- What Do the Color and Smell of Your Urine Tell You?
- What Causes Urine to Change Colors?
- Should I Tell My Doctor About Changes in Urine Color or Odor?
- 9 Causes of Smelly Urine—and What to Do About It
- Eating certain foods
- Drinking coffee
- Urinary tract infection
- Yeast infection
- Sexually transmitted infection
- Kidney stones
- 47 Possible Causes for Bacterial Pneumonia, Foul Smelling Urine, Proteinuria
- You Asked: Why Does My Sweat Smell Like Ammonia?
- Urine: the ultimate ‘organic’ fertiliser?
What Do the Color and Smell of Your Urine Tell You?
What Causes Urine to Change Colors?
Your level of fluid intake, foods, medication, vitamins, and various medical conditions can all affect the color of your urine.
Urine typically changes based on how well-hydrated you are. Fluids like water cause urine pigments to become more diluted, so drinking a lot of water will cause your urine to become more clear. If your kidneys begin to excrete a higher concentration of waste products, you’re likely to notice that your urine smells more like ammonia and is a darker yellow. Dark urine is an indication that you might be mildly to severely dehydrated, depending on the concentration. (9)
Clear urine is a sign that you are well-hydrated. Check to make sure that you’re not drinking too much water, as overhydration can sometimes lead to an imbalance of electrolytes in your blood. (10)
Pale or Transparent Yellow Urine
If your urine is a pale yellow or transparent yellow, you have been hydrating appropriately with water and other fluids. (10)
Dark Yellow Urine
Dark yellow urine is common but suggests that you may be mildly dehydrated. Make sure that you drink water when you are thirsty in order to avoid further dehydration. (10)
Amber or Honey Urine
Amber or honey-colored urine is a sign that your body hasn’t been getting enough fluids. Drink water to avoid dehydration. (10)
Carrots, carrot juice, and vitamin C can sometimes turn urine orange. Orange urine can indicate a potential liver problem, or it can also be a sign of dehydration. Some food dyes can also give your urine an orange tint. (10)
Pink or Red Urine
Urine may become pink or red due to certain foods, such as beets, rhubarb, and blackberries. (11)
Red or pink urine might also mean that there is blood in your urine. Blood in urine can be caused by: (11)
- Urinary tract infection
- Enlarged prostate
- Kidney stones
- Lead or mercury poisoning
Sometimes long-distance runners also experience blood in their urine. If your urine is red, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Blue or Green Urine
Foods that contain certain dyes may cause your urine to turn blue or green because they can’t be absorbed by your body. (11)
Blue diaper syndrome, also called familial benign hypercalcemia, is a rare disorder which can cause blue urine. It develops when the intestines incompletely break down the dietary nutrient tryptophan. (1)
Green urine can also be a sign of pseudomonas bacteria, which causes urinary tract infections. (11)
Dark Brown Urine
Foods like fava beans, aloe, and rhubarb can turn your urine brown. (11)
Liver and kidney diseases, as well as urinary tract infections, can also produce a brownish tint. If you’ve injured yourself from intense exercising, your urine may also appear dark brown. (11)
Certain malaria medicines, antibiotics, laxatives, and muscle relaxants can also cause dark urine. (9)
White or Milky Urine
White urine may indicate your body has an excess of certain minerals, including calcium or phosphate. It might also be a sign of a urinary tract infection. (1)
Should I Tell My Doctor About Changes in Urine Color or Odor?
You should always contact your doctor if you have any concerns about changes in your urine or if you notice anything out of the ordinary.
Warning signs might include an abnormal color that has no explanation, or any sign of blood in urine. Also seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing a fever, burning sensation while urinating, chills, or back pain.
Your doctor may want to conduct a urinalysis, urine culture, or other tests that can help pinpoint what is causing the changes in your urine. These might include a blood test, ultrasounds, or cystoscopy. (12)
9 Causes of Smelly Urine—and What to Do About It
Have you ever sat down on the toilet to relieve yourself and thought, Yuck, what’s that smell? Maybe you assumed the stench was the faint yet unpleasant odor that lingers in office bathrooms…but then you realized it wasn’t that at all. It was actually your own urine.
