Healthy Living

3,000 Chemicals And Counting: What Your Urine Says About Your Health

urine
Scientists have laid out over 3,000 chemicals in urine. What can your urine tell you about your health? Flickr, Kevin Lau

As a biofluid, urine is among the most “favored” by scientists because it is sterile, chemically complex, and free from interfering proteins and lipids. Also, it’s really easy to get a lot of it. Recently, metabolomics researchers have laid out the entire chemical composition of the sterile substance, opening new doors for physicists, nutritionists, and environmental scientists.

Among the advancements offered by the data, which was published in the Urine Metabolome Database, personal health stands as perhaps the greatest leap forward. Researchers speculate the near 3,100-chemical list can help nutritionists better understand a person’s diet and give clearer, more precise diagnoses of certain illnesses. Already, scientists are able to discern vast amounts of information from a person’s urine, given only its color and smell.

“The appearance and smell of your urine—as well as the frequency with which you have to go—can provide many clues to what else is going on in your body,” Dr. Michael Farber, director of the Executive Health Program at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., told MSN.

Clear As Day

Urine is typically yellow due to the heavier concentration of urobilins, which are themselves breakdown products of the bile pigment bilirubin. As bilirubin filters through the body’s digestive system, various organs break it down, but not entirely. The pigments that reach the kidneys turn into urobilins, and your urine appears yellow. The same yellow chemicals also cause some bruises to be yellow, along with jaundice.

Clear urine indicates a dilution of these chemicals, as water that’s mixed with urine in the bladder results in less of a yellow appearance. Clear urine indicates adequate hydration.

Bright Yellow

Near neon-colored urine can have the tendency to shock some people, especially since many experts say the ideal color is somewhere near the color of straw. Brightly colored urine may simply indicate an overabundance of B vitamins and carotene in your diet, owing to the theory that many multivitamin supplements simply make for more expensive urine.

Deep, Brownish Yellow

A yellow that’s so dark it’s bordering on brown likely signals dehydration. When the body has too little water in its system, and the level of bilirubin is significantly greater, the kidneys produce a more concentrated — rather than diluted — urine. Too low and you’ll feel nauseous and lightheaded, making urine tests a simple and effective measure for doctors to diagnose cases of dehydration.

Prolonged discoloration, in spite of water consumption, may signal bleeding high in the kidneys. This could result from an infection, kidney disease, or more serious forms of cancer in the body.

Bloody

Seeing blood in your urine, even a drop or two, should always prompt a visit to the doctor. The root cause may be benign — side effects of blood-thinning medication or microscopic tears from overly strenuous exercise, such as a marathon — but in order to rule out bladder cancer, kidney stones, or urinary tract infections, doctor visits are necessary to adequately make sense of the type of bleeding.

“In an otherwise healthy young woman, the chances are overwhelmingly in favor of it being a sign of a urinary tract infection, but blood in the urine is also one of the seven deadly signs of bladder cancer in both women and in men,” said Dr. Deborah J. Lightner, associate professor of urology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Sweet Smelling

When the kidneys filter your urine, part of what they filter out is the sugar in your blood. Smelling a sweet aroma after urinating could indicate a leak in the filtration process. Typically, doctors will test for diabetes if they learn a patient’s urine smells sweet. Pregnant women may see less of a concern due to more regular changes in how the kidneys filter urine. However, in either case, consultation with a doctor is advised.

Odd Smelling

Smells that are otherwise unpleasant or foreign are likely byproducts of your recent diet. Asparagus and Brussels sprouts are both notorious for producing bitter-smelling urine, and this is because of a sulfur-containing amino acid found in both foods. These foods, along with certain cheeses and nuts, release an organic compound called methyl-mercaptan during the filtration process, causing the putrid odor in urine, bad breath, and flatulence.

Frequent Urination

The problem of “always having to go” can be a crippling one, and despite social awkwardness, frequent urination can come with far more serious complications. Barring an increase of water consumption, frequent trips to the bathroom could mean a urinary tract infection or an enlarged prostate in men. Simple dietary changes could also be the cause, as some foods have greater water concentrations, making them more of a diuretic.

Leakage

Urinary incontinence is particularly embarrassing for people because it’s one of the few conditions that’s near impossible to hide. Typically experienced by women, the condition is often the result of intense stress on the pelvic floor from gymnastics, running, or even sneezing — all of which can cause unstable pressure on the bladder to release droplets of urine. Strengthening the muscles of the pelvis through Kegel exercises can help absorb the increased pressure during these activities.

Unfortunately, some cases render a person totally unaware. Such circumstances have come to be known as urge incontinence. “The bladder will fire without your permission, so you won’t necessarily get the signal to head to the bathroom before your bladder decides it’s time to empty itself,” said Lightner.

Burning Sensation

It’s no surprise that urinating should be painless, so any indication of discomfort should raise a red flag. The most common cause for urinary pain is the early warnings of a urinary tract infection (UTI). These occur mostly in women, due to the short distance that bacteria have to travel from the vagina and rectum to the urinary canal. In men, UTIs are less common, but still plausible if an individual experiences pain. More likely is a problem with his prostate, Lightner warns, as there exists the potential for infection.

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