For most of us, if we’ve heard of uric acid at all, it’s only in relation to gout — a painful form of arthritis that occurs when uric acid builds up in the blood and forms tiny, needle-like crystals. But there's a new reason to care about uric acid. Scientists have discovered that nearly everyone over the age of 45 harbors elevated levels. And those high levels can cause hidden damage inside the body, long before gout pain surfaces. The good news is that it's easy to lower uric acid, and when you do, weight loss becomes easier than it's been in years.
“The average woman’s uric acid level has risen 71% in the past 100 years,” asserts David Perlmutter, MD, author of the New York Times bestseller Drop Acid. Now, for the first time, leading scientists suspect that uric acid, once thought to be a trivial substance in the body, is at the root of the obesity epidemic and other health challenges, including diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver and body-wide inflammation. Dr. Perlmutter, asserts, “Elevated uric acid can actually predict many of our ills.”
The old way of thinking about uric acid
Historically, doctors only thought about uric acid in two ways: the normal amount that the body produces and excretes and the high amount that builds up and causes painful conditions such as gout or kidney stones. (Click through to see how lime juice can help outsmart kidney stones.) As a neurologist, Dr. Perlmutter began researching the link between uric acid and dementia. He discovered a middle “gray area” where health problems occur between those healthy and high levels. He found, “Even levels which most doctors would say are fine are significantly associated with declining health.” This revelation changed his view of health and weight loss forever.
The new way of thinking about uric acid
Dr. Perlmutter discovered, “As uric acid levels rise, so do BMI and waist measurements.” In one study, folks with lower acid levels had waists that were 4 inches slimmer, on average. And 90% of overweight people with hypertension have high uric acid, according to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association. What’s more: Dr. Perlmutter says that menopausal women are at a dramatically higher risk of high uric acid, since estrogen provides a layer of protection when we’re younger.
How uric acid drives weight gain
According to Dr. Perlmutter, metabolic problems begin to brew when uric acid reaches a level of 5.5 mg/dL, even though gout doesn’t form until levels reach around 7 mg/dL. At this early stage, the body perceives danger and begins to make and store more fat. “No wonder only 12% of Americans today are considered metabolically healthy,” says Dr. Perlmutter. He adds, “Popular calorie-restricted plans overlook this powerful alarm signal — elevated uric acid — that tells the body to prepare for food scarcity and cling to fat.” That may explain why diets don’t work for many people.
Why uric acid is a bigger problem now than in years past
What’s driving this modern acid overdose? “Refined fructose is public enemy number one,” says Dr. Perlmutter. Modern diets are filled with acid-stimulating fructose. He’s not talking about the natural kind found in fruit, but the processed form that goes by names like “high-fructose corn syrup.” Research shows that high-fructose corn syrup lurks in 74% of food and drinks sold in stores. Dr. Perlmutter says, “We’ve known since 1970 that refined fructose threatens metabolic health, but we never knew why — until now.” In short, our modern diets are driving a silent epidemic of elevated uric acid and metabolic mayhem.
All this refined fructose generates uric acid, turning our fat switch “on” so we store pounds like a bear ready to hibernate. Richard J. Johnson, MD, author of The Sugar Fix, contends, “Refined fructose is metabolic poison.” That’s concerning since the average American consumes 57 pounds of sugar each year. “Refined fructose also hijacks our hunger cues,” adds Dr. Perlmutter.
The benefits of lowering uric acid
When you lower uric acid, whole-body healing quickly follows. “There’s no question people will lose a substantial amount of weight,” says Dr. Perlmutter, who has seen patients shed 15 pounds and reduce uric acid levels by 10% in three weeks. And 85% of his test cases restored their blood pressure to healthy ranges!
That’s not all. There are several health benefits beyond weight loss. Reducing uric acid levels can lower dementia risk by 166%, according to research published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.
How to know if you need to lower your levels
If you eat refined fructose (also known as high-fructose corn syrup, found in most packaged foods) or are battling stubborn pounds or symptoms of metabolic syndrome like high blood pressure or blood sugar, you can benefit from lowering your acid levels.
To figure out your uric acid levels, you can ask your doctor for a routine blood test to screen for uric acid. Another option Dr. Perlmutter recommends: the UASure at-home test kit. It works like a finger-prick monitor used for diabetes blood sugar testing. Test each morning before eating and aim for a reading of 5.5 mg/dL or lower. Dr Perlmutter says, “It’s such a powerful tool to recognize progress in just a few days.”
