Why You Should Smell Your Pee

My boss, Jake Carney, sent me a note the other day asking if we could do an article on reasons why you should smell your urine. We both laughed, because, despite some very “out there” sorts of topics we have written on, this is one of the strangest.

I bet that smelling your urine is not top on your to-do list. To be completely honest, it was not on mine either, until I did a little research for this piece. My job, in this article, is to convince you that the odd whiff should be something that you should entertain, at least from time to time.

What does urine do?

Contrary to what you might think, urine does not just dump excess water from your body. It serves a far greater purpose to get rid of your body’s waste products. When blood is filtered through the kidneys, the waste, water, minerals, salts and sugars are removed. After this very important filtration process, the remaining stuff becomes urine.

Urine is about 95 percent water. The remainder is urea, uric acid, hormones, bacteria, yeast, ammonia, dead blood cells, salts and minerals, proteins and toxins.

Urine is not safe to drink

Contrary to popular belief, urine is not sterile — and it can also be toxic. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology found that bacteria was present in the bladders of otherwise healthy women, debunking the popular myth that urine is sterile. In another study, researchers found that urine contained traces of at least nine different strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including salmonella.

If you drink your own urine or someone else’s, you could very well get sick. Keep the whole process of how and why your body makes urine in mind. Your body is trying to get rid of the things that are not useable and potentially harmful. While a healthy person would most likely survive drinking a cup or two of their own urine, it is not something I would recommend doing unless it is properly filtered. My philosophy is that you should only drink your pee in a life or death emergency.

What is your normal?

Urine analysis

It is important to know your normal. What does your pee normally smell like?  What color is it? These things are important. Changes in the color and odor can indicate a serious health problem that needs medical attention.

What should your urine smell like?

According to Dr. Ojas Shah, a professor of urology at Columbia University Medical Center and ColumbiaDoctors Midtown, normal pee has very little odor. If your smell test indicates something different, your body may be trying to tell you something.

Benign reasons why your urine smells

You drank a boatload of coffee: Believe it or not, drinking a lot of coffee all day can leave your urine smelling like a cup of weak Joe. The best thing to do is stimulate the kidneys by drinking a couple of glasses of water as soon as you can and lay off the coffee for a bit.

Urine odor from coffee

You ate asparagus: If you have ever had a few spears of asparagus and noticed that your pee not only changes color but also takes on a very strong smell, it is for a very good reason. Some people, not all, have an enzyme that breaks down the asparagus in such a way that it produces the odor.

You are in menopause: In menopause, women may start to notice that their pee smells more like ammonia. Be sure that you are drinking plenty of water, eating a whole food diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

You take medications or supplements: Certain medications and supplements can make your pee smell a bit off. If you notice this happening, talk to your practitioner to be sure that the cause is your medication or supplement.

Urine odor from medications

You ate lots of garlic and onions:  Not only will a bunch of garlic and onions leave your breath potent, it will also create smelly pee.

You are dehydrated: If you are not drinking enough water, your pee will have a very strong ammonia odor. If you don’t drink enough, your urine becomes highly concentrated with waste and turns darker. Drink water and check that your pee is lighter and has a less potent odor.

Serious reasons why your urine smells

You have diabetes: Dr. Shah says, “Hundreds of years ago physicians could know people had diabetes by tasting their urine.” If the urine tasted sweet, you were diagnosed with diabetes. Although your doctor probably won’t be tasting your urine today, a sweetish odor may indicate that you do in fact have diabetes. This is nothing to take lightly — if your urine puts off a sweet aroma, it is time to make an appointment with your doctor.

Urine odor from diabetes

You have maple syrup urine disease: This metabolic disease causes urine to smell like maple syrup. It is a very rare, inherited disease that prevents the body from breaking down certain amino acids. If left untreated, this condition can lead to dangerous physical and neurological symptoms.

You have a urinary tract infection: Foul smelling pee could be an indication that you have a urine or bladder infection, or even inflammation of the bladder.

Your intestines are leaking into your bladder: This is as serious as it sounds. A fistula is an abnormal connection between two body parts that can develop because of injury, inflammation or surgery. When one develops between the bladder and the intestines, it can cause the intestinal contents to mix with the bladder contents. You may see small pieces of feces in your pee. If this happens, you should see a doctor as quickly as possible, especially if you have an inflammatory bowel condition or have been diagnosed with cancer.

Well, there you have it. Some very good reasons why you might need to take the time to smell your urine. Be sure to read our article on what the color of your pee means. That’s another good indication of overall health.

— Susan Patterson

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