Secrets of Pee Revealed in New Study
Believe it or not, it took more than seven years for scientists to uncover the secrets of pee. It appears that urine contains thousands of substances, providing a wealth of possibilities for researchers to explore and utilize to improve human health.
What experts discovered about pee
Most people don’t talk or think about urine unless their doctor asks them to provide a sample for testing or they notice their pee has changed color. Yet this waste material is valuable and can tell us more than experts have realized in the past.
That’s because an investigative team of nearly 20 researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered more than 3,000 ingredients or metabolites in urine; specifically, “2,651 confirmed urine metabolites or metabolite species corresponding to 3,079 defined structures”). To arrive at these figures, the scientists used sophisticated analytical chemistry techniques (e.g., nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, among others) as well as data mining software.
The result of their efforts is the Urine Metabolome Database (UMDB), which, for anyone who is interested, is freely accessible on the Web. UMDB provides metabolite names, normal and disease-associated concentration ranges, associated diseases and related literature references for urine metabolites, and more; in other words, all you would ever want to know about pee.
Why this pee information is important
The chemical makeup of pee is of vast interest to researchers, doctors, and even environmental experts because it reveals what people eat, what medications they take, what environmental substances they have been exposed to, what they drink, and thus opens the door to evaluate a person’s health. According to the study’s senior scientist, David Wishart, the fact that his team was able to expand the list of known ingredients in urine “by a factor of 30…so that we can detect hundreds of urine chemicals at a time could be a real game-changer for medical testing.”
Currently, doctors use urine testing to help detect a wide variety of disease and conditions, ranging from diabetes to metabolic disorders and bladder infections. Urine samples are also used to detect illicit drug use, to monitor kidney function, and to detect pregnancy.
Pee can even help reveal how long you will live. In previous research, conducted at the University of Calgary, scientists found that the higher the amount of excess protein in the urine (proteinuria), the shorter a person’s life expectancy. Other research has shown that protein in urine indicates a decline in memory.
The new information available through UMDB will permit doctors to use urine testing rather than blood or tissue samples (biopsies). Wishart noted that new urine-based tests to help diagnose various cancers as well as pneumonia, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease are currently being developed or are getting ready to be used by physicians.
The authors of the pee study point out that their work “is not intended to be the ‘final’ word on urine or urine metabolome.” Instead, they believe it is launching point for more studies on urine and how the secrets of pee can be used to improve health and well-being.
Bouatra S et al. The human urine metabolome. PLoS ONE 2013; 8(9): e73076