Do food and stress biomarkers work for wastewater-based epidemiology? A critical evaluation

P. M. Choi, D. A. Bowes, J. W. O'Brien, J. Li, R. U. Halden, G. Jiang, K. V. Thomas, J. F. Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Dietary characteristics and oxidative stress are closely linked to the wellbeing of individuals. In recent years, various urinary biomarkers of food and oxidative stress have been proposed for use in wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), in efforts to objectively monitor the food consumed and the oxidative stress experienced by individuals in a wastewater catchment. However, it is not clear whether such biomarkers are suitable for wastewater-based epidemiology. This study presents a suite of 30 urinary food and oxidative stress biomarkers and evaluates their applicability for WBE studies. This includes 22 biomarkers which were not previously considered for WBE studies. Daily per capita loads of biomarkers were measured from 57 wastewater influent samples from nine Australian catchments. Stability of biomarkers were assessed using laboratory scale sewer reactors. Biomarkers of consumption of vitamin B2, vitamin B3 and fibre, as well as a component of citrus had per capita loads in line with reported literature values despite susceptibility of degradation in sewer reactors. Consumption biomarkers of red meat, fish, fruit, other vitamins and biomarkers of stress had per capita values inconsistent with literature findings, and/or degraded rapidly in sewer reactors, indicating that they are unsuitable for use as WBE biomarkers in the traditional quantitative sense. This study serves to communicate the suitability of food and oxidative stress biomarkers for future WBE research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number139654
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Sep 20 2020


  • Biomarkers
  • Diet
  • Food
  • Stress
  • Wastewater
  • Wastewater-based epidemiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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