Anchovies and other kinds of seafood contain high levels of purines.
Purines are a type of compound found throughout nature as part of DNA. Although they are essential for human life, purines can contribute to gout, an extremely painful form of arthritis. People with gout may need to avoid foods that are high in purines, such as organ meats, to avoid exacerbating their symptoms.
Purines and DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid --- DNA --- is made up of a variety of substances, including nitrogen-containing bases. There are two types of nitrogen-containing bases in DNA, called purines and pyrimidines. These purines and pyrimidines help make up the DNA sequence that encodes for different genes. The two purine bases seen in DNA are adenosine and guanine. Two other purines, xanthine and hypoxanthine, are not found in DNA but serve as intermediates during the synthesis and breakdown of DNA and other nucleic acids.
Purines and Uric Acid
Consumption of foods containing purines causes them to be broken down into a substance called uric acid. Normally, the uric acid is dissolved in the blood and is ultimately excreted into the urine by the kidneys. However, if too many high-purine foods are eaten, too much uric acid is made or the kidneys are unable to adequately remove it from the body, it can accumulate in the blood. If uric acid levels get too high, the uric acid can form crystals, which can lead to gout.
Gout is a very painful form of arthritis that occurs when uric acid crystals get deposited in the joints. Joints affected by gout will be warm, red, swollen and extremely tender. The big toe is one of the most common sites for gout. Gout is more common in men, but post-menopausal women are also at risk. Gout can be medically treated with anti-inflammatory medications, colchicine and corticosteroids. One important way to treat or prevent gout is to avoid foods high in purines.
Foods High in Purines
Most foods that are high in purines are animal-based. They include many types of seafood, including scallops, anchovies, herring, mussels, haddock, sardines and tuna. Wild game, such as duck and goose, are also rich in purines. Purines can also be found in high concentrations in organ meats such as sweatbreads, liver, heart and kidneys. Finally, gravies made with meat and supplements made with yeast extract also provide significant amounts of purines.