Odds are, you don’t really pay all that much attention to your urine. And it’s not exactly a popular topic of conversation. But that yellowish liquid in the toilet can actually provide telltale signs about what’s happening inside your body. Depending on the specific hue, odor and consistency, it can offer a clue to everything from infections and dehydration to certain kinds of cancer, as well as what you’ve been eating and how much you’ve been drinking.
Your eyes may be the window into your soul, but consider that ceramic bowl as a window into your body.
According to WebMD, professor and the chief of urology at the University of New Mexico Anthony Smith, MD, once noted, “When you notice that your urine has changed color, or there’s a strange odor wafting up from the toilet, the cause might be something as harmless as what you had for dinner (which could have included beets or asparagus). It also might be a sign of a more serious condition, such as an infection or cancer.”
Dr. Tomas Griebling, MD, MHP and vice chair of the urology department at the University of Kansas explained, “Urine and urinalysis have, for hundreds of years, been one of the ways physicians have looked at health. From a historical view, urinalysis was one of the original windows into what’s happening in the body. That’s because many of the substances circulating in your body, including bacteria, yeast, excess protein and sugar, eventually make their way into the urine.
Before we get started on discussing what type of pee color means what, it’s also important to know a little about the urination process and which organs are involved. Blood is filtered through the kidneys where waste, salts, sugars, minerals and other chemical byproducts are removed. Some sugars get re-absorbed back into the blood that stays in the kidneys. Everything else gets eliminated in the form of urine, which passes through the urinary tract and out the urethra.
The body’s personal plumbing system, known as the urinary tract, is made up of four parts which includes the urethra, bladder, ureters and the kidneys. Urine leaves the kidneys and travels down the ureters and into the bladder. The bladder functions like a holding tank for urine, where it sits before it’s ultimately expelled through the urethra.
Once that pee is in the toilet, it has quite the story to tell regarding your hydration and your health. Just remember that it can temporarily change colors, due to what you’ve eaten, how hydrated you might be, and what medications, if any, you’re taking. Although it’s rare, there are some things that can cause quite a shock in the toilet when you look in. Certain foods and medications can make it appear green, blue or even purple – and if it’s caused by a drug or food, there’s generally no reason to be alarmed.
But, before you flush, take a look. There are a few changes in your urine you should watch out for, and this is what they might be saying about your health.
Pale or clear urine
If your urine appears totally colorless like water it’s probably because you’ve been drinking lots of water, which is generally a good thing, after all, that H2O helps keep your organs functioning like they should, and it also helps to clear your bowels, remove waste, regulate body temperature and keep your skin looking younger, among many other perks.
At the same time, while dehydration is a much greater concern than overhydration, if your urine is completely clear, you could be drinking more water than you need to. Normal, healthy pee actually has a yellow color, which comes from a pigment known as urochrome. It is correct that the darker yellow your urine is, the less hydrated your body is, but if you drink so much water that your pee actually looks like water, it could cause an imbalance in electrolyte levels. That’s why it’s generally recommended that your shade or urine be closer to pale yellow, like lemonade. If your urine is that color, you have nothing to worry about, just keep doing what you’re doing. A pale yellow color reflects a good balance between over- and underhydration.
Dark, brown or honey-colored urine
Urine this color could mean that you’re dehydrated; the kidneys produce more concentrated urine as it isn’t diluted. While it isn’t 100% failsafe (a blood test is the best detector), your urine provides a very good indication of the body’s level of hydration. Dehydration occurs when you lose more body fluids than you’re taking in. In addition to dark urine, you may notice other signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, dry skin, headaches, moodiness, lack of focus, constipation and/or fatigue.
If your pee is looking a bit dark, simply drink more water. In general, we need about 64 ounces, or eight 8-ounce glasses each day, but if you workout intensely, or in a very hot environment, you may need more. If your urine continues to appear dark even after increasing your water intake, it may be due to blood in the urine which could indicate an infection, kidney disease, or in rare cases, cancer. Check with your doctor.
Red urine can look a little scary, but it’s probably because you just ate beets, some type of food with red dye or another ruby-colored food. Red or pink pee is so common after consuming beets that it has it’s own name: beeturia. That’s because some of the compounds in beets that are responsible for its shade, are excreted in the urine after the kidneys do their processing. Generally, your pee will be back to its usual color by the next day. However, if it continues to remain red, that could be a sign of a kidney or bladder tumor, particularly if you spotted blood clots as well. A classic “port wine” shade could indicate a genetic disorder known as porphyria.
While these conditions are rare, it’s important to make an appointment to see your healthcare provider if your urine is consistently red.
