What Is Uric Acid? Vital Friend Or Deadly Foe?

I get asked every day, “What is uric acid?”

Chemically, it is a very weak organic acid, but that does not help you understand it, or it’s relationship with gout.

Medically, it is thought to be vital to our health, and our ability to stand upright.

But our uric acid control mechanisms are complicated, and if it gets out of balance, high uric acid leads to gouty arthritis. And worse.

The American Society for Clinical Investigation has recently reviewed the purpose of uric acid and its relationship with gout and other diseases.

“Uric acid transport and disease”[1] introduces its review with reference to the role of uric acid in evolution[2]. Humans have much higher levels of uric acid than many other animals because we no longer produce uricase naturally, which reduces uric acid to allantoin.

In other articles, I look at allantoin; how bacteria in our guts retain the ability to reduce uric acid; and how new drugs like rasburicase (sold under the Elitek brand) and peglioticase (sold under the Krystexxa brand) can reintroduce uricase to our bodies.

Here, I focus on what uric acid is. The report continues with some of the known benefits of uric acid.

Uric Acid: Vital Friend

The uric acid review highlights benefits of uric acid[3] including:

  • Powerful antioxidant properties
  • Fights heart disease
  • Fights cancer
  • Extends lifespan

Of course, these benefits are not always without consequences. We are aware that uric acid probably plays a part in raising blood pressure in order to walk upright, but this relies on several processes in our bodies to produce uric acid from dead body cells. These can be our own cells or animal cells that we eat.

Our kidneys try to regulate the uric acid concentration in our blood. They filter out uric acid, then release back enough to maintain our vital functions. When systems go out-of-balance, complex factors can interact to cause problems in other areas. Often, we can see statistical associations with other diseases and conditions even though the causal links are not yet clear.

Uric Acid: Deadly Foe

The uric acid review continues to describe problems with high uric acid levels. This condition, known as hyperuricemia, is associated with several problems including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes or high blood pressure or obesity with heart disease or stroke or other blood circulation problems)

This of course is in addition to the problems directly associated with gout, discussed at length throughout this site, including:

  • Kidney inflammation and stones.
  • Bone, cartilage, and tendon destruction.

The report continues with a summary of emerging genetic investigation. I will review this area of gout research separately, as it addresses the “Why” rather than “What” of uric acid. But as of 2014, deadly gout is becoming a stark, but avoidable reality. Also see Can Gout Kill You?

Next Steps To Answer “What Is Uric Acid?”

You’ve learned that uric acid is a component of our blood that is vital to human health, but destructive when we have too much. This is why you must control it to avoid serious long-term health problems, and not simply relieve gout pain.

You can learn more about the properties of uric acid and how it affects gouty arthritis in the “Understanding Uric Acid & Gout” section.


References For “What Is Uric Acid?”

  1. Author: So A, Thorens B. Title: Uric acid transport and disease. Published: J Clin Invest. 2010 Jun 1;120(6):1791-9.
  2. Author: Oda M, Satta Y, Takenaka O, Takahata N. Title: Loss of urate oxidase activity in hominoids and its evolutionary implications. Published: Mol Biol Evol. 2002 May;19(5):640-53.
  3. Author: Ames BN, Cathcart R, Schwiers E, Hochstein P. Title: Uric acid provides an antioxidant defense in humans against oxidant- and radical-caused aging and cancer: a hypothesis. Published: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1981 Nov;78(11):6858-62.

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