A cocktail of chemicals in urine can be used to spot individuals at risk from obesity-related diseases, a new study has revealed.
Rates of obesity and overweight have climbed alarmingly in the last two decades. Nearly 30% of adults in the UK, Australia and US are obese, half the populations of these countries qualify as above their ideal weights, and obesity causes 3.4 million deaths worldwide per year.
Yet, despite these observations and the known disease links to obesity, why some individuals are at risk of weight gain, and why some illnesses are linked to the overweight state are not understood.
Now, writing in Science Translational Medicine, Imperial College researcher Jeremy Nicholson and his colleagues have taken this metabolic bull by the horns and - using a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy - they analysed urine samples from about 2000 adults in the US and UK.
Initially, using data from the US subjects, the team married up the levels of individual chemicals present in each of the urine specimens with the patient's body mass index (BMI).
They were looking for changes in concentration - either up or down - of any chemicals that tracked body weight.
Having identified a large number of "hits" in the screen, they confirmed the findings using the UK data and showed that, in this separate population, the same chemical markers were strongly and significantly predictive of obesity.
The findings are valuable because they may be useful in screening for people at increased risk of becoming obese.
Such individuals could be targeted early, they speculate, using with personalised health approaches to reduce the risk of weight gain.
At the same time, the study has highlighted a large number of metabolic pathways and chemicals, includings chemicals produced by bowel bacteria, that are linked to the obese state.
The roles that many of these play in obesity-associated diseases are unknown, so this study has helped to highlight a range of new targets for researchers seeking to solve the growing problem of obesity to get their teeth into...