People who have trouble metabolizing purines, such as people diagnosed with hyperuricemia or gout, are advised to limit consumption of high-purine foods and drinks. Purines are found in the cells of all living things, including humans, animals, and plants, so there is no way to eliminate them from a diet.
Purines in the Body and Food
Purines are molecules made up of carbon and nitrogen atoms, and these molecules are found in cells’ DNA and RNA. In the human body, purines can be divided into two categories:
1. Endogenous purines
About 2/3 of purines in the body are endogenous.1 These purines are produced by the human body and found inside its cells. A body’s cells are in a constant state of death and renewal,2 and the endogenous purines from damaged, dying, or dead cells must be processed by the body.
2. Exogenous purines
Purines that enter the body via food are called exogenous purines. These purines are metabolized by the body as part of the digestive process.
When endogenous and exogenous purines are processed in the body, they create a byproduct called uric acid. Normally, about 90% of uric acid is reabsorbed into the body, and the rest is excreted in the urine and feces.3
Purines and Hyperuricemia
If the amount of purines in the body is out of balance with the body’s ability to process them, too much uric acid can build up in the body’s bloodstream. This condition is called hyperuricemia.
In some people, hyperuricemia can cause kidney stones or lead to an inflammatory joint condition called gout. Many other people with hyperuricemia have no signs or symptoms—doctors call this condition asymptomatic hyperuricemia.
People with hyperuricemia (either symptomatic or asymptomatic) are advised to avoid eating foods that have high purine concentrations and encouraged to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet.
Avoid High-Purine Foods
While all plants and meats contain purines, certain foods contain higher concentrations. In addition, certain other foods may affect the body’s production and metabolism of purines.
Foods that should be avoided on a low-purine diet include4:
- Sugary foods and beverages, particularly those made with high fructose corn syrup, such as sodas5
- Seafood, particularly scallops, anchovies, and herring6
- Meat, particularly organ meat or “sweetmeats,” such as liver, and game meats6
- Alcoholic beverages, especially beer
In addition to raising uric acid levels, alcohol can inhibit the body’s ability to process and eliminate uric acid,7 so people with gout are advised to avoid alcohol or drink in moderation.
Limiting the consumption of these foods and drinks may help treat hyperuricemia and reduce the risk of gout flare-ups.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Just about everyone can benefit from eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
Special dietary considerations for gout
People who are diagnosed with hyperuricemia are encouraged to eat a healthy diet and consider the following:
- Moderate consumption of vegetables known to be high in purines, such as peas, asparagus, and oatmeal, does not seem to raise uric acid levels in the blood.8 Researchers suggest this variation may be due to their high fiber content.7
- Low fat or no-fat dairy products7,9 are low in purines and have an inverse relationship with hyperuricemia. (While a plant-based diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, it may also include some animal products.)
- Drinking plenty of water may aid in digestion and lower uric acid concentrations in the blood.
- Coffee and tea will not elevate uric acid levels—in fact, coffee may help lower uric acid levels.7,10
- Many people believe unsweetened tart cherries help prevent hyperuricemia and gout flares, and some research supports this idea.7,11-13
- Limited research suggests dietary supplements of vitamin C and folate may help treat or prevent hyperuricemia.10
In addition to lowering uric acid levels and reducing the risk of gout, a whole-foods, plant-based diet may lower overall levels of inflammation and reduce the risk of developing other types of arthritis.14,15 Healthy food choices may also decrease symptoms related to existing, chronic arthritis conditions.16-19
Read more about An Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Arthritis