Image Credit: Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Uric Acid From Meat & Sugar

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

Our story starts 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. As you can see in my 3-min. video Miocene Meteorites and Uric Acid, the crater looks quaint now, but at the time, there was a mass extinction event, wiping many animals out. Thankfully, the common ancestor of human beings and other great apes developed a mutation that may have helped them survive. We lost the ability to detoxify uric acid. Why was 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 thanks to pesky asteroids. Uric acid also helps us retain sodium, which is good if there aren’t a lot of salt shakers out on the savannah, and it also acts chemically as an antioxidant, which is good since green tea hadn’t been invented yet.

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 us. For example, the preservative chemical BHA works 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 crystallize in your joints, causing a painful disease called gout. 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. How do we do that? By avoiding meat and sugar (see my 2-min video Flesh and Fructose).

No surprise that the meat and sugar industries both got upset with the latest round of dietary guidance from the federal government. See Dietary Guidelines: Pushback From Sugar, Salt and Meat Industries and Dietary Guidelines: Corporate Guidance.

Gout is one of the diseases of royalty that used to only affect the “1%,” the tiny minority eating rich diets. Now we can all dine like kings and queens 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.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

12 responses to “Uric Acid From Meat & Sugar

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  1. Love your prescriptions for good health – served up with a good dose of humor. Thank Dr. Greger, for keeping us informed and grinning!

  2. Yes, hyperuricemia or high level uric acid in urine are meaning concentratiom of uric acid higher than normal level with symptoms in joint pain as arthritis, better be DIET low purine in meat or another

  3. Unfortunately, uric acid is one of few serum antioxidants that readily pass the blood-brain barrier in physiologically meaningful quantities. The supplement inosine is metabolized to uric acid, and is presently in phase II trials for MS and Parkinson’s treatment.

    I summarized some of my literature search for non-gouty alternatives in comments on this video on Parkinson’s.

  4. I suffer from gout and I am a vegan. I do eat a lot of fruit but find it does not give me gout. The main source seems to be from mushrooms. I eat one button mushroom and I pay for it the next day. Measurements of my Uric Acid levels show them to be paradoxically low. I am also a heart attack survivor. Does any one have any suggestions on how I might be able to avoid Gout when eating mushrooms?

    1. Lawrence: I’m not a doctor and don’t have any experience or knowledge of gout myself. But in reading your post, I wondered if you have been accurately diagnosed? You say that your uric acid levels are low where I thought that high uric acid levels went hand in hand with gout. Perhaps a second opinion would be good???

      That’s the only thought I have. I hope you are able to find a way to eat mushrooms since they are just so yummy.

      Good luck.

    2. I got terrible gout attacks from Spinach……. I’m lucky I don’t like mushrooms – which are high in purines also.

  5. Does uric acid also impair endothelial function / flow-mediated dialtion (FMD)? I’ve heard there’s maybe some correlation, though it’s hard to suss out cause from effect? Might explain why “sugar” (one assumes fructose-containing sugars like sucrose or HFCS) may impair FMD / endothelial function (difference between ‘cocoa powder’ & ‘chocolate’ in arterial function)?

    Just thinking out loud…


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