Our Ancestors: Fruit + Famine
Once upon a time, about 26 million years ago, apes in Africa lived in a flourishing tropical garden, where their next meal, likely some ancient version of a banana, was just a few feet away. They were mostly fruitarians, and they had a special enzyme that helped metabolize fruit as energy much better than we can today. The enzyme, called uricase, helps break down uric acid in the blood, which is a major waste product of fructose metabolism. With the enzyme uricase, these ancient apes could eat as much fruit as they liked.1-15
About 16 million years ago, a few brave apes left the garden of Eden in East Africa and wandered north across land bridges into Eurasia—Turkey, to be exact. Life was so good that some eight species of apes flourished in Turkey, as did elephants, giraffes, and antelope, according to fossil digs.1
Unfortunately, they too had to deal with climate change! The earth cooled, and fruits that apes thrived on became increasingly scarce. They turned to roots and tubers and stopped living in trees. Striations or ridges in their teeth suggest these brave apes went through bouts of starving during winter, when food was hard to come by.1
As the earth cooled, apes in Eurasia genetically blocked production of the uric acid-degrading uricase enzyme in an effort to ward off starvation.
Without the uricase enzyme, uric acid levels rise very high in fall from gorging on fruits. The uric acid surge in fall would force excess uric acid to convert to fat to resist starvation, add winter insulation, and be used as an energy reserve all winter. Interestingly, today, uric acid levels in humans are still higher in fall and much less in spring, suggesting we are more connected to seasonal rhythms than we might be aware of.2
Famine Resistance: Not So Good for Modern Life
Eventually, the brave apes either died off or migrated back to Africa, but not empty-handed. Many researchers believe these apes brought the genetic uricase-blocking mutation to better tolerate famine that we still carry today. Sadly, this mutation is now linked to our epidemic of blood sugar, weight management, and heart health issues.1,5
Today, humans lack the uricase enzyme, which means we actually are better equipped for famine than for feast. Studies suggest that because of overeating and ingesting foods higher in uric acid (such as high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, red meat, seafood, and processed foods), uric acid levels are soaring in our Western world.4 While high uric acid levels are as common as high cholesterol in folks with heart issues, it is rarely measured unless there is joint pain or gout.1
Many studies suggest that the epidemic of blood sugar concerns may be related to higher-than-healthy uric acid levels, which are just not commonly tested. If you have morning fasting blood sugar levels that don’t come down as you would like, get your uric acid levels tested and make sure we are targeting the right imbalance. 5
Red meat, because of high uric acid content, is linked to gout, poor heart health, and weight gain; but uric acid is so stereotypically a gout issue that its relation to weight gain, heart health, and diabetes is rarely screened.3-5 Gout is one common example of uric acid build-up, when it builds up so high that it crystalizes in the blood and causes intense joint pain.
In one study on overweight adolescents with blood pressure concerns, 90% had high uric acid levels. When they lowered uric acid with a drug called allopurinol, 85% saw significant improvement in blood pressure levels.3
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Ask to Have Your Uric Acid Levels Tested
With uric acid levels insidiously high in the West and directly implicated in our epidemic of heart, weight, joint, and blood sugar-related issues, be sure to have your uric acid levels checked. Next time you get a blood test, ask them to run a serum uric acid measurement.
New studies suggest uric acid “normal ranges” need to be revised, as the current “normal” allows folks to accumulate too many uric acid crystals in the blood.6 The recent increase in uric acid levels, linked to a host of heart, weight, and blood sugar concerns, should make screening for uric acid part of a routine check-up. But for now, we must be sure to ask for it.
Current Normal Range for Uric Acid
- Adult males: 3.5 – 7.2 mg/dL
- Adult females: 2.6 – 6.0 mg/dL
Suggested Normal Range for Uric Acid6
- Adults: less than 6.0 mg/dl
Avoid High-Uric Acid Foods
Foods high in uric acid are also high in purine, which should be reduced. However, some of these foods can be part of a healthy diet. It is always about balance and moderation.
Very High-Purine Foods (Up to 1,000 mg per 3.5 oz Serving)7
High + Moderately High-Purine Foods (5-100 mg per 3.5 oz Serving)
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Navy beans
- Calf Tongue
- Chicken soup
The science makes the case that, in order to reduce uric acid, reduce high fructose corn syrup, sugar, processed foods, meat, seafood, and alcohol.8 Interestingly, dairy was shown to reduce uric acid, while soy increases it. Fructose in fruits are fine, which is likely due to the natural vitamin C content in fruits: nature’s way of reducing uric acid levels.9
Natural Agents to Lower Uric Acid
- Lemons + Limes | Nature’s plan for mitigating consumption of large amounts of uric acid-building fruits was vitamin C. Lemons and limes are a great sources of vitamin C. In one study, just 500mg of vitamin C daily was enough to lower uric acid levels.10,11 Bonus: A small glass of lemon or lime juice before a meal also boosts digestive strength.
- Tart Cherries | Many studies suggest benefits of tart cherries for joint, heart, and circulatory health. Tart cherries are an accepted means for lowering uric acid levels.12 Tart cherry concentrates make a great spring-summer drink.
- Triphala | There are three vitamin C-rich fruits in triphala, which are well studied to effectively lower uric acid levels.14 In addition to triphala supporting healthy elimination and liver function, it may also protect you from rising uric acid levels.
- Ashwagandha | While cherries and vitamin C-rich foods are abundant in summer, nature made sure to offer some uric acid-lowering agents each winter as well. Since uric acid levels rise in winter and fruits are mostly unavailable, ashwagandha root has been shown in a variety of studies to effectively lower uric acid.13 Adding ashwagandha to your winter herb list may offer some new benefits beyond its well-known stress-fighting, immune-boosting effects.
- Cinnamon | In winter, when we need to lower uric acid levels more than ever, cinnamon can provide some tasty support. In a handful of studies, cinnamon oil (cassia) has shown to support healthy uric acid levels.15
- Probiotics | The gut microbiome is responsible for breaking down ~30% of the body’s uric acid. So, it is key to keep good bacteria flourishing. See our 4-Step Probiotic Kit here. One 2014 Chinese study shows that lactic acid bacteria can efficiently metabolize purines and break down uric acid, with the strain DM9218 being particularly effective.16 DM9218 has the highest similarity to the commonly used probiotic strain Lactobacillus plantarum.
If you are at all concerned about blood sugar, joint, and heart health, I hope you have learned something about the little-known culprit of uric acid—get it checked, avoid too many purine-rich foods, and take natural measures to maintain healthy uric acid levels.