High levels of uric acid are typically associated with gout, the painful condition that afflicted King Louis XVIII of France.
But a group of researchers have discovered that high levels of uric acid may actually have a beneficial effect on Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by impairments in motor ability and speech.
“We found that among people with early Parkinson’s disease, those with higher levels of urate showed a slower disease progression over the two-year follow-up period,” said Alberto Ascherio, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and one of the study’s lead researchers.
The present study stemmed from previous epidemiological research finding that members of the general population with high levels of urate were less likely to develop Parkinson’s in later years.
The current study also built upon 2007 findings by the same investigators in which the higher urate levels were first linked to lower rates of clinical decline in a separate group of Parkinson’s patients—a fact that offered valuable corroboration.
“In the context of the clinical setting, seeing the same robust association a second time in an independent population markedly improves its value,” said study author Michael A. Schwarzschild, an associate professor of neurology at the Medical School.
“This link is not just a chance association but truly is telling us something about Parkinson’s disease.”
He added that the current data cannot resolve whether urate is directly causing the slowing of disease progression or whether there is a third factor affecting both, but the clinical and epidemiological data point “to the value of moving ahead to a clinical trial.”
The researchers are currently recruiting patients for a clinical trial to see if they can safely elevate urate levels.
But Schwarzschild added that their positive results should not overshadow the fact that high levels of uric acid can produce negative outcomes, including gout, kidney stones, and possibly cardiovascular disease.
According to Ascherio, researchers hope that by safely raising levels of urate they can reduce the rate of complications and disease progression in Parkinson’s patients.
“That is the most important step—translating this into something useful,” said Ascherio.
—Staff writer Alissa M. D’Gama can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.