Beeturia is a condition that is named for the vegetable that causes it, beets. Some people who eat beets will develop beeturia, which means they pass red urine or pink urine. Sometimes beets also turn feces red. In some people, the body needs to excrete much of the vegetable’s bright pigment because it cannot absorb it all. It is believed that less than 15 percent of people experience this condition, and it can be related to a lack of iron, or iron deficiency anemia. The presence of oxalic acid also can contribute to the discoloration of urine.
In most cases, beeturia is not harmful. Red urine, however, can be a sign of other problems. To be on the safe side, a person who experiences beeturia should see a doctor and have a urinalysis performed to rule out the presence of blood if the condition does not clear up within a few days or cannot be attributed to the ingestion of beets. Other foods besides beets, especially those containing food dyes, can also change the color of urine.
If a person develops red urine, it can be a sign of several other conditions, not all of them as benign as beeturia. The red urine can be an indication of laxative use, or an indication of a condition called porphyria, a metabolic genetic condition. Pink or red urine can occur with certain kidney problems and urinary tract disorders. Other medical conditions, chemical compounds and foods can cause discoloration of the urine, sometimes turning it black, orange, blue-green, or brown. Blackberries, for instance, have been known to discolor the urine.
The pigment that gives the beet its bright coloring is betalain, and this pigment also is found in flowers like the red amaranth and bougainvillea. The red beet root that causes beeturia has been used since the 1500s to make dyes and to color hair. Ancient Romans drank red beet juice to stimulate sexual desire, and Charlemagne ordered that beets be grown on royal land.
A number of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications are known to change the color of urine. A drug called pyridium, for example, which is often prescribed to ease the symptoms of bladder infections, turns the urine orange. Iron supplements can turn urine brown. The antibiotic nitrofurantoin, whose brand names include Macrobid and Macrodantin, can turn urine a light or dark brown. Methylene blue, used as a cyanide antidote or as a treatment for methemoglobinemia, causes green or blue urine.