How to live longer: People with low levels of an acid are 61% more likely to die early

Humans have made great leaps and bounds in recent centuries in terms of longevity of life. From improved diets to technological advances, the average age of humans around the world has risen significantly. As well as knowing what can help the body to live for longer, scientists have also developed a great understanding of what can cause a premature as well as prolonged death. Even as work continues on other scientific endeavours, scientists are still learning about factors which can influence longevity; one of those factors is what is contained within the blood. As well as carrying with it nutrients and oxygen, blood also carries with it waste products; it is in the study of these that scientists have made a surprising discovery.

Normally when one thinks of waste products, they think of having as little of them as possible. Waste is something the body doesn’t need and which must be cast aside so only healthy chemicals can stay in their place.

This isn’t the case when it comes to urate. Also known as uric acid, it is by product of the body breaking down food, also known as metabolism. Normally, most of the uric acid dissolves in the blood and leaves the body through passing urine.

Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania have found that if the body has a deficiency in blood urate that this can increase the risk of a premature death by up to 61 percent.

Publishing their data in the Arthritis and Rheumatology journal, the researchers analysed data collected between 1999 and 2006 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Survey. As part of this survey, featuring 13,979 participants, it was discovered that low blood urate levels were associated with a premature death before adjusting for body composition and weight loss.

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Lead author Joshua Baker said of the research: “These observations support what many have intuited, namely that people with low serum urate levels have higher mortality and worse outcomes.”

Baker added that this was “not because low urate is bad for health, but rather than low urate levels tend to occur among sicker people, who have lost weight and have adverse body composition”. Low blood urate was observed in people with a low lean mass, higher rates of weight loss, and an underweight body mass index (BMI).

While this study may prove unnerving for some and may cause many to get their levels checked, there is a caveat to the study highlighted by Baker who cautioned that “this observational study doesn’t prove a causal association”. However, he said it did “suggest that great care is needed in interpreting epidemiological associations between urate levels and health outcomes”.

Furthermore, while low blood urate levels could indicate poor health and an increased likelihood of a premature fatality, blood urate levels which are too high can cause life-long chronic conditions.


What happens when urate levels are too high?

When urate enters the bloodstream, it normally very efficaciously dissolves in the blood stream en route to the kidneys and one’s urine.

However, if there is too much, the body can’t dissolve the urate and this is where problems begin; too much urate can cause a condition known as hyperuricaemia.

What does hyperuricaemia cause?

Hyperuricaemia causes the build-up of crystals of uric acid; these crystals then settle onto the joints and cause gout.

Hyperuricaemia crystals can also settle in the kidneys and form kidney stones according to the Cleveland Clinic.

What is gout?

Gout is a form of arthritis, one that causes chronic and severe pain. Around one in 40 people live with gout in the UK according to the UK Gout Society.

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What are the main symptoms?

The main symptoms of the condition are sudden severe pain in a joint as well as hot, swollen, and red skin around the affected joint.

Patients with the condition also experience attacks of gout; these tend to last around five to seven days before getting better.

Treatments for the condition suggested by the NHS include:
• Anti-inflammatories
• Resting and raising the limb
• Keeping the joint cool
• Drinking lots of water (unless otherwise instructed by a GP)
• Trying to keep clothing off the affected joint at night.

Is there any way to stop gout coming back?

On this the NHS say high levels of urate can have a significant impact so changes to diet may be required as well as urate-lowering medication.

Which foods have high levels of urate?

As urate is a waste product, it can’t be found in food. Urate is caused when the body breaks down purines found in food.

Foods high in these chemicals include:
• Seafood
• Red meat
• Organ meats such as liver
• Foods high in fructose corn syrup
• Alcohol.

Alongside dietary changes, quitting smoking, regular exercise, and drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent gout from returning.

Meanwhile, the NHS add that should someone with gout wish to drink that they should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week and spread this drinking over three days.

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