Attacks: Gout can cause recurrent episodes of joint pain and inflammation
Symptoms of Kidney Stones (caused by uric acid crystals in the kidneys):
- Severe Flank Pain: Pain in the back or sides, usually on one side, due to the movement of kidney stones.
- Painful Urination: Discomfort or pain during urination may occur.
- Blood in Urine: In some cases, kidney stones can cause blood to appear in the urine.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Along with pain, individuals may experience nausea and vomiting.
Diagnosis of Hyperuricemia:
- Blood Tests: A simple blood test can measure uric acid levels in the bloodstream. A fasting blood sample is usually taken to obtain accurate results.
- Joint Aspiration: In cases of suspected gout, joint aspiration may be performed. A small amount of fluid is withdrawn from the affected joint and examined for uric acid crystals under a microscope.
- Imaging: X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans may be used to detect the presence of kidney stones or joint damage caused by gout.
Causes of High Uric Acid Levels:
- Diet: One of the primary reasons for elevated uric acid levels is an unhealthy diet. Foods such as red meat, shellfish, organ meat, and fish like mackerel, and herring are high in purine. It can contribute to increased uric acid production. Additionally, fructose, found in sugary beverages and high-fructose corn syrup, has been linked to higher uric acid levels. Intake of unnecessary protein supplements can also lead to high uric acid levels.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for hyperuricemia. Excess weight can lead to insulin resistance and decreased kidney function, impairing the body’s ability to properly excrete uric acid.
- Conditions causing high uric acid levels– Cancer, thyroid imbalances, metabolic conditions, psoriasis, lead poisoning. Diabetes, hypertension can also increase uric acid levels in the body. Thus, it is crucial that a diagnosis of any underlying disease is done and managed.
- Genetics: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to overproduce or under-excrete uric acid, making them more susceptible to hyperuricemia.
- Certain Medications: Some medications, such as diuretics, and aspirin, can interfere with uric acid excretion and contribute to higher levels.
Nutritional Management for Healthy Uric Acid Levels:
- Hydration: Staying adequately hydrated helps in flushing out uric acid from the body. Aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, and consider consuming herbal teas and natural fruit juices without added sugars.
- Limit Purine-Rich Foods: Although purines are natural compounds, reducing the intake of foods high in purines can be beneficial in managing uric acid levels. Limit or avoid consuming red meat, organ meats, shellfish, anchovies, sardines, and certain types of fish like mackerel and herring. Also, alcohol and sweetened beverages should be avoided.
- Low-Fat Dairy Products: Studies have shown that low-fat dairy products can help lower uric acid levels. Incorporate milk, yogurt, and cheese into your diet to potentially reduce the risk of developing hyperuricemia.
- Increase good quality Carbohydrates: Focus on consuming whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. These complex carbohydrates are not only low in purines but also promote a healthy weight and improve insulin sensitivity.
- Vitamin C: Foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, and bell peppers, have been associated with lower uric acid levels. Vitamin C helps in increasing the excretion of uric acid by the kidneys.
- Avoid Fructose and Sugary Beverages: Limit your intake of sugary drinks and foods high in fructose. Fructose consumption has been linked to increased uric acid production and decreased excretion.
- Salt restriction and maintaining a healthy blood pressure can help in reducing uric acid production and its progression as gout and kidney stones.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: If you are overweight, losing even a small amount of weight can have a positive impact on reducing uric acid levels.
- Moderate Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption, particularly beer, and spirits, can raise uric acid levels. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation or consider opting for a glass of red wine instead (once a week).
Here is a list of low purine foods that can be included in a hyperuricemia-friendly diet:
- Fruits: Apples, Bananas, Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.), Cherries, Kiwis, Melons (watermelon, cantaloupe), Peaches, Pears
- Vegetables: Bell peppers, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Green beans, Lettuce, leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula, etc.), Onions, Peas, Potatoes, Tomatoes
- Grains and Starches: Wholegrain products – the inclusion of wheat and he variety of millets like jowar, bajra, ragi, red rice and breads and rotis made with these flours, little millet, quinoa ), Pasta (in moderation), Rice (white or brown), Quinoa.
- Dairy: Low-fat milk, Low-fat yogurt, Low-fat cheese
- Proteins: Eggs, Tofu, Nuts and seeds (in moderation), Nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, etc.)