Blood in the urine could indicate a urinary tract infection, which is common in females, but it can sometimes be a sign of bladder cancer, an indication of kidney stones or a side effect of blood-thinning medication. The bottom line is, be sure to see a professional if your urine is red for more than a day or two, or if blood is spotted (and it’s not related to a menstrual period).
Just like eating beets can turn your urine red, if you eat a lot of carrots, it can turn orange. That’s because you’ve just consumed a big dose of beta-carotene, which is excreted in your urine. There are other things that can cause it to look orange too, including medications like Pyridium, an over-the-counter drug used for treating urinary tract infections, as well as warfarin, a common blood thinner. Of course, if you’re taking one of these meds, or decided you were in the mood to act like a bunny, there’s nothing to worry about.
If that orange shade is more fluorescent or neon, however, there could be a problem. It sometimes indicates an issue with the liver, particularly if you also notice that the whites of your eyes have a yellowish tint.
Asparagus can not only cause that icky asparagus odor, but it can cause your urine to have a greenish tint. In rare cases, it may be a clue that you’re suffering from a type of urinary tract infection called a proteus infection, so if you haven’t been eating asparagus and your pee is green, it’s time to call your doctor. That same bug that leads it to turn green can also lead to kidney stones.
While it is possible to have blue pee, it’s extremely rare. In fact, most experts never see a single case of it in their entire career. If you are seeing blue pee in that bowl, while it could be caused by a drug or artificial colors in food, if you don’t think that’s the case, it’s time to get checked out. It could be from a rare genetic condition called hypercalcemia, which means there is an excessive amount of calcium in your bones.
If you see black urine in the toilet, call your doctor. It could indicate a genetic disorder of phenylalanine and tyrosine metabolism marked by accumulation of homogentisic acid in the blood known as alkaptonuria, or poisoning.
Cloudy urine often indicates a urinary tract infection, especially when accompanied by pain, burning and/or frequent urination, which are also all signs of a UTI.
In addition to the color of your pee, there are other things to watch out for too.
Other Things To Consider
Strange smelling urine
If you get a whiff of a strange smell when you pee, most likely it isn’t anything to be concerned about. That’s usually the result of certain foods like asparagus that are known to cause that unpleasant scent. lf you smell something particularly pungent, however, you may have an infection or urinary stones, which can create an ammonia-like odor. Urine normally doesn’t have a very strong smell. If you notice a particularly pungent smell, you might have an infection or urinary stones, which can create an ammonia-like odor.
While you might think the opposite would be true, a sweet smell could actually be a clue that there is a more serious issue going on. Diabetics sometimes notice that their urine has a sweet smell, which isn’t a good thing as it’s due to excess sugar. In fact, in the past, physicians would even taste urine for sweetness to determine whether or not someone was diabetic. Blood sugar in the urine is a sign of diabetes. As the kidneys serve as a filter for all types of waste that flow through the body, when they’re damaged, substances can leak out and eventually be excreted through the urine. In people who have diabetes, excess blood sugar tends to sneak through a leaky filter, showing up in their urine.
How frequently you feel the need to go
How frequently do you feel the urge to go? That can actually be just as important an indicator of your health as the smell or color of your urine. While the majority of people go about six to eight times each day, you could go more or less depending on your fluid intake. If you constantly feel the urge to go, and it isn’t because you’re drinking more fluid than usual, it could be because of a urinary tract infection, an overactive bladder which means that the bladder muscle is experiencing involuntary contracts, or you may have interstitial cystitis, a medical condition that causes inflammation of the bladder wall.
Other conditions the need to urinate often could indicate includes neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease or a stroke, or diabetes. Benign prostate enlargement is another possible cause, this condition occurs when the growth of the prostate causes it to squeeze the urethra, blocking the normal flow of urine out of the body.
If you’re experiencing the opposite, meaning you aren’t going to the bathroom very often, that could be due to an infection, blockage, or as the result of a bad habit. Bad bathroom habits are often developed by those who have a difficult time taking regular breaks at work. They tend to hold it in more often, which can cause problems, including chronic overdistension of the bladder, which is a chronic emptying issue. It may also lead to urinary tract infections.
The bottom line
Taking good care of your bladder is important for your health. Urinating regularly is a must. To stay well-hydrated but not overhydrated, aim to drink eight glasses of water each day, and more if you’re still thirsty or feel like you need it. If you feel like it’s too much, it’s okay to cut back a bit too, unless you have bladder or kidney stones – in that case, you may need even more. And, when you feel the urge to pee, never hold it in. Get to a bathroom as soon as you possibly can.