Scientists Say Medieval Beliefs About Urine May Contain Drops of Truth

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May 10, 2008 | 120,922 views

Medieval physicians believed that they could diagnose disease by holding up a flask of the patient’s urine to the light and squinting at it. Now, scientists at Imperial College London believe they could have been on to something.

Researchers have completed the first worldwide study of the metabolites (breakdown products) that are found in urine, reflecting the diet, inheritance and the lifestyle of the people from whom it came. They call such studies “metabolomics.”

The team believes that the research may provide the basis for a “metabolome-wide association” approach to help to understand interactions between lifestyles, environment and genes and how they determine diseases.

For instance, the team has identified metabolites that are linked to high blood pressure, and others that are found in people with lower blood pressure who drink less and eat more fiber. Your urine holds many clues about your health, which is why physicians in ancient times studied its color, smell and taste as a way to diagnose disease.

What exactly is your urine? It’s a byproduct of blood filtration from your kidneys. A pigment called urochrome, which results from the breakdown of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells, is what makes it yellow.

At the most basic level, the color of your urine can tell you two things:

1. If you have an infection
2. If you’re dehydrated

Ideally, your urine should be light yellow, so for the former, cloudy urine is often a sign of an infection (or kidney stones), while dark yellow urine is a sign that you need to drink more water.

What else can the color of your urine tell you?
Urine that is sweet-smelling is also a sign that you may have diabetes, as the sugary smell may be coming from a high concentration of blood sugar in your urine.

Ultimately, paying attention to the simple clues your body gives you -- and that includes the things your body excretes -- is something everyone should do.

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