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Uric Acid Caused by Meat and 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 is 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 the above video pick.

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 kings” that used to only affect the 1%, the tiny minority, eating rich diets. Now we can all dine like royalty 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.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my 2012 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image credit: Rachel from Cupcakes Take the Cake / Flickr

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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7:59AM PDT on Jun 2, 2013

Thanks for writing about this subject.

12:15PM PST on Feb 11, 2013

Need to cut more sugar out, that is hard for me - but have been making progress and will continue. Thanks!

10:04PM PST on Feb 10, 2013


10:08PM PST on Feb 8, 2013

Alcohol is one of the biggest culprits of gout

4:03PM PST on Feb 8, 2013


11:29AM PST on Feb 8, 2013


11:23AM PST on Feb 8, 2013


8:37AM PST on Feb 8, 2013


10:54PM PST on Feb 7, 2013

good to know

10:46PM PST on Feb 7, 2013

How interesting - thanks for sharing! It's obvious that meat and sugar are losing out in practically all aspects these days, which is why I'm so glad I'm vegetarian - now all I need to do is get my pesky sweet tooth under control lol!

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