Urine is an important part of the body’s disposal process. Its job is to remove the extra water and water-soluble wastes the kidneys filter from the blood. “The urine is there primarily to get rid of toxins or things that would otherwise build up in the body that would be bad for the body,” says Anthony Smith, MD, professor and chief of Urology at the University of New Mexico. Blood is filtered through your kidneys, where waste, minerals, salts, sugars, and other chemical byproducts are removed. Some sugars are reabsorbed into the blood that remains in the kidneys. Everything else is excreted in the form of urine, which passes through your urinary tract and out the urethra. Your personal plumbing system, the urinary tract, comprises four parts: the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Urine passes from the kidneys, down through muscular tubes called ureters, and into the bladder. Think of the bladder as a holding tank for urine, where it sits waiting to be expelled through the urethra.
A Variety of Colors
Have you ever noticed how your urine changes color according to how you eat and what you drink? Your pee can be a variety of colors, but peeing the colors of the rainbow isn’t necessarily a healthy thing. This is why it’s good for you to understand what your urine color says about your health.
Urine gets its yellow color from a pigment called urochrome. That color normally varies from pale yellow to deep amber, depending on the concentration of the urine. Darker urine is usually a sign that you are dehydrated and you’re not drinking enough fluid. Your body needs a certain amount of fluid to function, so the body will hold on to fluid and the urine will become very strong and concentrated. When that happens, it will turn a darker color.
The opposite is also true. If your urine is very pale, it means that you’re either drinking a lot of fluid, or you’re taking a diuretic — a drug that forces the body to get rid of excess water. Overhydration is also another manifestation of completely clear urine.
Urine can turn a rainbow of colors, and an unusual hue isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. Certain medications can turn the urine fluorescent green or blue, carrots can tint it orange, or vitamins can give it a yellow hue. Seeing red is typically a sign that there is blood in the urine, but before you panic, know that a little blood can produce a dramatic color change. It takes one drop of blood to turn a toilet bowl red.That said, just a little blood in the urine can be a sign of something serious, like an infection or cancer, and it warrants a visit to your doctor or urologist. If you’re seeing blood and your urine is also cloudy, there’s a good chance you’ve picked up an infection.
If you’re like me, you drink a lot of water on a daily basis. I drink around 4 bottles of water a day. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is recommended that men drink about 13 cups and that women should drink about 8 cups of water daily depending upon their weight and activity level. When you’re active and drink plenty of water, your pee is most likely clear or has a light yellow tinge to it. But if you’re an active person and your urine is red, this could indicate that you may have a kidney disease or a urinary tract infection; or you probably have just eating beets which can result in beeturia, the passing of pink or red urine because of a compound called betanin in the vegetable.
Importance of Hydration
It is absolutely important to note that water is a major factor in knowing your health status through urine. Water keeps your organ system running like a well-oiled machine. The urinary tract is a prime beneficiary, but drinking water consistently also helps regulate your body temperature, clears your bowels, removes waste, and keeps your skin youthful.
Although dehydration is a far greater concern than overhydration, there are actual cases wherein some people actually drink far more water than they need to. And a case where urine is completely transparent is not such a good thing. Normal, healthy pee actually has a yellow color from a pigment called urochrome. It’s true that the darker that yellow becomes, the less hydrated your body is. However, drinking so much water that your pee is clear can actually also cause an imbalance in your electrolyte levels.
The disruption of the natural balance between water and sodium in your blood can lead to a blood intoxication known as hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is often associated with ultra-endurance sports that last more than three hours. Endurance athletes are at a greater risk because as they consume large amounts of water while losing sodium through sweat. This fluid overload without the replacement of sodium can lead to blood sodium concentration that falls below normal level.
Common symptoms of hyponatremia include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headache and confusion
- Muscle weakness, spasms or cramps
- Seizure or convulsions
Even if you aren’t an endurance athlete, you can still be at risk for overhydration. Researchers note that hyponatremia is one of the most common electrolyte abnormalities. A good key to preventing overhydration is to sip—not gulp—water throughout the day, and to take in about half your body weight in ounces of water per day. For instance, a 140-pound woman should take in about 70 ounces of water per day.
Dehydration occurs when you lose more body fluids than you are taking in. If your pee is looking a bit dark, increase your water intake. One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re getting enough water is to premeasure your water in the morning, and keep a full glass by your side throughout the day. Sip water at work, while you’re sitting at a stoplight, or during exercise. Once your glass (or bottle) is empty, fill it back up.
Hypernatremia is severe dehydration mainly caused by the presence of excess sodium. This does not occur because of a high sodium intake, but because of water deficiency. You can lose a lot of water during long bouts of exercise, or with certain illnesses and medication.
Other signs of dehydration aside from darkening urine include:
- Fatigue, excessive yawning
- Lack of focus
- Dry mouth
- Dry skin
To treat mild to moderate dehydration, grab a sports drink that will rebalance your electrolytes and add sodium back into your system. Common sports drinks like Gatorade are widely available everywhere. Take extra precautions when working or training outside in hot weather or training in a facility without air conditioning.
Your urine is a very useful tool in diagnosing any health problems you may have, and thanks to this info-graphic by the Cleveland Clinic, you now have a guide to understanding what your pee color says about the status of your health.