Dark yellow means get busy with the water bottle, black means ‘Doctor help!’

Discussing urine color may never be a great dinner topic, but it’s an excellent barometer of your health. Here’s why:

The Urinary System

Blood is filtered through the kidneys. The kidneys remove anything your body doesn’t need to keep, and out goes the rest in the form of urine. From the kidneys, urine travels down the ureters into the bladder and then out through the urethra.

This entire system can be sensitive to even slight changes. Too much or too little water, eating certain foods like beets, medications, bacteria levels, the presence of minerals or protein, and of course other underlying health problems can all play a part in impacting urine color.

Urine Colors Explained

While it might be unnerving to see a strange color in the toilet bowl, it is not always a major cause for concern. Health and fitness coach Kellie Davis tells us:

Clear: Too much water, slow it down.

Pale yellow to straw-colored (think lemonade): Perfect. Urine the zone.

Yellow: Drink some water. This is still “normal” but verging on you becoming dehydrated, especially on a hot day or if you are engaging in physical activity.

Gold or honey-colored: Time to get busy with that water bottle.

Orange: Usually this is from medications. Talk to a doctor.

Dark yellow to brown (maple syrup colored): This is a sign that things are not OK. It could be a sign of severe dehydration or of liver dysfunction. If you are drinking enough water and your urine color is still dark, see a health professional ASAP.

Pink or red: This could be caused by foods that are dark red, or artificial dyes in food, which is not good for your health. So if you have been eating red, you probably have nothing to worry about. If you can’t think of any food that might have caused it, check with your doctor. Certain medications might cause red urine. However, it might also be a sign of a urinary tract infection, kidney, or bladder infection. Get it checked out.

Green or blue: Again, this can be related to foods (asparagus, blueberries), artificial dyes in foods, or certain medications. It can also be an indicator of a rare genetic disorder, so talk to your doctor about it.

Purple: Nope. This is not a thing.

Black: Yep, this one is a thing. It is usually associated with eating a lot of fava beans, rhubarb, or aloe. This could also be a sign of something more serious — copper or phenol poisoning, melanoma — see your doctor.

White or milky: This could be a sign of bacteria, minerals, or protein in your urine. Get it checked out.

Frothy: If your urine is occasionally bubbly, it is probably nothing to worry about. But if it is regularly foamy or frothy it could indicate high protein levels in your urine. And that’s not OK. See your doctor.

It is important to know a bit about hydration and dehydration as well. While most doctors won’t judge hydration levels on urine output alone, it is something to consider.

Hyponatremia

Overhydration can be just as dangerous as dehydration. According to the National Kidney Association “A low sodium level in your blood may be caused by too much water or fluid in the body.” Hyponatremia is an electrolyte imbalance that is caused by drinking too much water and not absorbing enough sodium. This is often seen in endurance athletes who sweat a lot and drink a lot of water, but fail to replenish the salt that their bodies are sweating out.

Symptoms of Hyponatremia are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Don’t be fooled though. Hyponatremia can happen to people who are not endurance athletes, too. To avoid overhydration, make sure you are sipping water throughout the day, not gulping. And make sure that you are replenishing any salt your body might be losing through sweat — eat something a little bit salty (but avoid ionized salt).

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urine color

Dehydration

Dehydration is caused by a lack of fluids in your body. Often, we don’t drink enough water, especially during the winter months when it is cold outside and we wear extra layers to keep warm. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation

According to health coach Robyn Lanci, “To prevent dehydration, incorporate fruits and veggies with a high water content into your diet. For example, cucumbers, celery, and watermelon. Added bonus: because watermelon is a fruit that’s higher in natural sugar, it can also kill cravings for processed sweets.”

Hypernatremia   

Hypernatremia is severe dehydration that causes a buildup of salt in your body. This is not caused by foods (unless you are drinking sea water), but a lack of water. It can be a very serious condition, so make sure you are drinking enough water, but not too much.

Lanci says “Ideally, you should aim to drink half your body weight in water.” A 140 pound person, for example, should drink 70 ounces daily.

Dr. Dena Rifkin, nephrologist at the University of California San Diego Medical Center, says just “drink to thirst.” She claims that the eight glasses a day is an urban myth and that you should just listen to your body to tell you when to drink. Unless, of course, you are running a marathon.

Urinary System Health

So how do we keep the plumbing working the way it should? Lanci says to eat foods that are rich in essential fatty acids and to add baking soda to your water to have an alkalizing effect. Green drinks, alkaline water (pH 8-9.5), sprouts, lemon water, coconut, aloe (but not too much), getting enough sleep, and exercising are also good ways to alkalize your body.

Nicole Gibbs holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside. She has been published on Scary Mommy and The Manifest-Station. She lives in San Diego County with her wife, five children and many, many, pets. Nicole is working towards a degree in journalism and plans to continue her education to obtain her PhD in Communications.

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