If you know anything about uric acid, it’s probably because you have gout. Gout is formed by the accumulation of urate crystals in your joint, which causes inflammation and intense pain. Urate crystals can form when your levels of uric acid in your blood are too high.
Your body produces uric acid when it breaks down purines, which are substances that are found naturally in your body. They’re also found in certain foods and drinks, like steak, seafood, beer, and drinks that have been sweetened with fruit sugar.
Uric acid is supposed to dissolve in your blood and pass through your kidneys into your urine. But sometimes your body ends up producing too much uric acid, or your kidneys don’t excrete enough uric acid as waste. This can cause a build-up of uric acid, which forms sharp crystals in a joint or surrounding tissue, resulting in a lot of pain and discomfort.
Symptoms of High Uric Acid
You’re more at risk of developing high uric acid if you’re African American, a man, or a person of older age. Other risk factors for high uric acid include alcohol use, certain medications, high blood pressure, and obesity.
If you think you might have high uric acid in your blood, there are a few symptoms you’ll most likely display. These symptoms usually come on suddenly, especially at night, and include:
Intense joint pain
When your increased uric acid causes gout, it’s common for this to affect the large joint of your big toe. With that said, it is possible for gout to occur in any joint.
Some of the other commonly affected joints include your ankles, knees, elbows, wrists and fingers. You’ll most likely experience a severe pain within the first four to 12 hours after it begins.
If you’re experiencing a gout flare-up, even after the most severe pain goes away, you’ll be left with some joint discomfort that could last from a few days to a few weeks. The longer your uric acid levels remain high for, the longer your gout attacks are likely to last for, and the more discomfort you’ll feel in the aftermath.
Inflammation and limited movement
Aside from pain and discomfort, another common sign of a gout flare-up is on the skin of your affected joint. The joint may appear swollen, tender, warm to touch and red. You may also experience a limited range of motion, especially as your gout progresses. Eventually, you might not be able to move your joints normally.
When you have too much uric acid in your blood, it can also cause kidney stones. This happens when uric acid crystals combine together into one mass.
The stones are normally small enough to pass out of your body in your urine, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, they become too big to pass and can end up blocking parts of your urinary tract, which can cause pain or aching in your lower back, side, or abdomen. You may also experience nausea, an increased need to urinate, and pain while urinating.
Foods to Avoid
People with high levels of uric acid need to avoid certain foods that could make their symptoms worse. Foods containing purine can cause gout flare-ups, and are worth avoiding as much as possible. This is because when you eat foods that contain purines, your body breaks them down into uric acid.
If you have gout, dishes like chopped liver and liver and onions are best staying away from, along with other organ meats like kidney, heart, sweetbread, and tripe, as these are all high in purines.
Instead, you should aim to include other meats like poultry and beef in your diet. These contain fewer purines, so you can safely eat them in moderation.
You could also get creative with your cooking and try a vegetarian pate recipe made from mushrooms and walnuts. This provides the flavour of liver, but it’s made with ingredients that don’t aggravate gout symptoms in the same way.
2. Soft Drinks
The sugar fructose in soft drinks isn’t actually high in purines itself, but your body breaks it down to form purines. When you drink fizzy beverages made with high-fructose corn syrup, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk of gout. One study even found that men who drank two or more servings of fizzy drinks per day had an eighty-five percent higher risk of gout than men who had less than one per month.
Switch up your full-fat fizzy drinks with diet versions. These drinks don’t seem to be connected with gout in the same way, so they’re a good option if you need help transitioning off the sugary stuff.
Obviously, it’s still not a good idea for your health to drink too many diet sodas anyway, so make sure you’re also getting enough healthy hydration. Try water flavoured with lemon and lime slices, or unsweetened seltzer in appealing flavours like passionfruit and vanilla.
Certain types of seafood — anchovies, mussels, crab, shrimp, sardines, herring, trout, mackerel, for example— have moderate to high levels of purines. One study found that men who ate the most seafood were more than fifty percent more likely to have high levels of uric acid compared with men who ate the least.
As fish is a heart-healthy food, it makes sense to keep it in your diet, but you don’t need to go with anything that will aggravate your gout flare-ups. One safer option is to try fish like sole and cod, both of which are lower in purines.
You can also experiment with smaller servings of higher-purine fish, making sure not to go any bigger than the size of your palm, and balancing your meal out with a big serving of vegetables. Don’t forget to add a squeeze of lemon, as lemon juice is thought to help to neutralize uric acid.
Beer in particular is known to be a bad one when it comes to gout attacks, but really, it seems that any type of alcoholic beverage is high in purines and may be just as risky. If you drink even a small amount of wine, beer, or liquor, you’re more likely to have an increased risk of a gout attack, according to a 2014 study. In the study, the more alcohol participants drank, the greater their risk became.
The sad truth is, no alcohol is a better option if you’re trying to prevent gout attacks. If you’re not prepared to cut the good stuff out, though, take a “less is more” approach. You can still enjoy drinking alcohol, in moderation – just try capping it at no more than one serving per day if you’re a woman, or two servings per day if you’re a man.
Foods to Eat
The general rules of a gout diet follow typical healthy-diet recommendations. For example, as being overweight increases the risk of developing gout, you can reduce this risk by eating foods to help you lose weight.
Research has found that reducing the number of calories you eat on a daily basis, and losing weight — even without restricting the purine in your diet — can lower uric acid levels and reduce the number of gout attacks. Losing weight also lessens the overall stress on joints, which is certainly a handy factor if you’re dealing with gout.
Other foods and food groups you should aim to eat more of include:
Try to add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet, as these provide complex carbohydrates. It’s a good idea to replace white grains with whole grains, too, as a study found that limiting foods with a high glycaemic index like white bread, pasta, and white rice can help to reduce uric acid levels and possibly prevent gout onset or flares.
Try starting your day with a fulfilling whole grain breakfast to keep your energy levels high all day and stop you from reaching for sugary snacks.
In all instances, hydration is key. If you want to prevent gout flare-ups, you need to stay well-hydrated by drinking water.
Water is needed to help the kidneys flush out waste products, including excess uric acid. Just make sure to stick to the recommended two litres of water per day, and spread it out throughout the day, as an excessive water intake has been linked to an increased risk of gout.
The anti-inflammatory compounds in cherries are thought to provide a protective effect for people with high uric acid. One study tracked more than 600 people with gout, and found that when participants ate cherries over a two-day period, they experienced a thirty-five percent lower risk of gout attacks.
Milk proteins have been shown in research to decrease blood levels of uric acid, by supporting the elimination of acid in your urine. If you’re a dairy lover, stocking up on yogurt and milk will work in your favour. Just make sure to stick to low-fat dairy products to stay healthy.
Good news for anyone who can’t function without a cup of coffee – it’s been proven to reduce uric acid levels! A review of nine studies found that in both men and women, coffee significantly reduced uric acid levels in the blood, and drinking one cup per day or more was linked to a reduced gout risk. If you needed an excuse to enjoy your morning cuppa, now you have one.
The symptoms of high uric acid are far from pleasant, and in all cases, you’ll need to seek medical treatment to keep your pain and discomfort under control. But by making the right amendments, you’ll be able to reduce gout flare-ups and prevent the formation of kidney stones.
Try following your own personalised gout diet based on the recommended low uric acid foods mentioned in this video. The more creative you can get with your recipes, the more fun you’ll have!
Remember, while high uric acid isn’t life-threatening, it can cause serious health problems that may prove fatal if left untreated. Make sure to get the support you need if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve discussed, and speak to your doctor about your dietary plans if you’re unsure.
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