- Beverages: Water, Herbal teas (unsweetened), Coffee (in moderation)
- Sweets (in moderation): Jams and jellies (without high-fructose corn syrup), Honey, Maple syrup
For Non-vegetarians with a history of high uric acid levels making mindful food choices is important.
Here are some alternatives to choose:
- Eggs, are a great source of protein and are also low in purine
- While opting for animal meat, choose lean meat like skinless chicken, turkey, or a lean cut of other cattle.
- Fishes like salmon, red snapper, tuna, catfish, tilapia, flounder, trout, and cod. These options are low purine and gout friendly.
- Seafood like scallops, shrimp, crab and lobsters can be consumed in moderation
Additional special note for non-vegetarians diagnosed with high serum uric acid levels, gout or uric acid stones in the kidney-
- For three weeks shift to a completely balanced and nourishing vegetarian menu preferably under the guidance of a nutritionist.
- With medical and nutritional guidance, work on managing diabetes, blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.
- Eat wholesome foods to improve gut health using diet and supplements prescribed by the nutritionist.
- Start a holistic weight reduction strategy
- Reduce stress, relax, and be more mindful about lifestyle, better physical activity, and exercise.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking, and tobacco.
- Start anti-inflammatory strategies under the guidance of a nutritionist. Here are some ways to do so- Inclusion of flaxseeds, walnuts, mustard oil, turmeric, whole grains, and pulses, plenty of vegetables, and adequate fruits.
- Try to reduce the intake of sugar and salt in the diet.
(By following this, you should see the uric acid levels lowering in this time)
- Post relief in the uric acid levels, you can start with lean meats thrice a week. After two weeks you can start with low purine fish as prescribed in the list above.
- Remember, Moderation is the key and you must maintain a good diet and lifestyle.
This will eventually help you live a life that has better quality, bettered mobility and less pain.
It’s time to burst some myths and create the necessary awareness!
- Myth: All vegetables are high in purines and should be avoided by individuals with gout.
Reality: While some vegetables do contain moderate levels of purines, most vegetables are relatively low in purines compared to animal-based foods, especially organ meats and certain seafood. Additionally, the purines found in plant-based foods are less likely to increase uric acid levels significantly compared to high-purine animal-based foods.
- Myth: Vegetables like spinach, mushrooms and asparagus are dangerous for individuals with gout.
Reality: While spinach, mushrooms and asparagus do contain moderate levels of purines, they are not considered dangerous for individuals with gout when consumed in moderation. These vegetables also offer various essential nutrients and health benefits. It is all about balancing the intake and considering the overall dietary purine load.
- Myth: Consuming fruits and vegetables high in fructose worsens gout.
Reality: While excessive intake of fructose, particularly from sugary beverages and processed foods, has been associated with an increased risk of gout, the fructose naturally found in whole fruits and vegetables is not a significant concern for gout when consumed in reasonable amounts.
- Myth: Vegetarians are more prone to developing gout because of their vegetable rich diet.
Reality: There is no substantial evidence to suggest that following a vegetarian diet increases the risk of developing gout. In fact, a well-balanced vegetarian diet that includes a variety of low-purine vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant-based proteins may have beneficial effects on gout management.
- Myth: All legumes are bad for gout because they are high in purines.
Reality: Legumes, including lentils, beans, and peas, do contain some purines, but they are also rich in fiber, plant-based protein, and other nutrients. When consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, legumes are unlikely to significantly impact uric acid levels.
Medical action for high uric acid levels : The medical management of high uric acid levels involves various approaches. This approach aims at reducing uric acid production, increasing its excretion, and preventing related complications such as gout and kidney stones.
- Medications, NSAIDS, Corticosteroids, managing comorbidities causing hyperuricemia.
- Further, medications to alkalinize urine is also often recommended. (For better solubility and excretion of uric acid.
- Medical professionals provide medications to tackle gout attacks by reducing the inflammation of the joints.
- Further Lifestyle changes including weight management and hydration is advised.
It’s important to note that hyperuricemia does not always lead to symptoms or complications. However, if symptoms such as severe joint pain or kidney stone-related symptoms are present, medical attention should be sought promptly for a proper diagnosis and appropriate management. For individuals at risk of hyperuricemia, health check-ups, nutritional counseling and blood tests can help detect elevated uric acid levels.
Regular follow-up with your doctor and the nutritionist is crucial to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment and make any necessary adjustments.
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Stay Blessed! 😊