Purines are a group of biologically significant molecules that form the building blocks of DNA and RNA. They are present in a wide variety of plant and animal foods. During the breakdown of DNA, the human body converts purines into a waste product known as uric acid. When high levels of this needle-like crystalline molecule seep out of the blood and become lodged in the joint -- especially the joint at the base of the big toe -- it can cause a painful arthritic condition known as gout. Uric acid can also precipitate to the kidneys and compromise their function. Whey protein contains a low amount of purines and likely decreases the risk of gout.
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Whey protein -- a popular supplement amongst athletes and bodybuilders -- is one of the two main proteins in milk. Whey protein is a high quality source of the amino acid building blocks that constitute proteins and muscle tissue. Manufacturers isolate whey from the cheese-making process and sell it in the form of a powder that you can mix with water to create a nutritious protein drink.
Compared with other animal products, milk is actually low in purines -- the precise content depends upon how it's processed -- so whey protein also contains little, if any, purines. Since whey undergoes a process of isolation, part of the non-protein nutrients, including purines, are stripped out. Any purines that remain offer little threat of causing gout. However, purines are essential to health. You should only limit them if you are worried about uric acid levels.
Researchers have not studied the effects of whey protein on the risk of gout directly. However, a 2004 study in "The New England Journal of Medicine" found that men who consumed higher amounts of dairy products actually had a decreased risk for gout. This is due to the fact that dairy foods increase the excretion of uric acid from the human body without supplying an equal amount of purines, although the mechanism behind it is not well understood. Low fat dairy foods produced the greatest effect on the risk of gout. Whey protein is also low in fat.
Low Purine Diet
If you are trying to treat gout after its onset or avoid it altogether, then whey protein is an excellent source of nutrients for a low purine diet. Because other high protein foods, such as meat and seafood, actually increase your the risk of gout, it is likely that you will have to avoid or limit animal foods, creating a protein deficit in your diet. Whey protein, fortunately, is one of the few remaining foods that combine a high quality source of protein with relatively low amounts of purine. However, you should also exercise caution. Whey protein might place stress on already compromised kidneys. If you have kidney problems, then you should talk to your doctor before taking supplements.