womenTALK: Blog

Tuesday, Jul 06th 2010

What Your Urine Can Tell You About Your Health

authored by Sheryl Kraft

Last night, I grilled up a huge pile of asparagus. No one else in my family likes the vegetable, and since it's one of my favorites, I ended up eating most of it (there's a little left over, which I plan on throwing into an omelet tonight). And this morning, when I visited the bathroom, I was reminded that I might have eaten a bit much.

No one knows for sure why eating asparagus causes a distinctive change in the odor of urine. Theories range from the fertilizers used (they contain sulfur) to individuals having a certain gene that causes a breakdown in the sulfur-containing proteins that release the odor. Yet there are some asparagus-eaters who will tell you that there's no difference, which could explain another theory: that the smell of everyone's urine undergoes a change from eating asparagus, but some of us don’t even notice it. Depending on how much we consume, our urine may be more or less concentrated.

Maybe you don't eat asparagus, or maybe you do…or maybe you never have given a thought to the unpleasant topic of urine and its odor. It is, after all, something that's not exactly a popular topic of conversation. And most of the time a change is harmless and temporary, caused by foods, vitamins or certain medications.

But it's an important topic since it could - in certain circumstances - signal a medical problem.

Presto, Chango: Urine of a Different Color:

Asparagus: Aside from the odor, your urine could take on a greenish tinge.

Beets, Blackberries, Rhubarb: If you're seeing red (or pink) – and think that's blood in your urine – rewind your day and see if you've eaten any of these foods. (In a small percentage of the population – just 10-14% - they can turn your urine colors that are usually associated with Valentine's Day or little baby girls. And not always…it depends on the acidity of your stomach as well as when and what else you ate.)

Here's some great information, thanks to the July 6 Harvard Medical School’s publication, HEALTHbeat, on the havoc medications play with your urine color:

Medications that can cause red urine: Senna (Ex-Lax), Chlorpromazine (Thorazine), Thioridazine (Mellaril)

Fava Beans and Aloe (and rhubarb again): These have the magic ability to create tea-colored or dark-brown urine.

Medications that can cause dark brown or tea-colored urine
: Chloroquine (Aralen), Primaquine (generic), Metronidazole (Flagyl), Nitrofurantoin (Furadantin)

Carrots, Carrot Juice and Vitamin C: Just what you'd think. You get orange urine.

Medications that can cause orange urine: Rifampin (Rifadin), Warfarin (Coumadin), Phenazopyridine (Pyridium)

B-Vitamins: Your urine could turn a weird shade of fluorescent yellow-green. (Makes me wonder if it would glow in the dark?)

Medications that can cause green or blue urine: Amitriptyline (generic), Indomethacin (Indocin), Cimetidine (Tagamet),  Promethazine (Phenergan)

Blood in your urine: What it could mean


It may not be food-related. It may not be medicine-related. It could be a benign condition – or something more serious.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) – Can turn your urine cloudy and give it a distinctly unpleasant odor. Chances are you're familiar with this condition: a frequent, urgent need to urinate, burning pain when you urinate, abdominal pain. UTIs can also cause blood in the urine (hematuria) – detectable only under a microscope if the amount is small; appearing red or even brown if the amount if larger.

Kidney Stones – Can also cause blood in the urine from irritation to the ureter (the tube that transports your urine from your kidney to your bladder). Stones can also cause lots of pain in your back or side (I've never had one, but some people swear it's worse than labor pains) or even fever, chills and vomiting. Some people need medical intervention, but usually stones will pass out of the body in time.

A car accident, bad fall, strenuous exercise
– These can all injure the upper or lower urinary tract or damage the bladder.

Bladder Cancer, Kidney Cancer, Kidney Disease – These can all cause blood to appear in the urine (though less common than the causes I discuss above, they are possibilities).

This Matters> If you find blood in your urine and can't come up with an explainable cause, don't hesitate to check in with your health care provider.

Some more helpful reading:
All about urinary tract conditions

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Comments

Jul 08, 2010 01:Jul 1 | sarah henry said

Funny colors & smells -- and

Funny colors & smells -- and funny how fascinating we all find the look and odor of our pee (or wee, as we say where i'm from). Who knew urine was full of clues, if only we took the time to study it?

Jul 07, 2010 18:Jul 6 | Alisa Bowman said

Yeah, my husband is an avid

Yeah, my husband is an avid cyclist and sometimes his urine is bright yellow, which makes me think he's dehydrated. But usually it's just because he's just popped a multi.

I just realized that my comment makes me seem.... so odd for knowing the color of his urine.

Jul 08, 2010 15:Jul 3 | Sheryl said

Funny...well, I guess that's

Funny...well, I guess that's what happens when you have an intimate relationship...you get to know things you wish you hadn't :)

Jul 07, 2010 14:Jul 2 | ruth pennebaker said

urine

I love the variety of subjects you cover here, Sheryl. Who would have thought this topic would be interesting -- but you *make* it both interesting and useful.

Jul 07, 2010 14:Jul 2 | Meredith said

So interesting, Sheryl. I

So interesting, Sheryl. I remember the first time I cooked beets for our daughters and, well, what you write is correct! I also remember Matt Lauer making some statement on Today about the whole asparagus effect (I think the guest was a doc who wrote a book)...it was quite funny, but I can't recall the doc's answer. He might have said something about a chemical reaction...

Jul 07, 2010 08:Jul 8 | Alexandra said

A rainbow of information

A rainbow of information here! I don't think the asparagus odor is fertilizer, because even organic, garden-grown asparagus gives urine the same smell.

Jul 07, 2010 08:Jul 8 | marthaandme said

This is a great comprehensive

This is a great comprehensive list!

Jul 07, 2010 06:Jul 6 | nora said

...I think the real question

...I think the real question is Why did I find this all so interesting?? I really did..I also check my urine to see if it is too strong, meaning I am not drinking enough water.

Jul 07, 2010 02:Jul 2 | Melanie Haiken said

don't forget dehydration

I've heard stories where someone gets really freaked out because their urine is dark and has a strong odor and they don't realize it's from dehydration. This becomes more common for many people as they age.

Jul 07, 2010 01:Jul 1 | Katherine said

How interesting!

This is a fascinating article. I suppose I shouldn't admit being so interested in the color of urine, but it's amazing all the things you could learn from that one fact.

Jul 07, 2010 01:Jul 1 | Christine said

It's so true that urine tells

It's so true that urine tells us so much about our health! I am used to thinking of it as a health indicator only during pregnancy but I have now learned, thanks to your informative post, that it can tell us much more!

Jul 06, 2010 21:Jul 9 | Melanie said

A rainbow of urine for

A rainbow of urine for everyone- what an interesting post. I think I need to pay more attention next time I have fava beans (with or without a good Chianti).

Jul 06, 2010 17:Jul 5 | Almost Slowfood said

huh, I never would have

huh, I never would have thought that beets could change the color of urine. I know they can change the color of other things though so readers beware!

Jul 08, 2010 15:Jul 3 | Sheryl said

Oh, yes, very true. In fact,

Oh, yes, very true. In fact, don't eat them before a colonoscopy!

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