What can the smell and color of my urine tell me about my health
- Light yellow to transparent: you are very well hydrated. Contrary to the often-cited urban legend, one does not need to aim for clear/very light urine in order to be properly hydrated, nor should they force themselves to drink the arbitrary “8 glasses of water a day” figure I keep hearing. There is no scientific basis to this wives’ tale. Drink when you are thirsty— this is your body communicating with you the way nature intended.
- Clear yellow: perfectly normal pee! This does not necessarily deem a perfect bill of health— you may have issues in other bodily systems that don’t affect urine output.
- Dark yellow: your urine is very concentrated, meaning it’s either your first pee of the day— when you’re young, your kidneys concentrate like hell while you’re sleeping so you don’t have to wake up and pee every few hours— or you are otherwise dehydrated. You will probably also feel thirsty as your body corroborates this message.
- Bright yellow/green: multivitamins often cause a fluorescent/radioactive shade of chartreuse as the excess spills over into urine. Your body can only absorb a certain amount of any given vitamin at a time, so unfortunately much of multivitamin content really is excreted and wasted, as the cynics rightfully claim.
- Red: certain foods such as beets and food dyes can lend a reddish hue. Disease states that cause this include bleeding anywhere in the urinary tract, hemolytic anemia (wherein your red blood cells are being inappropriately destroyed), or porphyria, a genetic condition that causes a failure to synthesize normal hemoglobin, the metalloprotein responsible for transporting oxygen within RBCs. Certain medications such as the antibiotic Rifampicin and UTI pain med “Cystex”/“phenazopyridine
” also cause an alarmingly bright (but temporary) red-orange color.
*Menstruating women may also occasionally contaminate their urine specimens with blood, but that’s no big deal— it just means we med techs just have to do a microscope exam to make sure that was the cause and not a more serious issue.*
- White/milky: This could mean an abundance of bacteria, white blood cells, and/or fat are present in the urine. This indicates severe infection and/or disease and that you should seek immediate medical treatment, although I’d wager the pain would bring you in before the urine color did. Another possibility is a large amount of mineral spillover, but the appearance will be chalky and cloudier instead of more homogenous and creamy.
- Blue: sometimes after a medical procedure a person may temporarily have blue urine due to the presence of “methylene blue” dye or certain antiseptics in their system, and certain drugs such as Viagra have also been reported to contribute a blueish tint.
- Brown/black: can be caused by a disease called “alkaptonuria” wherein the body cannot process the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine, so the intermediary substance “homogentisic acid” accumulates within the urine and darkens it to brown. Other causes are melanin in the urine, as may be found when the patient has melanoma skin cancer. Intramuscular iron injections can also cause dark urine, as do certain drugs such as methydopa and L-dopa.
- Strange smell: usually a result of either an infection (it will smell very foul) or a recently eaten food item such as asparagus or Golden Crisp cereal, in which it will smell much like the food. The metabolic disease “phenylketonuria” also causes a sweet, syrupy smelling urine.
- Cloudiness: indicates a higher percentage of protein, bacteria, mineral spillover, and/or crystals. Urinary tract infections often cause cloudy, foul-smelling urine because it’s chock-full of bacteria— usually E. coli— nibblin on your urethra’s epithelial (outermost skin/lining) cells and junking everything up with the associated debris. Increased protein can be caused by kidney problems, dehydration, excessive protein intake à la body builders, & whole a host of illnesses. Mineral spillover is usually attributed to magnesium or calcium supplements and very rarely something more pathological such as osteoporosis.
EDIT: I can’t believe I forgot to mention crystals! Benign crystal precipitates are responsible for the semi-opaque swirls of chalky clouds which are most notable during the “alkaline tide” after a large meal due to amorphous phosphates precipitating in their transiently alkaline environment. If you wish to discover whether such crystals are the cause for your clouds, merely add a drop of vinegar to acidify your specimen- if they clear up, it’s affirmative!
- Foaminess/frothiness: also an indicator of high protein content, or possibly increased bilirubin levels in the urine. Normally, urine gets its yellow color from a breakdown product of bilirubin called “urobilin” or “urochrome”, but when bilirubin is not metabolized correctly due to a liver obstruction or GI problems it can sometimes spill over unchanged into urine.
Stay hydrated and healthy and your urine should remain within the light yellow to amber range without too much haziness unless you just had a big meal/consumed lots of protein/are taking many mineral supplements.
Seek a medical professional’s help if it ever burns when you pee or you notice a bad odor and/or unusual cloudiness, as well as sudden unanticipated color changes not caused by your diet.