Separating Urinary Tract from Fiction

October 23, 2012

The urinary tract (and the urine it produces) is a hard-working system that rids the body of waste left behind once all the essential nutrients have been taken in from food and drink. Urine can tell a healthcare professional a lot about the health of not just your kidneys, but also about the health of your heart, liver and other systems within your body.

While most of us spend virtually no time thinking about our urinary tract, nearly all of us have, over time, heard a host of interesting tidbits about our urine — some true, some not so true. Here’s a helpful guide to separating urinary “tract from fiction.

Is Urine Actually Indicative of Overall Health?

A great deal about a person’s health can be determined by a simple urine test, which is why doctor visits routinely include a urine sample. This is because urine reveals important information about the function of the kidneys, heart and liver. Excess protein in the urine, for example, can be an indicator of kidney disease; and, has also been linked to risk for heart disease.

Not only is urine content a good indicator of the health of certain organs, but how many times a day you produce urine is also revealing. The “normal” number of times each day that urine is produced varies from one person to another. There are still certain medical conditions, however, that can be linked to frequent urination. These include diabetes and urinary tract infections (UTIS), as well as having an enlarged prostate. Lower than usual urination can suggest kidney problems or dehydration. It is important to know what is normal for yourself; and, consult with your doctor any time your urine output varies from your normal. (If you’d like to track your urination patterns check out this handy Voiding Diary on our website.)

Does Urine Odor Suggest Problems?

Everyone’s heard the age-old story that asparagus can cause urine to smell funny. But the truth is that not everyone experiences this side effect. In fact, it’s true in only about half of asparagus eaters. On a more serious note, however, certain health conditions can affect urine smell. For example, diabetes, which can cause a slightly sweet scent, and urinary tract infections both can cause urine to have a strange odor. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any strange urine smell.

Does What You Eat Affect Urine Color?

The color of urine can tell us a good many things. Normal urine is a light yellow color. But if a person becomes dehydrated, then the urine might be darker or even brownish in color. The color of urine can also change with your diet. Eating beets, for example, could cause urine to turn slightly red. Certain medications might also turn urine different colors. If, however, urine becomes a rusty color or contains any traces of blood, this could be indicative of a kidney infection or urinary tract infection. In this case, contacting your physician is very important.

Is Urine Really Sterile?

It’s both yes and no to this one. Ancient Aztecs actually believed that urine was so sterile it was a good antiseptic for use in disinfecting wounds. While urine still in the bladder is normally sterile and free of bacteria, once it leaves your body, it begins to pick up bacteria from the urethra and the surrounding area. Knowing that urine is no longer sterile once it leaves the body, we would recommend that minor cuts and scrapes are best treated with soap and water and a good antiseptic.

Seriously, Is Urine Really Drinkable?

Survivalist Bear Grylls, the star of the Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild, has raised considerable awareness about urotherapy (drinking one’s own urine) as a means of survival in extreme circumstances. The human kidneys are designed to rid the body of waste. Wisdom, then, would suggest that humans probably don’t want to ingest anything that our body has deemed “waste” and has rid from our systems. Of course, in a situation where one is truly desperate for survival, urine can be distilled using the sun’s heat to separate water vapors from the other components such as salt, potassium and urea.

Does Urine Really Help Jellyfish Stings?

While there was a really hilarious episode of “Friends” in which Joey and Chandler came to Monica’s aid after she was stung by a jellyfish, this commonly held belief is really just a beach myth. Tests on a variety of home remedies, including urine, meat tenderizer, alcohol and baking soda determined that none were as effective as simply washing the stung area in hot water and applying lidocaine, a topical anesthetic that numbs the skin and relieves pain. It’s available over-the-counter as a gel, liquid or spray. So the next time you’re stung by a jellyfish, you don’t have to worry about dealing with the pain as well as pondering whether someone needs to urinate on the area of your sting.

Can Urine Soften Your Skin?

After spending considerable sums of money on moisturizer, most people would be surprised to know that urea, which is a major component of urine, does have skin-softening properties. A synthetic version of urea is included in many moisturizing creams. Urea (in both natural and synthetic forms) helps skin retain its natural moisture and is also a good exfoliant. It’s also a common ingredient in athlete’s foot treatments, which may explain why, but we suggest purchasing it, again, in its synthetic, over-the-counter form rather than going for the naturally occurring version.

Does Coffee Cause More Frequent Urination?

It’s true. Coffee does indeed cause more frequent urination. This is because the caffeine in coffee inhibits antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which works to keep the water levels in your body in balance. When ADH is blocked, the kidneys get a signal to release excess water, which causes urination. Tea, colas, energy drinks and even alcohol are also ADH inhibitors.

Does Urine Work as a Teeth Whitener?

Believe it or not, ancient Roman physicians recommended rinsing the mouth with urine as a way to get sparkling white teeth. It wasn’t actually the urine that made teeth whiter. It was the ammonia that occurs naturally in urine that made these ancient teeth sparkle. The 18th-century French physician, Pierre Fauchard, known as the father of modern dentistry, recommended urine rinses to relieve toothache. Today, however, dentists strongly encourage tooth-whitening products that contain peroxide to brighten smiles; and, a visit to your dental office for any toothache you might have.

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