Why urine color can be a clue to your health

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Look into someone’s eyes and they say it’s a window to their soul. Look into the toilet bowl and it can be a window to your health. Taking a brief moment after urinating to glance at what you are leaving behind before you flush it away, can give you a hint about what’s going on inside your body.  

Each day, the average person produces almost six and a half cups of urine forcing us to make about four to eight trips to a bathroom in a 24 hour period eliminating this waste product.  But how many of you take a look at the color of your urine?  Next time, take a peek into the pot taking note of what hue it is.  It may be telling you a lot about the state of your health. 

What is considered a normal color?

A normal color for urine should be a very pale yellow.  If the concentration of urine is high, the color can become noticeably darker. The concentration depends on the proportion of waste products to water within urine.  Urine consists of excess water the body doesn’t need along with waste products the kidneys have filtered from your blood.  Concentration of urine relies partly on how much fluid you are consuming along with food choices with high water content such as fruits and vegetables. 

We tend to associate urine’s color with being yellow.  The yellow color comes from a substance known as urochrome also known as uroblin and is the result of hemoglobin breakdown.  Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues.  Every day, new red blood cells are made so old ones must be broken down and removed from the body.  Urochrome is a by-product of this process which ends up in urine showing up as a yellow color. 

The color of our urine can be a valuable and reliable tool for monitoring hydration.  That is one reason why it is advisable to notice the color of your urine daily to assess your hydration status.  The darker the color or the darker shade of your urine, the high likelihood you are dehydrated. 

Assessing abnormal colors of urine

There is a range of possibilities as to what may affect the color of your urine.  Common ones are generally harmless and temporary.  The primary offenders tend to be foods, vitamins, and medications.  Changes in urine color can also be due to a medical problem of anything from a urinary tract infection to a more serious bladder or kidney condition.  Here are some examples of colors urine can become and the reasons why:

Orange

Orange colored urine is usually the result of either medications or foods.  Medications that may turn your urine orange could be the blood thinning medication of warfarin or Coumadin, Rifadin, or Pyridium used for urinary bladder pain.  Laxatives and chemotherapy agents can also be added to this list for turning urine orange.

Eating a lot of carrots can cause an orange hue due to the substance found in carrots called carotene.  Taking a vitamin C supplement will also turn urine a bright orange/yellow as the body eliminates any excess vitamin C it does not need and doesn’t have a place to store it.

Red

The most obvious assumption for urine turning red is the indication of blood.  This is known as hematuria and if that is what you suspect see a doctor as soon as possible.  There is a blood-related condition called hemoglobinuria and a muscle related condition called myoglobinuria, both which can result in urine turning red.

A more harmless reason for red urine is food related.  Beets, blackberries, and rhubarb can temporarily turn urine a pink or red color.  Beets deep magenta color which comes from pigments is stable only at certain levels of stomach acidity.  Only about 10 to 14% of people get what is called “beeturia” which is when your urine turns red due to eating beets.  However, it may not happen every time beets are eaten as the acidity of your stomach depends on when you ate beets and what other foods were eaten at the same time. 

Brown

Again, medications are the usual reasons for turning urine a shade of brown.  These may include antipsychotic drugs such as thorazine and mellaril, antibiotics such as metronidazole, the epilepsy drug called phenytoin, and sennoside laxatives.

Consuming rhubarb for some people may turn urine a dark brown or tea-colored as can fava beans and aloe.

Deep purple

A rare metabolic disorder called porphyria can cause urine to appear deep purple.  Porphyria is a group of diseases in which substances called porphyrins build up affecting the skin or nervous system.  The word porphyria is derived from the Greek word porphyrus meaning purple, a reference to the color of urine that may occur.

Green

Green urine is usually the result of medications containing the compound phenol such as promethazine used for allergies and nausea and propofol, a drug used in anesthetics.  Dyes used in kidney tests can also turn urine a greenish cast. 

Cloudy urine

If urine appears more cloudy than clear, this can indicate several possibilities.  Here are some reasons for urine looking cloudy:

·      In women, it is often due to vaginal discharge

·      Dehydration

·      Urinary bladder infections or urinary tract infections

·      Kidney disease including kidney stones

If urine is cloudy and has a foamy appearance, it could indicate a kidney problem or having excess protein in the urine.  Temporary foaminess is usually a result of an unsteady urine flow but if it lasts for more than a few day, see a physician to evaluate it further.