The Other Side Of Uric Acid
Uric acid is widely known to be the “bad boy” that causes the fearful acute attack of joints known as gout, which may happen just overnight. Men are at greater risk of contracting gout. An elevated uric acid level is enough to raise this alarm to many. However before panicking, let us first get to know uric acid.
Uric acid is formed in the biochemistry pathways of purines group of nucleic acids: adenine and guanine. The catabolism of these nucleic acids bring many functions to the cells such as to regulate the protein synthesis as well as forming the DNA, blueprint of all cells. In the metabolic pathway, adenine and guanine will be converted to xanthine, which later is converted to uric acid. This acid, naturally, dissolves in our blood and passes through our kidneys and filtered out of our body into urine.
Hyperuricemia is a condition when the level of uric acid in our body elevates above normal. This can happen due to a few factors such as body increases the production of uric acid, kidneys do not eliminate enough uric acid and the person consuming too much food that can increase uric acid.
Most individuals with hyperuricemia have no problem as this condition is not a disease. However, in a small percentage of individuals, hyperuricemia may lead to deposits of uric acid crystals, which brings about danger.
Uric Acid Crystals and Gout
Uric acid crystallizes in the orthorhombic system just like sulfur and topaz. Uric acid crystals can appear in several shapes like thin rhombus shaped plates, hexagonal plates, the needle and the rosette. Excess of these sharp crystals usually deposit in our musculoskeletal system such as the spaces between our joints, tendons and ligaments. This causes inflammation that lead to pain and is known medically as gout, a form of arthritic degenerative disease.
Gout causes pain, swelling, redness, heat and sometimes stiffness in joints. Most of the time, first-time gout sufferers feel the attack in their big toes to the extent that even the bed clothes seem too painful and heavy to carry. Others may experience gout attacks in their ankles, insteps, heels, knees, wrists, fingers and elbows.
Some people with hyperuricemia may not experience gout attacks. The uric acid crystals may deposit as tophi that appears as lumps under the skin especially under the skin around the joints and ears. Others may deposit in the kidneys and form kidney stones, which is unfortunately more painful than gout attacks.
The Other Side of Uric Acid
Over the years, low serum uric acid has been associated with multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the central nervous system in young adults during their most productive years. Recently, studies have also linked low serum uric acid to Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. This is possible as uric acid is also a powerful antioxidant that offers much protection against cell damages.
Uric acid is significantly effective in scavenging free radicals in plasma and preventing lipid peroxidation. It is much more easily oxidized compared to other antioxidants as well as easily destroyed by hydroxyl radicals. With concentration more than ten fold as compared to Vitamin C, uric acid is one of the major antioxidants in humans.
Protection against Oxidative Damages
According to Dr. Lubert Stryer, a neurobiology professor, human’s high uric acid levels evolved to replace the functions of Vitamin C and to protect against oxidative damages. He also pointed out that lower primates have lower serum uric acid levels compared to the elephants and other long-lived mammals, and usually have lower life span and higher cancer rates.
Numerous studies have shown that the level of uric acid increases as the body undergoes acute oxidative stress such as heavy sport activities, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries as well as ischemic stroke. Scientists postulated that the increased concentration offers protection against increased free radical activity during the stress. Uric acid is also present in our nasal secretions in which the nasal mucous surfaces face lots of oxidative stress.
In a nutshell, uric acid is utmost important as strong antioxidant but having too much may bring more harm. Therefore, it is important to strike a balance. For people who are diagnosed with high uric acid level, it is important to avoid foods that are high in purine like red meats, livers, hearts, seafood and yeast.
Contrary to the popular beliefs that protein is also a culprit to gout, Dr. H.K. Choi, a rheumatologist, revealed in his latest research that dairy products, especially low-fat, as well as other protein food do not increase uric acid level and is safe for gout sufferers.