It may seem taboo, but understanding your urine can give you valuable insight into your health.
By Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CD
Let’s go back in history for a second to over 3500 years ago, when the ancient Egyptians were building pyramids. During this period, these same people were possibly the first to take note in their manuscripts regarding a condition that caused “too great emptying of urine.” Just a few hundred years later, Ayurvedic physicians noticed that some urine attracted ants because of its sweetness, and began calling it madhumeha, meaning “honey urine.”
Finally, in the first century A.D., the Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia coined the term diabetes – meaning “siphon” in Greek – and claimed that for people living with the disease “… no essential part of the drink is absorbed by the body while great masses of the flesh are liquefied into urine.”
Even until the late 1800s, physicians would taste patients’ urine to see if it was sweet to determine if the person was living with diabetes or not. From these first discoveries of the disease until recently, urine has undoubtedly played a big part in the story of diabetes.
Today, urine testing for people living with diabetes has become almost obsolete. Years ago, testing your urine for glucose was the only way people with diabetes could get an assessment of if their blood sugar was too high. It would not, of course, tell you if your blood sugar was too low, and that was an ever-present danger.
So, what is urine? It makes up a part of every animal’s everyday life, but have you ever stopped to think about exactly what it is?
Urine is a normal waste product that your body uses to “dump” chemicals, dead cells, excess fluids, and other elements from your body. But urine is more than just a simple liquid; the fluid can tell us loads about our bodies such as how well they are operating and if they are facing any problems.
The color and odor of your urine can give you huge clues into how well your body is functioning and if it is experiencing any sort of imbalance. In general, normal urine is a shade of yellow. Dark urine, on the other hand, can be a sign of dehydration, which can happen more rapidly in a patient with diabetes and can be dangerous if not treated in a timely fashion.
At an annual physical, a doctor will very often obtain a urine sample. A urine sample can tell a lot about the health of a patient, especially those living with diabetes that face a wide possibility of complications.
As an example, pink colored urine may contain blood, which will often require further testing to understand the source of the blood. Blood, especially in conjunction with urine that has a cloudy appearance, may indicate a urinary tract infection or inflammation.
For individuals living with diabetes, the urine tends to contain more sugar, which encourages bacterial growth. Therefore, for people living with diabetes, urinary tract infections may be more common. The smell of urine sometimes can also indicate a problem as well. Strong smelling urine can be a sign an infection is present, either bacterial or fungal, and may require further evaluation from your healthcare team.
This is just one example of the type of clues that urine can give an individual about the state of their body. There are many other tell-tale signs that may be visible via a person’s urine, such as urine that seems to have a foamy consistency which may indicate a more serious problem like protein in the urine, a sign of kidney disease.
Medical conditions are not the only cause of discoloration or change in urine odor. Certain medications and supplements can cause a change in urine as well. Vitamins such as the B vitamins, in particular, can impart a color and odor change in the urine.
If your bathroom habits have changed, or you notice a difference in the appearance of your urine, the best thing to do is to see your healthcare practitioner. You can buy testing kits for home use to detect a possible urinary tract infection, but self-diagnosis is not a replacement for good medical care.
If you have an infection, for example, you need the right antibiotic and testing is required to see if you have a bacterial or fungal infection and to further investigate the type of bacteria causing the specific problem. Remember, not all antibiotics are specific for all types of infections and you should never share antibiotics with others.
Keep in mind that certain foods can also cause color and odor changes in your urine such as spicy foods, garlic, tuna fish, onion, and alcohol. While this may be unpleasant, the key takeaway is to never assume a medical issue or diagnosis based on your urine alone! Instead, use it as a tool to help indicate the equilibrium inside your body but rely on your doctor for accurate testing.
Overall, urine is an important part of our bodies and it can help to identify possible health problems and especially diabetes complications. If you take the time to learn about urine, you’ll have more knowledge at your fingertips to help you combat diabetes. Remember, understanding your body is the first step to living a healthier life!
Susan B. Sloane, BS, RPh, CDE, has been a registered pharmacist for more than 29 years and a Certified Diabetes Educator for most of her career. Her two sons were diagnosed with diabetes, and since then, she has been dedicated to promoting wellness and optimal outcomes as a patient advocate, information expert, educator, and corporate partner.
Susan has published numerous articles on the topic of diabetes for patients and health care professionals. She has committed her career goals to helping patients with diabetes stay well through education.
The articles provided on this website are for informational purposes only. In addition, it is written for a generic audience and not a specific case; therefore, this information should not be used for diagnostic or medical treatment. This site does not attempt to replace the patient-physician relationship and fully recommends the reader to seek out the best care from his/her physician and/or diabetes educator.
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