Limerick researchers find 'alarming rise' in factor linked with obesity and kidney disease

Jess Casey

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Jess Casey

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jess.casey@limerickleader.ie

Limerick researchers find 'alarming rise' in factor linked with obesity and kidney disease

Professor Austin Stack, principal investigator for the UL Kidney Health Consortium and a senior author of the study

URIC acid levels, which are linked to a range of illnesses including heart and kidney disease, stroke and high blood pressure, have increased at an ‘alarming’ rate in Irish patients, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Limerick. 

One in four people in the health system here have elevated blood levels of uric acid, a by-product of the body’s metabolism, a study by UL’s Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) has found. 

Focusing on more than 128,000 Irish patients, GEMS researchers found that uric acid levels increased by 21% between 2006 and 2014, with increases seen in all age groups, from young adults to the very elderly. 

“What we found was astonishing,” says Professor Austin Stack, principal investigator for the UL Kidney Health Consortium and a senior author of the study.

“Excessive uric acid production is a biochemical signal that something is going wrong with the body,” he added. 

“These steep increases in a nine year period are more likely to be linked to lifestyle factors.” 

“We identified rising levels of uric acid in every subgroup of patients and in all clinical settings between 2006 and 2014,” Professor Stack said. 

“Whether they attended outpatient clinics, were hospitalised as inpatients, or visited their GP in general practice,” he added. 

Uric acid is a waste product, produced when the body breaks down ‘purines’ found in many foods, drinks and alcohol. 

About 30% of uric acid production is attributable to diet and lifestyle factors such obesity and food intake, especially foods containing fructose such as sugary drinks. 

While the increase may be seen as a relatively small, its important to not that it happened over a short-period of time , according to Dr Arun Kumar, GEMS clinical tutor and researcher in the UL Kidney Health Consortium. 

Genetics are unlikely to have accounted for this increase, he added. 

“A far more likely explanation is that lifestyle factors have driven up blood levels of uric acid in Irish people. We are more sedentary, more obese, consume more sugary drinks and are less physically active.”

The study is available online at https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198197