Yep, urine can be smelly—for a number of reasons. Many of them are harmless, but in some cases, smelly urine can be a sign that something more serious is going on. We asked a doctor to explain what causes smelly urine and what you can do about it. Hint: The five cups of coffee you had this morning aren’t doing your pee any favors.
RELATED: What Your Urine Color Says About Your Health
Not drinking enough H2O is the top cause of smelly urine, Sonia Dutta, MD, urogynecologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Illinois, tells Health. Urine is a combination of water and waste products, Dr. Dutta explains. “So when you’re dehydrated, your urine has less water in relation to waste products, which can make you have smelly urine,” she says.
You can check the color of your urine to confirm whether you’re dehydrated. If it’s amber- or honey-colored, or even a dark orange, you probably need to up your water intake. But if it’s a pale straw or transparent yellow color, you’re well hydrated, which means your urine could be smelly for another reason.
Eating certain foods
Asparagus is notorious for making urine smelly. But if this veggie doesn’t give your pee a funky odor, that’s normal, too.Dr. Dutta says everyone digests food differently, and some can get away with eating asparagus without any change in their urine. “It’s most likely because their body doesn’t have the enzyme they need to break it down completely,” she explains. But others do have the enzyme, and when those people digest asparagus, “their bodies make something called a sulfur metabolite, which can make the urine have a sulfur or ammonia smell.”
Other foods, like Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, curry, salmon, and alcohol, can have a similar effect. Dr. Dutta suggests drinking plenty of water when eating foods that you know make your pee; it’ll dilute your urine so the stench isn’t so noticeable.
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your coffee habit could be making your pee stink. Coffee metabolites, or the byproducts that come from coffee when it’s broken down in your body, can make urine smell, Dr. Dutta says. (Like we said before, this isn’t the case for everyone. So if you’ve never noticed an odor after your morning cup of joe, you’re probably in the clear.)
Coffee is also a diuretic, meaning it makes you have to pee a lot, flushing your body of extra fluid and sodium. Diuretics can cause dehydration, so on top of the smell from those coffee metabolites, your pee may also have a stench because it’s more concentrated than usual. Pro tip: Drink a tall glass of agua before your morning brew to fend off dehydration.
RELATED: 7 Things Every Woman Should Know About UTIs
Urinary tract infection
A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria get into your urinary system through the urethra and then begin to multiply in the bladder. Bacteria, of course, can make your pee smell bad. But Dr. Dutta says if you have a UTI, you’ll probably have more symptoms than just smelly urine. The same bacteria can also make you have to go more frequently, give you a burning sensation when peeing, and even turn your urine cloudy or even bloody.
Yeast are microorganisms that naturally live in various parts of the body, including the vagina. But when yeast grow out of control, they can trigger an infection. Yeast infections occur in the vagina, but because the urethra is so close to the vaginal opening, your urine may pick up a scent from the neighboring infection, Dr. Dutta says. Like a UTI, a yeast infection usually comes with other symptoms, like itching, redness, swelling of the vagina and vulva, and thick white discharge.
Sexually transmitted infection
“Some STIs may cause urethritis, or inflammation of the urethra,” Dr. Dutta says. “Anything that causes inflammation or irritation can potentially be associated with bacteria or pus or bleeding, which can change the smell of the urine.” Chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and gonorrhea are the STIs that most commonly cause urethritis. But even if an STI doesn’t cause urethritis, urine could still pick up a smell from irritation in the vagina, she adds.
Think you might have an STI? See your doctor ASAP. They’ll help you determine the best option for treatment.
RELATED: 4 Reasons You Might Leak a Little Pee, and What to Do About It
Anyone who’s had a kidney stone knows how painful they can be. Kidney stones develop when salt and other minerals found in urine stick together and form into hard stone-like deposits. They can be as small as sand-like grains or as large as full-on chunks of gravel. “Kidney stones can collect bacteria and lead to infection or sometimes bleeding,” Dr. Dutta says. “That can then change what the urine smells like.”
Other symptoms of kidney stones include back, side, or groin pain; nausea or vomiting; frequent urination; blood in urine; pain with urination; and fever. “Kidney stones are never, ever going to just be smelly urine,” she adds. “There will be other symptoms, as well.” Stones typically pass in the urine without any need for treatment. But seek medical attention if you have severe pain, vomiting, bleeding, or signs of infection.
