Unless you smell something “off” (like last night’s asparagus), you probably aren’t thinking about your urine before it swirls down the commode or toilet.
But did you know the odor and color of your urine can tell you a very personal story about your health?
“Your urine color can tell you a lot about what’s going on in your body, including your level of hydration, possible infections, even the fact that you’re taking a medication,” said James Wolach, MD, a urologist at Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, CO. “The odor of your urine can be from diet or medications and different supplements but can also be from an infection.”
Urine is your body’s liquid waste. It is mostly made up of water (at least 95%) but also a complex cocktail of salt and chemicals that your kidneys filter out from your blood. “In addition to water, urine contains urea, creatine, uric acid, sodium, potassium, ammonium and phosphate,” Dr. Wolach said.
Bathroom talk is a taboo topic for a dinner party, but it’s a very normal and important conversation to have with your health care provider – especially if you’re experiencing issues.
Read on to learn more about the meaning behind the color and smell of your urine and when a medical checkup is needed.
What color should my urine be?
To get a true reading of your urine color, it’s important to pay attention to the stream of urine coming out from your body, not the color of your pee after it’s mixed with toilet bowl water, which can dilute or change the color.
Here’s a handy breakdown the next time you take a gander mid-stream:
Clear to light yellow urine
Congratulations, you’re well hydrated! Pale yellow to clear urine means you’re giving your body the fluids it needs.
“When you’re healthy and hydrated, your urine color should actually have very little color to it, from light yellow to clear,” Dr. Wolach said. “However, it’s not abnormal for the color of your urine to vary throughout the day.”
Cloudy, murky-looking urine can be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI) but can also indicate kidney stones, a sexually transmitted disease or diabetes. White or milky urine can also be caused by an overabundance of proteins.
Dark yellow to amber urine
The good news, you’re in the right shade in the color chart. Bright yellow pee, even as dark as amber, may be harmless, but it could be a sign that you’re a little dehydrated or taking more vitamins than your body needs. You may want to check with your provider on what vitamins your body doesn’t need as much so you can cut back.
Most commonly, orange urine is caused by medications you’re taking but it can also indicate possible liver or bile duct problems. If you’re peeing orange, you could have also eaten something with food dye.
Dark brown urine
Brown urine could mean you have severe dehydration or a liver condition. If you’re eating large amounts of fava beans, rhubarb or aloe, your urine can also take on a dark brown color.
“Dark-colored urine can also indicate liver disease, but is usually associated with fatigue, yellow skin and eyes and weight loss as well,” Dr. Wolach said.
Red and pink urine
This might indicate a possible infection, kidney disease or certain cancers. In some cases, reddish-brown urine can be old blood.
“If there is pain associated with red or pink urine, it could be a sign of a UTI or kidney stones,” Dr. Wolach said. “If there is no pain, it could be a sign of a kidney or bladder cancer.”
In some cases, red urine doesn’t always indicate a problem. “Eating a large number of blackberries or beets can also cause reddish-brown urine,” Dr. Wolach said.
Blue or green urine
Blue or green urine, albeit shocking, is usually related to artificial colors or dyes in foods. However, it can also be from medications, antidepressants and any drugs containing phenol.
Eating asparagus can sometimes leave a tinge of green in your urine, though many people complain about the vegetable’s odorous effect when they urinate.
What about smelly urine?
In addition to color, it’s also important to pay attention to changes in the smell of your urine. While we know asparagus is a prime suspect when it comes to smelly pee, changes in smell could also be caused by underlying conditions.
“A sweet, fruity urine odor can be caused by uncontrolled diabetes,” Dr. Wolach said. “Foul odors can be a sign of a UTI, and the urine may also have some blood and be cloudy.”
Definitely contact your provider if the odor doesn’t go away.
What do you do if your urine color shifts from shades of yellow to a completely different hue in the crayon box? Before you panic, remind yourself that the color of your urine can mean multiple things - and not all that is bad.
That’s why the “urinate in a cup” routine during your annual wellness exam is so important—so don’t skip this yearly visit with your provider.
“Urinalyses are important because they can detect not only the early signs of a disease, but they can also show the presence of red blood cells (i.e., blood in your urine), bacteria or white blood cells that could indicate an infection,” Dr. Wolach said.
The next time you do “your business,” take a moment to check in and see what’s going on with your urine — but most importantly, your health.
If you’ve got questions or concerns about the color or smell of your urine, contact your health care provider or visit bannerhealth.com to find a Banner Health specialist near you.