Is Milk Lowering Uric Acid a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s, is characterized by a slowness of movement, rigidity, tremor, and stooping posture, all of which worsen over time. Non-movement symptoms such as cognitive impairment and sleep, smell, and mood disturbances occur as the disease spreads to other areas of the brain. The cause of Parkinson’s is perhaps “one of the important questions posed by the neurobiology [science] of aging.” For example, why is the consumption of dairy products associated with increased risk of Parkinson’s? Perhaps because they contribute to our exposure to pesticides and other neurotoxins like dieldrin, which continues to be found in the autopsied brains of Parkinson’s victims. Even though dieldrin was banned decades ago, it lingers in the environment and we “continue to be exposed to the pesticide through contaminated dairy and meats…”

The cause of Parkinson’s “is unlikely to be due to milk compounds such as calcium, vitamin D, total fat, or total protein as these compounds are not associated with [the disease] when derived from other sources.” However, it could be lactose, the milk sugar, perhaps accounting for the increased associated risk of death and bone fractures, as well as Parkinson’s. Earlier onset of Huntington’s disease has also been identified. There is, however, a third possibility.

As I discuss in my video Parkinson’s Disease and the Uric Acid Sweet Spot, milk lowers uric acid levels, and uric acid may be protective against Huntington’s and also slow the decline caused by Parkinson’s. More importantly, it may lower the risk of getting Parkinson’s in the first place. Why? Perhaps because uric acid is an important antioxidant in the brain, something we’ve known for more than 30 years. We can demonstrate uric acid’s importance directly on human nerve cells in a petri dish. When the pesticide rotenone is added, oxidative stress goes up. Add the pro-oxidant homocysteine, and it goes up even more. But, when uric acid is added, it completely suppresses the oxidative stress caused by the pesticide.

Drinking milk, however, has a uric acid-lowering effect. In the paper making this assertion, a study they cited was “A cute effect of milk on serum urate concentrations,” but that was just a cute typothey meant Acute effect. Indeed, drink cow’s milk, and, within hours, uric acid levels drop 10 percent. Drink soymilk, and, within hours, they go up 10 percent. Now, for gout, a painful arthritic disease caused by too much uric acid, the uric acid-lowering effect of dairy is a good thing—but uric acid is “a double-edged sword.”

If our uric acid levels are too high, we can get gout, but, if they’re too low, it may increase our risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.

Incidence rates of gouty arthritis over five years indicate that if our uric acid is over 10.0 mg/dl, we have a 30 percent chance of suffering an attack of gout within the next 5 years. However, at levels under 7.0 mg/dl, our risk is less than 1 percent, so it might make sense to have levels as high as possible without going over 7.0 to protect the brain without risking our joints. But having excessive uric acid in the blood puts more than just our joints in jeopardy. Yes, having levels that are too low may increase our risk of MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer, but having levels that are too high may increase our risk of gout, kidney disease, and heart disease.

In fact, having a uric acid level over 7.0 mg/dl isn’t only associated with an increased risk of gout, but also an increased risk of dying from all causes. However, having a low uric acid level may also shorten our lifespan by increasing mortality. High uric acid levels are associated with increased risk of death from heart disease, but low uric acid levels are associated with increased risk of fatal stroke. So, keeping uric acid at optimum levels, the sweet spot between 5.0 and 7.0 mg/dl, may protect the brain in more ways than one.

If we measure the uric acid levels in patients with Parkinson’s, they come in around 4.6 mg/dl, which may help explain why dairy consumption may increase risk for Parkinson’s since milk pushes down uric acid levels. Dairy intake may also explain the differences in uric acid levels among meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. In the graph in my video, you can see that vegan men have significantly higher uric acid levels at 5.7 mg/dl than vegetarians, presumably because vegans don’t drink milk, and those who both eat meat and consume milk fall between the vegans and vegetarians.


For more on Parkinson’s see:

Uric acid as an antioxidant? I’ve touched on that before in Miocene Meteorites and Uric Acid.

If uric acid levels are too high consider cutting down on Flesh and Fructose and eating cherries. (See Gout Treatment with a Cherry on Top and Treating Gout with Cherry Juice for more information.) Also, check out Preventing Gout Attacks with Diet.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

The Best Foods to Slow Your Metabolism

The largest component of our daily energy budget is resting metabolic rate. As I discuss in my video Slowing Our Metabolism with Nitrate-Rich Vegetables, the direct effects of physical activity are relatively small compared to how many calories we expend just living and breathing. Now, during something like training for the US Army’s Special Ops or climbing a four-mile-high mountain, we may burn 4,000 calories a day. For most people, however, the calories we burn just lying around existing exceeds normal physical activities. Thus, our resting metabolic rate can have implications for controlling our weight.

Researchers have shown that dietary nitrate found in beets and green leafy vegetables improves the efficiency of the little power plants within our cells, boosting athletic performance by extracting more energy from every breath. So, if we eat a lot of vegetables, might it slow our metabolism since our body can function so much more efficiently with the calories we give it?

