Bad Diet? Urine Test May Tell

It's a quick, cheap way for doctors to assess eating habits, study finds

FRIDAY, Nov. 17, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A simple test to check potassium levels in urine may help doctors assess and improve patients' eating habits, a Canadian study finds.

Diet plays a key role in overall health, especially when it comes to risks for heart disease, stroke, and cancer risk. But there is no simple, objective and inexpensive way for family doctors to assess a patient's diet, according to the researchers.

Current methods rely on asking patients to report their eating habits on questionnaires or to record their food consumption for several or more days. These approaches are time-consuming, and patients often fail to provide accurate information.

Blood and urine tests provide alternative ways to assess a person's diet. In this study, researchers focused on urinary potassium as a potentially useful marker of a healthy diet. They noted that foods promoted by current dietary guidelines are good sources of potassium, and evidence suggests that a diet high in potassium reduces the risk of developing a number of health problems.

The researchers collected urine samples from 220 people, ages 18 to 50, who also provided information about their eating habits over the previous year. The participants' blood pressure, heart rate, weight and height were also checked.

The study found a link between increased levels of potassium in the urine, a healthier diet, and lower weight, blood pressure and heart rate.

"These findings suggest, for the first time, that the amount of potassium in the urine is a valid, objective indicator of diet quality," researcher Dr. Andrew Mente, of the Prosserman Center for Health Research in Toronto, said in a prepared statement.

"This urinary marker is a simple, objective, universally available measure of diet quality that may aid physicians in providing effective dietary counseling. Physicians can now establish targets for therapy, monitor the effectiveness of dietary interventions over time, and provide effective dietary counseling to patients at risk because of poor food choices," Mente said.

The study was to be presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology, in San Diego.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about healthier eating.

SOURCE: American Society of Nephrology, news release, Nov. 10, 2006
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