Scientific research on human metabolism based on people from around the world has revealed compounds in urine indicate surprising differences affecting blood pressure.
The scientists from Imperial College London, led a study creating a world map of human metabolism in which they analyzed urine samples from 4,630 people in the United States, Britain, Japan and China.
They discovered that what affects peoples' blood pressure may be based on what they eat and their gut bacteria rather than a genetic factor.
Lead researcher Professor Jeremy Nicholson says it is possible to geographically map people according to their metabolic patterns.
The research revealed that adults in the UK and U.S. which have similar levels of high blood pressure and heart disease, have almost identical 'metabolic fingerprints', possibly reflecting similar lifestyles.
However adults from Japan and China have similar genetic profiles but very different metabolites, both from each other and from British and Americans and differences were also seen between regions within individual countries - north and south China and the north and south of the U.S.
Dr. Nicholson says the patterns do not seem to follow genetics, but have more to do with diet and lifestyle and also gut microorganisms.
Nicholson says bacteria in the intestines and colon help digest and break down food and recent research has suggested that the relationship in humans with their gut bacteria is a symbiotic one.
The scientists say some of the compounds they release have drug-like effects, and they examined breakdown products in human urine, called metabolites, in order to see if there were any links with heart disease.
The team identified four compounds which can be linked with blood pressure differences, the best-known of which is high salt intake.
Another was a compound called formic acid or formate which the researchers suspect may be involved in processing chloride from salt in the kidneys.
An amino acid called alanine was also found in people with higher blood pressure and this is thought to be linked to a diet rich in meat and other animal products.
Hippurate, another by-product of gut bacteria, was found in people with lower blood pressure who drink less and eat more fibre in their diet.
It is estimated that 1 billion people worldwide have high blood pressure, which is defined as a reading of 140/90 or higher.
High blood pressure or hypertension, is a major cause of stroke, heart disease and kidney failure and experts say a diet rich in vegetables and certain minerals along with regular exercise can help control high blood pressure.
The researchers say 'metabolic fingerprints' which are left behind after the breakdown of food and chemicals in the body, may well offer vital clues to the causes of disease.
Researcher Professor Paul Elliott, from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Imperial College, says while a person cannot alter their DNA, they can change their metabolic profile by changing their diet and lifestyle.
The researchers hope their findings may lead to the development of new drugs to fight high blood pressure or possibly non-drug therapies.
The research is published in the current issue of the journal Nature.