North researchers say urine test may help identify links to disease

RESEARCHERS in the North East say they can tell what foods people have eaten – and how much – by analysing a person’s urine.

Professor John Mathers of the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University

RESEARCHERS in the North East say they can tell what foods people have eaten – and how much – by analysing a person’s urine.

Scientists at Newcastle University have worked in collaboration with a team from Aberystwyth University in Wales to look at how the types of food eaten and the amounts consumed may provide a better understanding into the links of food and diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and dementia.

What people eat has a significant impact upon health and wellbeing but it is often difficult to measure exactly what, and how much, people consume in everyday life – and many find it difficult to record honestly.

By testing urine for the chemical “fingerprints” of different foods, scientists have discovered that it is possible to determine whether individuals are eating healthy diets or not and what impact the food is having on their body.

It is hoped that the study will allow scientists to develop a clearer insight into how certain foods may have the potential to help fight against certain life-threatening illnesses.

The fingerprints the scientists identified are substances called metabolites which are unique to different foodstuffs.

Researchers have so far established metabolites for healthy foods such as raspberries, salmon, broccoli and orange juice and they hope to continue with their study in order to widen their findings out to other food groups.

Prof John Mathers and his team in the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University led the research in the North East.

Sixty people took part in the two-year study.

Prof Mathers said: “We are very pleased with the results from our study and we are planning for more research in the future.

“In the long term, this kind of test will help to uncover new links between eating patterns and health and the test has wide-ranging applications.

“As our knowledge about metabolite markers of other foods grows, we will be able to add these to our test and it should mean that researchers will be able to say for certain which foods help protect against specific diseases and which we should encourage to promote better health. In the future we may be able to suggest which foods could be eaten to help protect against certain cancers or dementia – the test has enormous potential.”

Scientists believe the test will even be able to distinguish between similar foods such as whether someone has eaten red, white or processed meat and so help in understanding links between these foods and health.

Prof Mathers added: “When people are asked to keep a record of what they eat it’s generally done by keeping a food diary.

“However, this is not always accurate as people tend to over-emphasise the healthy foods they eat and perhaps fail to record a biscuit or a chocolate bar they might have consumed.”

The longer term aim of the research is to develop a simple dipstick test.

This will be a sensor dipped into urine which will provide an instant readout of the main foods that the person has eaten.

 
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