People who have undiagnosed diabetes are “spilling out sugar into their urine,” Dr. Dutta says. That’s because they can’t process sugar the way most people can, meaning they have excess glucose in the blood, which the body tries to get rid of through the urine. “When you have that extra sugar in your urine, it’s going to give it a sweet, fruity smell,” she explains. People with uncontrolled diabetes will likely also have increased pee urgency or frequency, as the sugar irritates the bladder. See your doctor ASAP if you think you might have diabetes.
Dr. Dutta says many people notice their urine smells different after taking vitamins—same way some people detect a different urine odor after eating certain foods. But there’s nothing to worry about if you conclude a vitamin is making your pee rank. “Vitamins tend to be a little bit in excess of what your body truly needs, so you’ll often end up peeing some of that out,” she says.
RELATED: How Often Should You Pee a Day? A Doctor Weighs In
47 Possible Causes for Bacterial Pneumonia, Foul Smelling Urine, Proteinuria
You Asked: Why Does My Sweat Smell Like Ammonia?
Maybe you’ve noticed it after a big run: Your sweat has a strong, cloying odor, sort of like a public restroom, perhaps. You may disregard it as an inevitable byproduct of a strenuous workout, but that ammonia smell may be a red flag your diet isn’t keeping up with your energy needs.
“Your body normally metabolizes carbohydrates to create the fuel it requires for exercise,” says Dr. William Roberts, a professor of sports and family medicine at the University of Minnesota. “But if you’re exercising hard and don’t have enough carbs to meet your body’s needs, your system will switch over to protein metabolism.”
MORE: Is It Healthy To Sweat A Lot?
When your body breaks down protein, ammonia is one of the byproducts, Roberts explains. Normally your liver would convert that ammonia into urea, a benign organic compound that your kidneys would dispel of in the form of urine. But if you’re starved of carbs and turning to protein for most of your energy, your liver may not be able to handle all the ammonia your body produces. In those instances, your sweat becomes the vehicle through which your body jettisons all of the extra ammonia in your system.
“You see this more in people who eat low-carb and high-protein diets, or people who are over-exercisers, like ultra marathoners,” says Dr. Lewis Maharam, a New York-based physician and author of the Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Running.
Maharam says dehydration can also contribute to the smell because it makes your sweat more concentrated. “If your urine is very dark yellow or brown, you’re not drinking enough water, and that could be part of the reason you’re smelling that ammonia.” (He’s quick to add that over-hydration is a more common issue among endurance athletes. If your pee is clear, drink less.)
The big takeaway here is that ammonia-scented sweat is not normal or healthy. “If you’re smelling ammonia in sweat, something’s wrong,” Maharam says.
Both he and Roberts agree you need to add more carbohydrates to your diet. “Whole fruits, potatoes, rice, pasta and breads are all traditional carb sources that should help correct the problem,” Roberts says. If you’re engaging in super-long workouts, sport drinks and bars tend to be carb heavy, so they can help your body avoid a switch to protein breakdown, Maharam adds.
If adding carbs to your diet doesn’t help, see a doctor. “People with liver or kidney disease also have trouble disposing of ammonia,” Roberts says. It’s also possible people on protein-heavy diets—such as Paleo—may be overburdening their systems to the point that their sweat smells like ammonia, Maharam says.
“Balance is the key to health, especially when it comes to what you’re eating,” he adds. “Going to the extreme of all protein or all fat or all carbs…none of those is good for you.”
Correction: July 9, 2019
The original version of this story mischaracterized the way that carbohydrates affect protein in the body. They help the body to avoid breaking down protein, not synthesizing it.
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Every time you pee in a toilet, you flush away potentially valuable chemicals. One day, you might not have to.
Human urine is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. Plants need these nutrients to grow. Now researchers in Finland have a new way to pull them out of human pee. And, they say, this process can turn a profit.
Pee is mostly water. The rest of it are wastes that urine ferries out of the body. One of those wastes is excess nitrogen. Urine’s nitrogen exists mostly in the form of a chemical known as urea (Yu-REE-uh). Urine also removes excess phosphorus from the body.
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Both nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that plants need to grow. But spraying urine directly onto farm fields is impractical. Untreated urine also can contain harmful germs that might make people sick. So researchers have been looking for ways to process pee into a safe, ready-to-apply plant fertilizer.
Surendra Pradhan is an environmental scientist at Aalto University in Finland. He got the inspiration for this innovation while doing research in Ghana. Large parts of that African country and other low-income nations have few systems for treating wastewater. Untreated human wastes can pollute bodies of water and lead to disease. Indeed, Pradhan notes, “Globally, wastewater is a very big issue.”
These radishes got a nitrogen boost from a fertilizer (white powdered crystals) created from human urine.Surendra Pradhan
Methods already existed to make fertilizer from urine. One process produces crystals of magnesium-ammonium phosphate. Its common name is struvite. Growers could find it useful where they need to fertilize food crops with phosphorus and nitrogen. But farmers don’t always need both. Also, many farmers aren’t familiar with struvite, Pradhan says. So they may not buy it.
Instead, Pradhan was inspired to make a urine-sourced version of a product that is already commonly used. It’s known as ammonium sulfate. His group described their innovative approach to making this nitrogen-rich product in the May 2 issue of Environmental Science & Technology.
Two products at once
The first step in their new process adds calcium hydroxide to urine. Calcium hydroxide is an alkaline chemical, also known as a base. It increases the urine’s pH to above 12. (The alkaline range on the pH scale runs from just above 7 — which is neutral — to a high of 14.) The high pH kills any germs and sterilizes the urine, Pradhan says.
Calcium hydroxide also reacts chemically with the urine. This pulls phosphorus out of the mixture in the form of calcium phosphate. That chemical can be sold as a phosphorus-rich fertilizer. The reaction also makes nitrogen-rich ammonia gas.
The new process diverts the gas into another chemical-reaction vessel. It contains sulfuric acid. Here, the ammonia reacts with the acid to make ammonium sulfate. That’s the common nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
The researchers will continue to work on these fertilizers to see whether they contain any potentially harmful contaminants. High levels of some metals, for instance, might pose health risks. But so far, Pradhan says, his team’s research suggests the risk of harmful contaminants is very, very low.
If all works out, the new urine-recycling process should be profitable. Number-crunching by Pradhan’s group shows that recycling 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of urine could yield a profit of about €2.25, or about $2.50. (€ is the symbol for euros, and here $ represents U.S. dollars.)
To be useful, the process must make money, Pradhan explains. Without a profit, people will likely not bother to recycle urine. And that will let a lot of valuable nutrients go to waste — literally.
Håkan Jönsson is an environmental engineer at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala. He did not work on Pradhan’s project. Using calcium hydroxide to do two things at once is “innovative,” he says. And, he adds, “The total process seems to make economic sense.”
Still, Jönsson notes, the concentration of nitrogen in the fertilizer is only about 13 percent. That’s lower than the 21 percent found in commercial ammonium sulfate. In his view, then, there is still room to improve this process.
To make money, Pradhan’s process needs a steady supply of urine that does not contain other bathroom wastes. The best way to do that is with a separating toilet. In this type, pee goes into one part. Feces go in another. Although still relatively rare, such toilets are becoming more common in Finland and Sweden.
Other researchers are also trying to turn human wastes into something useful. Two of Jönsson’s colleagues at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences are developing their own “No-Waste Toilet.” The name refers to its goal of turning human wastes into a useful fertilizer.
The Swedish team’s design uses wood ash to raise the pH of the urine. That step stops a chemical process that would have changed urine’s nitrogen-rich urea into ammonia. The wood ash stabilizes the nitrogen in urea. Now the urine can be dried without losing the nutrient value of its nitrogen. The resulting materials could be used as a fertilizer product, according to environmental engineers Jenna Senecal and Björn Vinnerås. They described the toilet in the May 15 issue of Science of the Total Environment.
Pradhan’s group and the Swedish team use different approaches. But their goals are the same — safe treatment and reuse of urine. Our bodies excrete excess nutrients from foods as wastes. Says Jönsson, “The recycling of the nutrients from our food is needed for a more sustainable society.”
This is one in a series presenting news on technology and innovation, made possible with generous support from the Lemelson Foundation.
Urine: the ultimate ‘organic’ fertiliser?
Ever felt the urge to skip the toilet and just pee in the bush, behind the tree, in the flowerbed? Have you ever wondered why we have been so conditioned to hold on to a screaming bladder while we search for the nearest toilet, which could be many minutes away, meanwhile putting certain internal organs through extreme stress?
