This precious bodily fluid has been studied almost as long as people have been peeing. It was easy to get, which was the principal attraction.
Urine was believed to give rare insight into the mysterious inner workings of the human body. Making urine is almost as fundamental as making blood go round and round.
Early men of science, when alchemy was considered a “medical specialty,” were initially impressed with the golden color of urine. They believed urine actually contained gold.
Many years of boiling urine with various chemicals followed, trying to precipitate gold. However, they failed to produce even a molecule. But they discovered ammonia, which is useful stuff on its own.
Ammonia forms in urine after a few days through the bacterial breakdown of nitrates. Ammonia was found to have a surprising variety of uses: tanning leather, cleaning, and it even made a good teeth whitener.
What is urine? It’s primarily water, an average of 95%. The remaining 5% is nitrogen waste, mostly urea, creatinine, and salt. The color of urine comes from urobilin, a breakdown product from hemoglobin in red blood cells, which only live about 120 days. The body likes to recycle.
All things being equal, staying well hydrated produces colorless urine. I remember discovering that after sharing several pitchers of beer in an Ohio State bar during my college days.
The urine is diluted to 96% or 97% water. It looks just like water. Go the other way and spend some time in a desert at 110 degrees and, as long as you remain conscious, you will notice your urine becoming dark yellow and concentrated (91% water). You will be urinating much less because your body tries to conserve water.
You are happier with too much, rather than too little water. If you carry hydration to absurd levels you can dilute the sodium in your blood stream to the point of having a seizure. That is really rare, but succumbing to dehydration is a very real danger in hot climates like the Arizona desert.
Urine is also colored by your diet. Many people take supplemental vitamins and have noticed their urine is dark yellow to orange in color. Those are B vitamins you are looking at. Asparagus can turn your urine green and beets can turn it pink. Most food coloring will also show up in urine, which can be startling.
You have this convenient little hydration gauge, right in front of you (or not). So, there’s no reason to end up with heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
Feature photo by Plenoy M./Shutterstock