Indeed, researchers found that after giving people a dose of nitrate equivalent to a few servings of spinach or beets, their resting metabolic rates slowed on average about 4 percent. That’s nearly a hundred calories a day. If our bodies burned that many fewer calories each yet we didn’t eat any less, couldn’t we could put on a few pounds? Of course, green leafy vegetables may be the healthiest food on the planet, so we shouldn’t decrease our greens intake to try to control our weight. What’s going on? Researchers think perhaps it was a way our body evolved to use vegetables to help preserve energy during lean times in our ancient past. That is, slowing our metabolism may have benefits for our longevity.

What else similarly slows our metabolism? Caloric restriction, such as eating every other day. This may be one reason why caloric restriction is associated with a longer lifespan in many animals. Maybe like a candle, burning with a smaller flame allows us to last longer. It’s hard to walk around starving all the time, but it’s easy to replicate that same metabolic benefit by eating a big salad every day.

This may be why eating leafy green vegetables is among the six most powerful things we can do to live longer, along with not smoking, not drinking heavily, walking at least an hour a day, getting seven hours of sleep a day, and achieving an ideal weight. Doing even just one of these six may cut our risk of premature death by around 20 to 25 percent.


What’s that about boosting athletic performance? See:

Don’t want to carry beets out onto the track with you? Try fennel seeds: Fennel Seeds to Improve Athletic Performance.

What else can greens do? Check out How to Regenerate Coenzyme Q10 Naturally.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Boosting Moods with Foods

In my video Plant-Based Diets for Improved Mood and Productivity, I discuss a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression that concluded that a healthy diet pattern was “significantly associated with a reduced odds of depression.” However, out of the 21 studies the researchers were able to find in the medical literature, they were only able to find one randomized controlled trial, the study design that provides the highest level of evidence. It was the study I profiled in my Improving Mood Through Diet video, in which removing meat (including fish and poultry) and eggs improved several mood scores in just two weeks.

We’ve known those eating plant-based diets tend to have healthier mood states—less tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, and fatigue—but we couldn’t tell if it was cause and effect until it was put to the test, which researchers finally did. What could account for such rapid results?

Eating a vegetarian diet gives you a better antioxidant status, which may help with depression, as I discussed in Antioxidants and Depression. Also, as I previously addressed in A Better Way to Boost Serotonin, consumption of even a single carbohydrate-rich meal can improve depression, tension, anger, confusion, sadness, fatigue, alertness, and calmness scores among patients with premenstrual syndrome. But what about long term?

Overweight men and women were randomized into two groups: one following a low-carb, high-fat diet and the other following a high-carb, low-fat diet for a year. By the end of the study, who had less depression, anxiety, anger, hostility, feelings of dejection, tension, fatigue, confusion, fewer mood disturbances, and better vigor? “The sustained improvements in mood in the LF [low-fat] group compared with the LC [low-carb] group are consistent with results from epidemiological studies showing that diets high in carbohydrate and low in fat and protein are associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression and have beneficial effects on psychological well-being.”

The overall amount of fat in the research subjects’ diet didn’t change significantly, though. But the type of fat did. Their arachidonic acid intake fell to zero. Arachidonic acid is an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid that can adversely affect mental health via a “cascade of neuroinflammation”—that is, it may inflame your brain. High levels of arachidonic acid in the bloodstream have been associated with a greater likelihood of suicidal risk and major depressive episodes, for example. How can we stay away from the stuff? Americans are exposed to arachidonic acid primarily through chicken and eggs. So, when we remove eggs, chicken, and other meat we eliminate preformed arachidonic acid from our diet.

Although high-quality treatment studies examining diet’s impact on depression are scarce, there was the successful two-week trial discussed earlier and, even better, a twenty-two-week study. Overweight or diabetic employees of a major insurance corporation received either weekly group instruction on a whole food, plant-based diet or no diet instruction for five and one-half months. There was no portion size restriction, no calorie counting, no carb counting, and no change in exercise. No meals were provided, but the company cafeteria did start offering daily plant-based options such as lentil soup, minestrone, and bean burritos.

Participants ate no meat, eggs, dairy, oil, or junk, yet they reported greater diet satisfaction compared with the control group participants who had no diet restrictions. More participants in the plant-based intervention group reported improved digestion, increased energy, and better sleep than usual at week 22 compared with the control group. They also reported a significant improvement in physical functioning, general health, vitality, and mental health. The plant-based group beat out controls on nearly every measure.

There were also significant improvements in work productivity, thought to be due in large part to their improvements in health. What this study demonstrated is that a cholesterol-free diet is acceptable, not only in research settings but also in a typical corporate environment, improving quality of life and productivity at little cost. All we needed was a large, controlled trial for confirmation, but we didn’t have such a thing… until now.

A study of ten corporate sites across the country from San Diego, California, to Macon, Georgia, with the same set-up as before found that a plant-based nutrition program in a multi-center, corporate setting improves depression, anxiety, and productivity. Significant improvements were found in depression, anxiety, fatigue, emotional well-being, and daily functioning. “Lifestyle interventions have an increasingly apparent role in physical and mental health, and among the most effective of these is the use of plant-based diets.”


The pilot data on workplace interventions can be found in my videos Slimming the Gecko and Plant-Based Workplace Intervention.

Diet can help at home, too. See:

And, for background on the inflammatory fatty acid arachidonic acid, see my videos Inflammatory Remarks About Arachidonic Acid, Chicken, Eggs, and Inflammation, and Chicken’s Fate Is Sealed.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: