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Why Is Pee Yellow?

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thinkstock

Before you could speak, you could pee. Before you learned to write your own name, you could pee. (And if you grew up in a particularly snowy part of the world, you may have combined these skills.) Urination is a taboo subject, a daily miracle, an essential bodily function, and a complete mystery to most people who do it. 

Let’s part the underpants-shaped veil surrounding urination information. Let’s learn about peeing.

What Is Peeing, and How Does It Work?

Peeing is one of the body’s astonishing waste-removal systems. Along with pooping and sweating, urination takes the leftovers from cellular processes like metabolism and respiration and carries them out to the anatomical curb. If for some reason any of these processes failed, the accumulated waste would do as garbage does, and make you very sick. 

Urination—also known as uresis, micturition, voiding, and going to see a man about a dog—is actually the finale of an epic physiological saga. Our story begins, as so many do, in the heart. Blood is pumped through renal arteries into the kidneys for filtration. After pulling out all the salts, potassium, and other chemicals the body doesn’t need, the kidneys send purified blood back into the heart. Everything that remains is pee. The newly mixed urine flows into long, skinny tubes called ureters, then into the bladder. As the bladder nears capacity, your brain gets a message that it’s time to go. As soon as you give the signal, your pee rushes from your bladder to your urethra to your genitals, and from there to the blinding light of the world outside your body.

TL; DR/VERDICT/SHORT ANSWER: Peeing is awesome and necessary. Also, kidneys.

Why Is My Pee Always Yellow? (And What If It Isn’t?)

Urine’s characteristic sunny hue comes primarily from a substance called urobilin. When your body is properly hydrated, the urobilin is diluted with plenty of water, and your pee is a nice, normal buttercup color. Amber or ale-colored urine is a reliable sign of dehydration, and clear pee is a signal that it’s time to put down the Nalgene. No matter what supermodels say, remember: It is possible to drink too much water.

And what if your urine isn’t yellow at all, but red, or blue, or even black? Well! Then you’ve got a riddle to solve. 

Have you eaten a lot of borscht recently? You may be suffering from beeturia, which is the technical term for peeing red or pink after eating a lot of beets. I am not making this up. Ingesting enormous quantities of strawberries or rhubarb can produce the same effect.

Are you on a new medication? The pharmaceutical additive methylene blue can turn your urine a startling blue or green. Eating too much asparagus or food coloring (I’m looking at you, festive green beer) can also cause verdant pee. Orange urine may be medication- or vitamin-related, or you may have forgotten that carrot feast last night. There’s a fruit or vegetable to blame for nearly every color of the urine rainbow.

NOTE: If your pee is dark brown, reddish (and not in a charming, beet-y way), or black, get yourself to a doctor. Urine color has been a diagnostic tool since Greco-Roman times. Physicians and self-appointed “piss prophets” divined a visitor’s health, illness, or destiny by looking at, sniffing, and even tasting his or her urine. Your doctor will probably not take it that far. 

TL; DR/VERDICT/SHORT ANSWER: A) urobilin! B) Lay off the beets! C) If your diet is beet-free, see a doctor.

Is It True That You Can Drink Your Urine?

The piss prophets probably gave this answer away, but yes, technically, you can, since urine is generally bacteria-free and nontoxic. The real question is “Why would you?” 

Some people have their reasons. (You’d have to, right?) In a life-or-death situation, with no potable water, imbibing your own wee may keep you alive longer, but don’t make it a habit. Remember the garbage metaphor? Because urine is a waste product, each cycle through your body adds a new batch of toxins, so after a while, drinking the stuff would do you more harm than good.

Other pee drinkers believe their habit lengthens their lifespan. Practitioners of “urotherapy” claim that consuming your own urine can cure acne, weight problems, and even cancer. The American Cancer Society does not agree.

TL; DR/VERDICT/SHORT ANSWER: Sure, you can. You can also hit yourself with a hammer or chew gum that’s lost its flavor. You are the captain of your own destiny. Choose wisely.

Should I Pee On This Jellyfish Sting? What About This Patch of Athlete’s Foot?

