After examining the link between metabolites in urine and overall health, researchers created a 5-minute test to reveal a person’s nutritional fingerprint.
Research finds a new way to look at the relationship between what we eat and our health.
It might seem obvious that good nutrition is linked to good health. Still, it has proven difficult to identify specific links between foods and health outcomes. Two new studies from scientists at Imperial College London (ICL), United Kingdom, and various collaborators report insights from the analysis of metabolites in urine.
The researchers have created a 5-minute urine test that can capture a person’s “nutritional fingerprint.”
“Diet is a key contributor to human health and disease, though it is notoriously difficult to measure accurately because it relies on an individual’s ability to recall what and how much they ate. For instance, asking people to track their diets through apps or diaries can often lead to inaccurate reports about what they really eat,” explains study author Joram Posma, of ICL’s Department of Metabolism, Digestion, and Reproduction.
“This research reveals this technology can help provide in-depth information on the quality of a person’s diet and whether it is the right type of diet for their individual biological makeup.”
— Joram Posma, study co-author
Scientists from ICL and their collaborators — from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Murdoch University in Australia — authored the first of the two studies. It appears in the journal Nature Food.
Metabolites are molecules that the body produces during cellular metabolism, and some are measurable in a person’s urine.
Working with 1,848 study participants in the U.S., the researchers were able to identify associations between 46 different metabolites and food types.
Co-author Paul Elliot, Chair in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine at ICL, explains:
“Through careful measurement of people’s diets and collection of their urine excreted over two 24-hour periods, we were able to establish links between dietary inputs and urinary output of metabolites that may help improve understanding of how our diets affect health. Healthful diets have a different pattern of metabolites in the urine than those associated with worse health outcomes.”
Metabolites were linked with the ingestion of alcohol, citrus fruit, fructose (fruit sugar), glucose, red meats, and other animal proteins, such as chicken. Nutrients, including vitamin C and calcium, were also associated with metabolites in the study.
Metabolites’ associations with health outcomes also became apparent in the data. For instance, the scientists found that the metabolites formate and sodium were linked to obesity and higher blood pressure.