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Miocene Meteorites and Uric Acid

Human beings lost the ability to detoxify uric acid millions of years ago. What implications does this have for our health today?

January 2, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

Gagliardi AC, Miname MH, Santos RD. Uric acid: A marker of increased cardiovascular risk. Atherosclerosis. 2009 Jan;202(1):11-7.

Chen JH, Chuang SY, Chen HJ, Yeh WT, Pan WH. Serum uric acid level as an independent risk factor for all-cause, cardiovascular, and ischemic stroke mortality: a Chinese cohort study. Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Feb 15;61(2):225-32.

Bhole V, Choi JW, Kim SW, de Vera M, Choi H.Serum uric acid levels and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective study. Am J Med. 2010 Oct;123(10):957-61.

Kim SY, Guevara JP, Kim KM, Choi HK, Heitjan DF, Albert DA. Hyperuricemia and coronary heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2010 Feb;62(2):170-80.

Grayson PC, Kim SY, LaValley M, Choi HK. Hyperuricemia and incident hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2011 Jan;63(1):102-10.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2001. 12th Report on Carcinogens.

Cornelia Meyer, Michel Jébrak, Dieter Stöffler, Ulrich Riller. Lateral transport of suevite inferred from 3D shape-fabric analysis: Evidence from the Ries impact crater, Germany. Geological Society of America Bulletin November 2011 vol. 123 no. 11-12 2312-2319.

Gibbons A.Breakthrough of the year. Ardipithecus ramidus. Science. 2009 Dec 18;326(5960):1598-9.

Johnson RJ, Sautin YY, Oliver WJ, Roncal C, Mu W, Gabriela Sanchez-Lozada L, Rodriguez-Iturbe B, Nakagawa T, Benner SA. Lessons from comparative physiology: could uric acid represent a physiologic alarm signal gone awry in western society? J Comp Physiol B. 2009 Jan;179(1):67-76.


Images thanks to: 36ophiuchi, Jay Matternes, H. Raab, and James Heilman, MD via Wikimedia Commons; and Don Davis, tedmurphy, and Stacey.


It all started about 15 million years ago. It was the Miocene epoch. Things seemed to be going pretty good until, it seems, two flaming meteorites smashed into what’s now Germany with an estimated power of a couple million Hiroshimas. The crater looks quaint now, but at the time, there was a mass extinction event, wiping many animals out, but not the common ancestor of the Great Apes, of which we are one, who developed a mutation that may have allowed them to thrive. They lost the ability to detoxify uric acid. Why is that a good thing? Uric acid is naturally produced by the body and may help us hold onto fat, which is good when there’s not a lot of food around with the pesky asteroids and all. Also helps us retain sodium, which is good if you there aren’t a lot of salt shakers out on the savannah, and it acts chemically as an antioxidant, which is good since green tea hadn’t been invented yet. The problem is it’s a tightrope; you don’t want to have too much in your blood, which may be why other mammals retained an enzyme to get rid of the stuff. Fast forward 15 million years. When salt and calories abound, the last thing we need is more sodium and fat retention. But the antioxidant part we like. Unfortunately, not all antioxidant compounds are necessarily good for you. For example, the preservative BHA and work by preventing the oxidation of foods, but is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. Similarly, uric acid is chemically an antioxidant, but when you have too much in your blood it can crystalize in your joints, a disease called gout, and high uric acid levels may also put us at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and death. So keeping one’s uric acid levels low is an important dietary goal {and we'll explore how, tomorrow}.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This is the first of a three part video series on sugar. What does uric acid have to do with sugar? Stay tuned for Friday’s video of the day Flesh and Fructose. Gout is one of the "diseases of kings" that used to only affect the 1%, the tiny minority eating rich diets. Now we can all dine like royalty three times a day and suffer from the same diseases. The "peasant food" choices, the cheapest plant foods, are often the healthiest. See Eating Healthy on the Cheap and Biggest Nutrition Bang For Your Buck. For more on the dangers of excess sodium consumption see Dietary Guidelines With a Grain of Big Salt and Salt OK if Blood Pressure is OK?. For more on eating based on our evolutionary heritage, see Paleolithic Lessons.

For some context, please check out my associated blog post:  Uric Acid From Meat and Sugar

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  • HemoDynamic, M.D.

    That never taught that in med school! That is some cool physiologic history!
    Great job!

  • Thea

    I LOVE the picture of the evolving man. Too funny.

    This is super-fascinating information. I can’t wait until the next video. I’m sorry that you didn’t get enough money to continue doing a video every single day. Maybe that will change in the future.

  • Herman Braekmans

    Sour cherries are one of the best ways to reduce uric acid. It is an old remedy against gout.

    • Rph1978

      Yes, cherries has been studied in gout patients. One study has shown that 280 g (45 cherries) can reduce plasma uric acid levels over a 5 hour period after consumption. Journal of Nutrition June 1, 2003 vol. 133 no. 6 1826-1829 and other studies have shown that cherry consumption in conjunction with the drug allopurinol reduced the incidence of gout flareups significantly.Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Dec;64(12):4004-11.

  • Mike

    Did I consent to your use of my picture in the evolution sequence? LOL

  • eversor

    What do you think about fruitarians?


  • Scott

    Hi Dr. Greger,
    I have two family members with “low thyroid” who take pills every day. Is it possible for them to get off the medication with a vegan diet? I would love to see a video from you on this subject.
    Thank you!

    • ping-pong-pete


      Have them watch Fork’s Over Knives and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.

    • Veganrunner

      Hi Scott,

      I am on thyroid medication. My dosage decreased but as far as stopping–no such luck.

  • Gary L. Pyles

    i enjoy most of the videos but this one is the exception. The first part is presented as fact when without empirical scientific evidence it is only theory. At best it is conjecture and circumstantial findings. However, uric acid in abnormal amounts is dangerous and needs to be dealt with. Thanks for that presentation.