Purines Role in Gout


Purines are naturally broken down into our system when we digest food. But when an excess of purines can’t be properly utilized by the body uric acid becomes too high for the system to handle. The human body’s uric acid threshold is 6mg per 100ml of blood, when we reach this threshold a condition called gout occurs.

What Foods Have High Purine Levels?

When you’re looking at what to eat and what not to eat when you have gout, you’ll need to be aware that foods with higher purine levels will increase your uric acid levels. Foods that contain a lot of protein and/or carbohydrates are key suspects for having a high purine level. Here’s a quick look at some of the most common foods and their purine levels:

Foods with moderate to high purine levels:

  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mussels
  • Trout
  • Grouse
  • Turkey – white meat only (dark meat has low uric acid content)

If you have gout, you’ll want to know about purines. But first, let’s talk about uric acid because that’s what purines break down into.

Uric acid is a waste product that’s produced when your body breaks down a chemical called purine. Purine is naturally found in your body tissues and most foods.

Purines are naturally broken down into our system when we digest food. But when an excess of purines can’t be properly utilized by the body, uric acid becomes too high for the system to handle.

High levels of uric acid build up in the body and are known as hyperuricemia, which can lead to crystallization and gout symptoms.

Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that occurs when uric acid builds up in the bloodstream and forms crystals around the joints — most often in the big toe joint.

Why Gout Occurs

Gout occurs when the body produces too much uric acid and too little is removed by the kidneys. Symptoms include sudden, severe pain, redness and swelling in joints, most often in the big toe. Uric acid comes from purines — substances that occur naturally in our bodies as well as foods such as meat and seafood.

How does purine contribute to gout? Purines are broken down into uric acid by the body. When there is an excess of purines consumed, uric acid levels can increase in the body. This is especially true if the kidneys are not functioning properly and cannot adequately remove excess uric acid through urine. When this happens, uric acid levels can become too high for the system to handle, causing a buildup of sharp urate crystals in joints and soft tissues. This leads to inflammation and gout attacks.

Gout is a type of arthritis that can affect anyone. It is common and it can be very severe. This type of arthritis is often characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, swelling, redness and tenderness in one or more joints. The most commonly affected joint is the big toe.

Purine Rich Foods

Purines are found in all the cells of our body and in many foods. When we digest food, purines break down into uric acid. Normally, our kidneys are able to filter out excess uric acid, but when too much is produced or the kidneys can’t keep up with excretion, it builds up in the bloodstream and forms needle-like crystals in one or more joints. This causes inflammation, which results in the uncomfortable symptoms of gout.

Purine-rich foods include organ meats (such as liver, brains, and sweetbreads), sardines, anchovies, herring, and mackerel. Other purine-rich foods include mushrooms, asparagus, and beans.

Certain foods contain a high level of purines, which can trigger gout attacks. In fact, diet is one of the most common causes of gout. When we eat food that is rich in purines, our body breaks down the purines into uric acid. If an excess amount of uric acid is produced and cannot be properly excreted by the kidneys, it can then deposit into the joints and soft tissues where it forms crystals that cause inflammation and pain.

  • A few examples of foods rich in purines include:
  • Red meat (e.g., beef and lamb)
  • Organ meat (e.g., liver and kidney)
  • Seafood (e.g., anchovies, sardines and scallops)
  • Processed meats (e.g., bacon, sausage and bologna)
  • Sugary beverages such as soft drinks

Purines are found in many foods, ranging from meat to vegetables and even beverages like alcohol. To some extent we all ingest purines every day. But for someone with gout, these purines can be a major source of flare-ups.

When you have gout, the purines you eat get converted into uric acid in your body. Uric acid is normally dissolved in your blood and passes through your kidneys into your urine. But when there’s too much uric acid in your blood, it turns into crystals that collect around joints—causing sudden and severe episodes of pain and swelling called gout attacks.

  • Purine-rich foods include:
  • Meats such as bacon, beef, lamb, pork and veal
  • Organ meats such as brain, kidneys, liver and sweetbreads
  • Seafood including anchovies, herring, mackerel, sardines and scallops

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