Once upon a time, about 16 million years ago, a few brave apes left 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 the fruits that apes thrived on became increasingly scarce. They turned to roots and tubers and stopped living in trees, suggesting the diet had shifted away from a mostly fruit-based diet. Striations or ridges found in their teeth suggested that these brave apes went through bouts of starving during the winter when foods were hard to come by. (1)
Eventually, these brave apes either died off or migrated back to Africa, but they didn’t come back empty-handed. Many researchers believe that these apes brought with them a genetic mutation to better tolerate famine that we still carry today. This mutation, however, is now being linked to our modern epidemic of blood sugar, weight management and heart health– related issues. (1,5)
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 them metabolize fruit as energy much better than we can today. The enzyme, called uricase, helps to 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. Without this enzyme, a high-fructose diet would build excessive uric acid in the blood, and cause inflammation, oxidative stress, kidney damage, high blood pressure, diabetic blood sugar concerns and obesity. (1-15)
As the earth cooled, the apes in Eurasia genetically blocked the 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 the fall from gorging on fruits. The uric acid surge in the fall would force the 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 the fall and much less in the spring, suggesting that we are more connected to the seasonal rhythms than we might be aware of. (2)
Today, humans lack this uricase enzyme, which suggests we may be better equipped for the famine than we are for the 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 health issues, it is rarely measured in the blood unless there is related joint pain or gout. (1)
Many studies are suggesting that the epidemic of blood sugar concerns we are facing may be related to higher-than-healthy levels of uric acid, which are just not commonly tested. If you have morning fasting blood sugar levels that are not coming down as you would like, get your uric acid levels tested and let’s make sure we are targeting the right imbalance. (5)
Red meat, because of its 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 relations to weight gain, heart health and diabetes is rarely screened by doctors. (3,4,5) Gout, as one common example of uric acid build-up, is when the uric acid builds up so high that it crystallizes in the blood and causes intense joint pain.
In one study on overweight adolescents that had blood pressure concerns, 90% of them had high uric acid levels. When they lowered the uric acid with a drug called allopurinol, 85% of the kids saw significant improvements in their blood pressure levels. (3)
Ask To Get Your Uric Acid Levels Tested
The insidiously high uric acid levels in the west can be directly implicated in our epidemic of heart, weight, joint and blood sugar-related issues, which should make screening for uric acid a part of the routine check-up.
New studies are suggesting that uric acid “normal ranges” need to be revised, as the current “normal” allows folks to accumulate too many uric acid crystals in the blood and still be considered normal. (6) For now, we must be sure to ask for it. Next time you get a blood test, be sure to ask them to run a serum uric acid measurement.
The Current Normal Range for Uric Acid:
- Adult males: 3.5 – 7.2 mg/dL
- Adult females: 2.6 – 6.0 mg/dL
The New Suggested Normal Range for Uric Acid (6):
- Adult males and females: less than 6.0 mg/dL
Avoid High-Uric Acid Foods
The foods that are high in uric acid are the purine-rich foods, which should be reduced in the diet. Some of these foods can be part of a healthy diet. It is always about balance and moderation. The highest purine rich foods are (7):
Foods with very high purine levels (up to 1,000 mg per 3.5 ounce serving):
Foods with high and moderately high purine levels (5-100 mg per 3.5 ounce serving):
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Navy beans
- Calf Tongue
- Chicken soup
The science makes the case that, in order to reduce uric acid levels, a reduction in foods rich in high fructose corn syrup, sugar, processed foods, meat, seafood and alcohol is pertinent. (8) Interestingly, dairy was shown to reduce uric acid, while soy increased 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 and Lime – Nature’s plan for mitigating the consumption of large amounts of uric acid-building fruits was vitamin C, which has been shown to naturally reduce uric acid levels. Lemons and limes are 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 – There are many studies suggesting the 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 the summer, nature made sure to offer some uric acid-lowering agents each winter as well. Since uric acid levels rise in the winter and fruits are mostly unavailable – the 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 stress-fighting, immune-boosting effects.
- Cinnamon – In the winter months, 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 been shown to support healthy levels of uric acid. (15)
- Probiotics – The gut microbiome is responsible for breaking down about 30% of the body’s uric acid. Therefore, it is key to keep the good bacteria flourishing. See our 4-Step Probiotic Plan here. One 2014 Chinese study showed that lactic acid bacteria has the ability to efficiently metabolize purines and break down the uric acid, with the strain DM9218 being particularly effective. (16) DM9218 has the highest similarity to the commonly used probiotic strain, Lactobacillus plantarum.