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Categories > Kidneys, Liver and Urinary Tract > Urinary tract

Listening to your body’s signals

For most people, urination is a nearly automatic process, one they carry out several times a day without much thought. But since urine is a by-product of all the substances your body takes in to fuel itself, it actually can tell you quite a bit about the general state of your health—or, at the least, what you had at your last meal.

For instance, if you’ve eaten anything that’s strongly colored (think beets, carrots, candy with dyes), don’t be shocked if your urine takes on a hue somewhat darker and redder than its normal straw-yellow, at least temporarily. Certain prescription drugs can turn urine orange, smoky brown or even green or blue. Diseases can affect your urine as well: Passing large amounts of colorless urine can be a symptom of diabetes, while dark-brown urine can indicate a liver disorder.

Your urine’s odor, too, can be affected by what you eat. Asparagus is a common offender, since it contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan that’s also found in onions, garlic, rotten eggs and skunk secretions. In fact, a mere 15 to 30 minutes after eating asparagus, your urine can develop a distinctive, less-than-pleasant smell. Other culprits include certain vitamins, infection and dehydration (which concentrates urine and can make it appear darker).

Since some people have smaller bladders than others, they will naturally need to urinate more frequently. This becomes a problem only if trips to the bathroom become so excessive that they interfere with normal life or if the urge to urinate becomes so strong that some urine escapes before a bathroom is found.

Women are particularly prone to so-called overactive bladder, particularly after childbirth (when the pelvic muscles may be weakened). The good news is that for most people, overactive bladder can be cured or controlled with bladder retraining, medication or surgery.