There are several ways you can tell the state of someone’s health just by looking at them. And I don’t mean weight. In dietetics school we learn a vast number of ways to tell if someone is healthy based on his or her appearance. That way, we know if you’re lying to us about what you eat. (Just kidding on that last part.)
However, we can tell you a lot of things just by taking a closer look at your physical appearance. The state of your fingernails, cracks in the corner of your mouth, teeth marks on the edge of your tongue, scaly skin, red or cloudy eyes — these are all things that can give us a clue as to what nutritional deficiencies or health ailments you may have.
It’s not an exact science, of course, but it’s much less invasive than needles or knives, and it’s something you can learn to look out for on your own. There’s another thing that can give us a little insight to your health, although there’s a good chance we’re just going to ask you and not look for ourselves: the color of your pee. Not only does the color of your urine indicate whether or not you’re adequately hydrated, it can give you an indication of your health as well.
We’re about to get up close and personal here. Here are a handful of things the color — and smell — of your pee can say about your health.
1. Color of Health
The whole point of peeing is ridding your body of toxins that are flushed out through the kidneys, meaning if you noticed something peculiar going on, it might be worth looking into it. The color, smell, and amount of urine you produce can be a window into what’s going on inside of your body.
2. Pee Colors
From clear to yellow to dark amber, there are many “normal” shades of urine. But even those normal shades can give you a peek into your health — whether you’re adequately hydrated or need to be drinking more is a big one. Other colors like blue, orange, green, and red can be a sign you’re taking certain medications or that something bigger like an infection is going on. Here are 9 different colors to look out for.
3. Clear or Almost Clear
While water and liquid is important to health, too much can be dangerous. If there’s no color to your urine, you might want to rethink how much you’re drinking. (Your urine could also be extremely pale or colorless if you’re taking a diuretic, a medication that rids your body of excess fluid.
4. Pale Yellow
A pale, yellow color to your pee most likely means everything’s normal. The light color shows you’re adequately hydrated. The slightly yellow color is normal. It comes from urochrome, a substance produced during the breakdown of the blood component heme.
5. Dark Yellow
The opposite of colorless pee, a dark shade of yellow or amber means you’re urine is concentrated, likely due to insufficient water intake. Try drinking more throughout the day or eating foods rich in water content like fruit and vegetables.
Bright orange pee is often a side effect of medication or eating too many orange foods like carrots. Medications that can cause urine to take on an orange shade instead of the traditional yellow include those for tuberculosis, urinary tract infections, and riboflavin (a B vitamin).
Now we’re getting into the not-so-normal stuff. Red typically indicates that there is blood mixed into the urine, although just because you see a lot of red doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a lot of blood. Blood in your urine can mean anything from a menstrual cycle to an infection to cancer, so this one probably warrants a bit of your attention. Don’t get too worked up though; it can also be from too much strenuous exercise or something as benign as eating beets.
A genetic metabolic disorder called porphyria can cause your pee to be a dark brownish-red, port-wine shade. Porphyria involves the transformation of heme, a vital component of the blood, hence the red color.
Brown urine often results from the breakdown of bilirubin in diseases of the liver like cirrhosis and hepatitis, or from excess pigment in the case of melanoma. It can also be from foods like fava beans.
10. Cloudy or Milky, or Cloudy and Red
A cloudy or opaque pee often indicates infection, especially if there’s also a red tinge to it. The cloudy or milky white shade can come from excess white blood cells that are released during an infection. It can also come from uric acid or phosphate crystals, which come from foods high in purines and extra parathyroid hormone, respectively.
11. Blue or Green
You’re an alien. Just kidding. Though this would totally throw me for a loop and throw any hypochondriac into a panic attack, certain medications can cause some pretty radical color changes when it comes to pee. Blue urine often comes from a dye in used in diagnostic tests or antimicrobials. There are also certain medical conditions that can cause pee to turn blue, like Hartnup disease. Green can also be a sign of a bacterial infection.
12. Urine Odors
In addition to color, what your pee smells like can give you a clue as to whether things are working properly in your body. No one ever claims urine smells good, but normal pee should have little to no aroma. Unusual scents like ammonia or maple syrup can be some fairly interesting indicators of health and disease.
The strong, pungent smell of ammonia can indicate an infection or kidney stones. (A strong smell in general may just also reflect something you ate recently, like asparagus, or general dehydration.) If the smell is from food, it will go away once it works through your system. If it’s a strong ammonia smell, a trip to the doctor is likely in order to determine the cause. Kidney stones and infections left untreated can cause serious health problems.
A sweet-smelling urine could indicate extra sugar (glucose) in your body due to a disease like diabetes or damaged kidneys. Though a sweet smell may be more pleasant than the typically urine smell, this one probably warrants a mention to a doctor. They can check to see if glucose is spilling into your urine, which could indicate something’s not working right in the body. Glucose in the urine can be an indicator of diabetes, where the body can’t properly break down or process the sugar in the blood.
15. Maple Syrup
The smell of maple syrup may be delicious when it comes to pancakes, but not so much when it comes to using the bathroom. The distinct smell of maple syrup in your pee can indicate a disease aptly named Maple Syrup Urine Disease. This genetic disorder is often diagnosed in infancy. The body is unable to breakdown certain amino acids (which are the building blocks of protein). People who have Maple Syrup Urine Disease should avoid eating branched-chain amino acids, which include valine, leucine, and isoleucine. You won’t typically experience this as an adult, but if you smell it in your baby’s diapers, call the doctor.