Researchers study urinalysis as a healthy diet indicator

“The recognition of the importance of urine in diagnosis was made over 6,000 years ago by several of the earliest civilizations, and few of their clay tablets have been found that give us some insight into their observations and conclusions,” says the National Institutes of Health’s website.

Obviously back then, the methods for analysis weren’t what they are today. Now, it’s standard procedure to have a urinalysis at least once a year during our wellness checks so our medical provider can screen for a variety of disorders such as diabetes, kidney or liver disease.

Complain about symptoms such as abdominal pain, back pain, frequent or painful urination, blood in your urine, or other urinary problems and a urinalysis may help with the diagnosis. And, if you have kidney or urinary tract disease, your condition will be monitored using, yup you guessed it, urinalysis.

But now, scientists have gone further in their research into the clues to be found in urine. In an article by Kate Wighton published this month on the Imperial College of London’s website it states, “Scientists have developed a urine test that measures the health of a person’s diet. The five-minute test measures biological markers in urine created by the breakdown of foods such as red meat, chicken, fish and fruit and vegetables.”

Although this research is in the early stages, it could be a big help to medicos for tracking patient’s diets and a big boon for weight loss programs.

“A major weakness in all nutrition and diet studies is that we have no true measure of what people eat,” Professor Gary Frost, senior author of the study from the Department of Medicine at Imperial said. “We rely solely on people keeping logs of their daily diets, but studies suggest around 60 percent of people misreport what they eat to some extent. This test could be the first independent indicator of the quality of a person’s diet and what they are really eating.” Who ate that cookie? Not me!

This study was conducted at the Medical Research Center-National Institute for Health Research National Phenome Centre in England. Nineteen volunteers were asked to follow four different diets ranging from very healthy to very unhealthy that were formulated by the World Health Organization’s guidelines. The WHO advises the best diets to prevent conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

“The volunteers strictly followed these diets for three days while in a London research facility, throughout which the scientists collected urine samples in the morning, afternoon and evening. The research team then assessed the urine for hundreds of compounds, called metabolites, produced when certain foods are broken down in the body,” Wighton reported. “These included compounds that indicate red meat, chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as giving a picture of the amount of protein, fat, fiber and sugar eaten. They also included compounds that point to specific foods such as citrus fruits, grapes and green leafy vegetables. “From this information the researchers were able to develop a urine metabolite profile that indicated a healthy, balanced diet with a good intake of fruit and vegetables. The idea is this ‘healthy diet’ profile could be compared to the diet profile from an individual’s urine, to provide an instant indicator of whether they are eating healthily,” Wighton said. Researchers then tested their results against the data of an earlier study that consisted of 225 volunteers from the UK and 66 from Denmark. They now hope to refine the technology by conducting another study on a larger group of people outside of a research setting. They hope to make the test available to the public in the next two years.

Dr. Isabel Garcia-Perez, co-author from the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial said, “This will eventually provide a tool for personalized dietary monitoring to help maintain a healthy lifestyle. We’re not at the stage yet where the test can tell us a person ate 15 chips (French fries in American) yesterday and two sausages, but it’s on the way.”

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.