Go medieval to help beat illness…

  • Just what did the folk of the middle ages do for us?
  • What is a metabolite and why should you be interested in them?
  • Discover why looking down when you pee is a really good idea

Those big historical Hollywood blockbusters never get it right do they?

Take Camelot for example.

I was forced to watch this recently (the things I do for mother-in-laws) and over ninety or so minutes I saw a lot of singing and dancing, a lot of fighting, and a lot of forsoothing.

But not once did I see Arthur, Lancelot or Guinevere hold up a bottle of urine to the light and squint at it.

Come to think of it, I don’t remember Sean Connery in The Name of The Rose looking at his urine either, and he was meant to be interested in medicine.

Honestly, those Hollywood script writers… amateurs to a man.

You see in Medieval times, studying your urine was a widely used practice. Doctors at the time (or Ye Olde Worlde Doctores as they were known then) believed they could spot specific signs of illness by holding up specimen of urine to the light and squinting at it.

And now, about 1000 years later, scientists are at last admitting this basic test could be invaluable…

A team of scientists from the Imperial College London, have been running a few urine studies of their own.

By the way, is ‘team’ the right collective noun for scientists or is it a gaggle or whoop of scientists?

Please write in and let me know.

Anyway, these scientists have just completed the first serious study of something called metabolites.

From what I understand, metabolites are the leftovers from all the substances that have been broken down and flushed out through urination.

These metabolites give clues to what people eat, how they live and what health traits they’ve inherited from their family line.

And amongst all the data and technical stuff I waded through, two very important points emerged that could help thousands of people in the UK…

Good metabolites, bad metabolites…

This study showed that there are two factors that are common in people with high blood pressure and heart problems…

The first is the presence of an amino acid called alanine. If this is present in your urine, chances are you’re at a higher risk of developing problems than those without it.

The second is a byproduct of gut bacteria called hippurate. This metabolite is generally found in people who drink less alcohol, eat more fibre and have lower blood pressure.

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, from Imperial College, said: ‘Metabolic profiling can tell us how specific aspects of a person’s diet and how much they drink are contributing to their risks for certain diseases, and these are things which we can’t investigate by looking at a person’s DNA.’

Okay, so this seems like a great step in the fight against disease for doctors. With the study of metabolites now throwing up this sort of information, scientists and doctors might have another weapon at their disposal to help spot warning signs and prevent certain illnesses – like heart disease – ever getting a grip.

But what does it mean for the likes of you and me on a day to day basis?

I mean, we can’t ‘decant’ our urine into a glass, hold it up to the light and see alanine or hippurate particles tapping on the glass and waving at us.

But there some things we CAN see…

A quick guide to what should – and shouldn’t come out

A lot of people think that urine should be a strong yellow colour, but this isn’t the case.

As a general rule, urine should be a very pale yellow, verging on clear if you’ve been drinking a lot of liquids. But your urine has the ability run through the whole spectrum of colours depending on what you’ve been putting into your body.

Here’s a quick run down:

– Yellow urine is a sign that you’ve not been drinking enough liquids. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the ‘drink your body weight in water’ brigade, but water is without doubt one of nature’s most essential substances. So even if you don’t want to live your life drinking exact measurements of water, make sure you drink at least three large glasses of water a day.

– Dark yellow urine is associated with liver problems or jaundice. Don’t worry if this happens to you as a one-off – but if it’s consistently dark you should see your doctor. However, try upping your intake of water before jumping to conclusions. The difference between yellow and dark yellow is pretty subjective, so don’t go seeing doom every time you visit the toilet.

– Orange urine is often caused by eating a lot of carrots. If you drink a lot of carrot juice, you’re even more likely to suffer this change of colour because of the high concentration of pigmentation.

– Brown urine. If you’ve eaten a lot of beans, your urine can turn brown. But it will be temporary. If the brown colour persists, it could be the sign of something serious like liver disease, hepatitis or melanoma cancer. You don’t need me to tell you this, but if this happens to you, go and see your doctor immediately!

– Greenish urine can be caused by a urinary tract infection or bile problems. That’s the bad side. But your urine can also turn green if you have too much B vitamins in your diet (usually if you’re taking supplements). Another common reason for this colour is if you eat one of the delights of early summer – asparagus.

– Red urine. This is the one that EVERYONE worries about. And it’s no wonder. Red urine can be an indication that you are flushing away blood, and that’s a sure sign you need to see your doctor. However, eating dark red foods like beetroots can also turn colour your urine red, as can eating blackberries and rhubarb – so don’t panic. Just go and get it checked out.

As you can see, there are a whole load of reasons why your urine can change colour – and a lot of the time the effect will be temporary.

Of course, that wouldn’t stop me looking down and screaming out loud if my urine was green. But after reading up on the subject, my advice is don’t panic.

First of all, go through the possible causes of the colour change, cut down on them, and see if your urine reverts back to a normal colour.

If not, go and see your doctor.

In fact, if you’re at all worried about anything you think your body is trying to tell you, go and see your doctor.

And if there’s no medieval ones at your local surgery, a 21st century one will have to do.

Yours, as always