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Color, odor changes in urine usually—but not always—harmless, reports Harvard Women’s Health Watch

If you've ever eaten asparagus, you know it can make urine smell odd. In some people, eating beets turns urine pink or red—which can be alarming because it looks like blood in the urine. These odor and color changes are harmless. But if urine smells sweet, that’s a cause for concern because it could mean diabetes. So how do you know when to relax and when to consult a clinician? The June 2010 issue of Harvard Women’s Health Watch offers a guide to the foods, supplements, drugs, and medical conditions that can affect the color and odor of urine.

Blackberries and rhubarb, like beets, can temporarily turn urine pink or red. Rhubarb can also turn urine dark brown or tea-colored. Carrots, carrot juice, and vitamin C can give urine an orange hue, while B vitamins can turn it a fluorescent yellow-green. Asparagus sometimes gives urine a greenish hue as well as a distinctive smell (often likened to rotting cabbage). Medications can change the appearance of urine, too. For example, Tagamet, a popular drug for reducing stomach acid, can give urine a bluish tinge.

A change in the appearance or smell of urine may sometimes indicate a medical problem requiring attention. The mucus and white blood cells associated with a urinary tract infection can turn urine from clear to cloudy and give it an offensive odor. An infection may also cause blood to appear in the urine, turning it pink or red. Serious problems such as internal injury, bladder cancer, and kidney disease are other causes of blood in the urine.

Read the full-length article: "Urine color and odor changes"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch

  • Getting help through couples therapy
  • Bringing psoriasis under control
  • In the journals: Exercise limits weight gain in normal-weight but not heavier women
  • Urine color and odor changes
  • By the way, doctor: Is krill oil better for the heart than fish oil?
  • By the way, doctor: Does platelet-rich plasma therapy work for tennis elbow?

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.