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Leslie Spry, M.D., FACP Headshot

How Long Will You Live? Pee in a Cup to Find Out

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Whether you're conscious of it or not, urine has a long history of communicating valuable information. For centuries, mammals have used urine to mark their territory and ward off predators. For humans, the urinary color wheel sends us daily messages about our hydration status: Dark yellow clues you in to grab some water, while crystal clear lets you know you're probably quite hydrated.

Urine also has the ability to tell us much more about our health, and according to new research may even contain valuable information in predicting longevity. Yes, that's right -- the key to how much longer you'll live may be hiding in your urine. You just need to know what to look for and which test to receive. Before channeling your inner Sherlock Holmes, let me assure you that the answer is simple. All you need is a urine test to detect protein. This presence of protein in your urine may be cutting years off your life, and you can easily expose it by peeing in a cup.

You may be wondering how protein can end up in the urine in the first place. Healthy kidneys act as filters that keep protein in the bloodstream and the body, so most healthy people have very little protein in their urine. When the kidneys' filters have been damaged, protein can "leak out" of the kidneys and end up in the discard pile, also known as urine. The presence of protein in the urine, or proteinuria, is an early indicator of kidney damage and cause for alarm.

While protein in the urine has long been an indicator of kidney damage, this recent study, examining men and women between the ages of 30 and 85, for the first time showed a link between mild and heavy amounts of protein in the urine and shorter life spans. How much shorter? Compared with people with severe or "heavy" amounts of protein in the urine, the life expectancies of men and women without protein in the urine were more than 15 years longer. They also outlived those with mild amounts of protein in their urine by more than eight years. Imagine what you can do with all that time!

Before your imagination runs wild, remember that you must detect the protein in the urine. Then there's plenty to be done to preserve both your kidney function and your longevity. Checking the urine for protein involves a non-invasive and inexpensive test, so speak up next time you're at the doctor's office, especially if you're at increased risk due to diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of these conditions or kidney disease.

If protein is found in your urine, your doctor should determine the cause. For example, are your blood sugar levels within the normal range? Is your blood pressure properly controlled? Hypertension and diabetes are two of the leading causes of kidney disease and uncontrolled blood sugar and blood pressure levels can severely damage the kidneys. Pre-diabetes and pre-hypertension can also damage the kidneys, so these conditions should also be taken seriously. If you have blood and protein in the urine, this may be a sign of nephritis, which is an inflammation of the kidney's filtering units. Determining why the protein is "leaking" into the urine is important because it will help your physician devise a treatment plan which might include a combination of medication regimens, dietary change or lifestyle modifications.

Next time you head to the bathroom, consider what your urine might be trying to tell you. It may just hold the answer to how long you'll live.

For more information, visit the National Kidney Foundation at kidney.org.

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