There are public decency laws to respect, and for women there are obvious added complications surrounding the degree of derobing that may be necessary, but we shouldn’t be wasting this ultimate homemade fertiliser. Most of us may have a deeply ingrained belief that urine is a noxious substance that must be disposed of in a urinal, but this is a myth that needs busting.
Urine for a pleasant surprise
Human urine is one of the fastest-acting, most excellent sources of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and trace elements for plants, delivered in a form that’s perfect for assimilation. Not only that, we all have a constant, year-round supply of it – and it’s free!
Fresh human urine is sterile and so free from bacteria. In fact it is so sterile that it can be drunk when fresh; it’s only when it is older than 24 hours that the urea turns into ammonia, which is what causes the ‘wee’ smell. At this stage it will be too strong for use on plants, but poured neat on to the compost heap it makes a fabulous compost accelerator/activator, with the extra benefit of adding more nutrients.
Dilute one part urine to 10-15 parts water for application on plants in the growth stage. Dilute in 30-50 parts water for use on pot plants, which are much more sensitive to fertilisers of any kind. Trees, shrubs and lawns are fine with undiluted urine, but for obvious reasons apply it underneath fruiting bushes, as opposed to directly on to foliage and fruit. Some fertilisers, such as seaweed, are specifically used as foliar feeds , but urine is always best applied directly to a plant’s root system.
Antibiotics, vitamin supplements and other medications will end up in your urine, but in such minute quantities as to be negligible, especially when diluted in water.
What is wee?
Urine is 95 per cent water, 2.5 per cent of which is urea, and a further 2.5 per cent of which is a mixture of minerals, salts, hormones and enzymes. It is a blood byproduct but despite containing some bodily waste is non-toxic.
In 1975, Dr A. H. Free published his book Urinalysis in Clinical Laboratory Practice, presenting a few of the critical nutrients found in urine, including urea nitrogen, urea, creatinin nitrogen, creatinin, uric acid nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen, amino nitrogen, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, inorganic sulphate and inorganic phosphate.
During a pee, a healthy adult will release 11g nitrogen/urea, 1g phosphorus/super-phosphate and 2.5g potassium. Patrick Makhosi, a soil scientist with Uganda’s Kawanda Agricultural Research Organisation, confirms the efficacy of human urine as a fertiliser. He says that applying urine to growing vegetables once every week for at least two months will more than double the yield.
Flushed with embarrassment
Many toilets use between 50 and 100 litres of water a day to flush approximately 1.5 litres of pee. The average person has five wees a day and the average flush uses eight litres of water – that’s 40 litres. Given that the population of the UK is an estimated 62 million, we may be contaminating and then flushing away somewhere in the region of 2,500 million litres of clean drinking water every day. (Returning our waste water to a drinkable condition also involves a complicated process of chemical separation and cleaning.) If this were an action by a commercial company, serious questions would be asked about its practices. Diluting urine to use as a fertiliser would use a fraction of this amount of water while producing a valuable plant food.
Using urine instead of disposing of it also cuts down on river pollution: urine is a major source of nitrogen, which, if an expensive denitrification process is not undertaken at the water treatment plant, can contribute to river eutrophication. Excessive levels of nutrients in our effluent systems leads to the growth of algae. Algal blooms can ultimately causes the death of plants and animals throughout our waterways.
So, if you want a ready source of plant food that is perfectly balanced for your garden, that is absolutely free, available all year round, saves valuable drinking water and excessive use of cleaning chemicals, and limits the heavy use of fossil fuels in artificial fertiliser production, consider using your own urine.
There is also the added pleasure of feeling that you are a more integrated part of the cycle of growth in your garden; in the loop, not exempted from it. Happy gardening – and remember these golden rules…
Keep it separate
Separate urine from other bodily waste to keep it sterile. Pee in a bottle or bucket, or invest in a urine-separating toilet.
Use it fresh
The smell of ammonia also indicates a drop in nutritional content. Use old wee directly on your compost heap
Urine is too strong to be used neat on plants. Dilute at least 10:1 and up to 50:1 for use on tender plants and seedlings.
Dorienne Robinson is a freelance journalist
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