How to lower uric acid levels naturally
“Luckily, we have the ability to lower our levels of uric acid with simple lifestyle tweaks,” says Dr. Perlmutter. He developed a three-week LUV (“Lower Uric Values”) Diet. “This plan is a powerful new tool for people who have tried everything to lose weight and are still struggling,” he says. “I have adjusted my own habits to maintain my uric acid level within a healthful range. It’s not that difficult, and it will be incredibly beneficial to your vibrancy and longevity.” To follow, try these steps…
Make easy diet changes
Uric acid comes from only three sources: refined fructose, alcohol (which stops the kidneys from ridding the body of uric acid) and meat (which contains purines, chemicals that produce uric acid when broken down), says Dr. Perlmutter. On the plan, you’ll avoid those three culprits and opt for mostly plant-based meals and snacks containing fruit like apples, citrus and kiwi; cruciferous veggies like broccoli; beans and legumes; eggs; nuts and seeds; small amounts of dairy; and extra-virgin olive oil. You can also enjoy 4 to 6 oz. of meat and fish twice a week.
Be sure to avoid refined carbs, refined fructose and artificial sweeteners. (Click through to our sister site to learn about the natural sweetener allulose and how it can help with weight loss.) And since uric acid triggers inflammation, highly processed vegetable oils and gluten, which inflame the system, are also off the menu. These three superfoods can help along the way…
Tart cherries lower uric acid
These treats are rich in healing plant compounds that are proven to dial down uric acid–related inflammation. Eating 1/2 cup of tart cherries daily reduces gout flare-ups by 35%, say University of California at Davis researchers. Or try this tart cherry juice. (Click through to read more about the additional health benefits of tart cherry juice.)
Broccoli sprouts lower uric acid
Cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli sprouts, contain a molecule that creates sulforaphane, a compound that’s known to reduce uric acid. To get the perks, strive for 3 oz. daily, chewed thoroughly. You can buy sprouts in specialty grocery stores or you can easily grow them at home. Use a stainless steel sprouting tray like the UXIVCKI Stainless Steel Seed Sprouting Kit (buy on Amazon, $39.99). Simply soak 2 Tbs. of seeds in cool water for 8 hours, drain and transfer to the sprouting tray to germinate. Rinse with water twice a day. When they reach the desired size, add them to salads, soups and smoothies.
Coffee reduces uric acid
“Quercetin and luteolin are home runs because they function exactly like the gout drug Allopurinol to lower uric acid,” says Dr. Perlmutter. He advises taking 500 mg. of quercetin and 100 mg. of luteolin daily. (Click through to learn how quercetin supplements can also improve heart health.)
Success Story: Ruth lost 195 pounds and cured her gout!
Even the pain of a bedsheet touching my foot is unbearable, thought Ruth Hovsepian, finding herself in the hospital with the flare-up of all gout flare-ups. There, the doctor warned, “You’ve reached the point of no return. You’ll be on medication for the rest of your life.”
Debilitating gout pain meant Ruth, a public speaker, could no longer run her business, do activities with her children or care for her aging parents. Desperate to lessen the strain on her body, she overhauled her diet, adopting a strict keto plan by expert Eric Berg, DC. Instead of sugary carbs, Ruth reached for clean proteins and veggies she hoped would reduce inflammation and symptoms. After two months, she was already down 25 pounds. I can walk without limping, she realized, noticing her foot pain, swelling, itching and burning had subsided. The doctor praised, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!” And after a couple more months, Ruth was taken off all her gout medication. “This is a miracle!”
Ruth successfully lowered her gout-triggering uric acid levels from a dangerous 6.5 to an optimal 3.1 mg/dL in less than a year. And she lost 195 pounds from her all-time highest weight. Since getting healthy, Ruth has witnessed improvements with energy, sleep, back pain and arthritis, and her skin tags are gone. “This has changed my quality of life,” she cheers. “I have a second lease on life!”
For more stories on weight loss over 50, keep reading
Could Magnesium Be the Key That Unlocks Weight Loss For Women Over 50? Dr. Carolyn Dean Says “Yes!”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.