Only if you want to make it worse and/or spend the day smelling like pee for no reason. Urine may be sterile, but it does not have magical healing properties. It’s as effective as clean water (which is fairly ineffective) for treating athlete’s foot, and can fire up the jellyfish stingers that burned your skin in the first place.

TL; DR/VERDICT/SHORT ANSWER: No, and no. 

Why Do We Call It Pee?

Urine is the oldest word for our personal waters in the English language, originating from the Old Norse ur, meaning “drizzling rain.” Piss, that delightful onomatopoetic term, came next. “Piss,” with all its coarseness and icky connotations, was euphemistically abbreviated to the letter “pee” by squeamish parents in the late 18th century.

TL; DR/VERDICT/SHORT ANSWER: Because we’re afraid of death, decay, and talking about our bodies.

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SmithGroupJJR
Futuristic New Street Toilets Are Coming to San Francisco
SmithGroupJJR
SmithGroupJJR

San Francisco’s streets are getting shiny new additions: futuristic-looking public toilets. Co.Design reports that San Francisco’s Department of Public Works has chosen a new design for self-cleaning street toilets by the architectural firm SmithGroupJJR that will eventually replace the city’s current public toilets.

The design is a stark contrast to the current San Francisco toilet aesthetic, a green knockoff of Paris’s Sanisettes. (They’re made by the same company that pioneered the Parisian version, JCDecaux.) The tall, curvy silver pods, called AmeniTREES, are topped with green roof gardens designed to collect rainwater that can then be used to flush the toilets and clean the kiosks themselves. They come in several different variations, including a single or double bathroom unit, one with benches, a street kiosk that can be used for retail or information services, and a design that can be topped by a tree. The pavilions also have room for exterior advertising.

Renderings of the silver pod bathrooms from the side and the top
SmithGroupJJR

“The design blends sculpture with technology in a way that conceptually, and literally, reflects San Francisco’s unique neighborhoods,” the firm’s design principal, Bill Katz, explained in a press statement. “Together, the varied kiosks and public toilets design will also tell a sustainability story through water re-use and native landscapes.”

San Francisco has a major street-poop problem, in part due to its large homeless population. The city has the second biggest homeless population in the country, behind New York City, and data collected in 2017 shows that the city has around 7500 people living on its streets. Though the city started rolling out sidewalk commodes in 1996, it doesn’t have nearly enough public toilets to match demand. There are only 28 public toilets across the city right now, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

These designs aren’t ready to go straight into construction first—the designers have to work with JCDeaux, which installs the city’s toilets, to adapt them “to the realities of construction and maintenance,” as the Chronicle puts it. Then, those plans will have to be submitted to the city’s arts commission and historic preservation commission before they can be installed.

[h/t Co.Design]

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The Best Way to Wipe Your Butt, According to the Experts
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iStock

Curtis Asbury, MD sees it all the time. A patient comes in with blotchy, red, irritated rectum and insists they’re not doing anything unusual. Peering into their sore bottom, Asbury nods solemnly, then delivers news most people never expect to hear.

“You’re not wiping correctly,” he says.

A dermatologist practicing in Selbyville, Delaware, Asbury has seen an uptick in the number of people coming in expressing dissatisfaction with their rectal hygiene. Whether it’s due to misguided parental instruction during toilet training or wiping on sheer instinct, some of us are simply not maintaining one of the most potentially dirty crevices of our body. And the consequences can be irritating.

“It’s called perianal dermatitis,” Asbury tells Mental Floss, describing the kind of topical irritation that afflicts people who are wiping poorly, infrequently, or overzealously. In an attempt to clean their rear end, some people scrub so violently that the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons has given a name to the resulting tenderness: Polished Anus Syndrome, or PAS.

Fortunately, the key to avoiding PAS and other rectal misadventures is relatively easy. Here are some pro tips for a clean butt.

GIVE UP WET WIPES

For starters, Asbury recommends that people stop using the pre-moistened cloths, which are heavily marketed to promote a sparkling cavity. Use of the wipes has been associated with allergic reactions to methylisothiazolinone, a preservative used to inhibit bacterial growth while products are on store shelves. “Even the all-natural ones can cause problems,” he says, since any kind of chemical present in the wipes isn’t usually rinsed off right away.

Does that mean you should reach for dry toilet paper instead? Not quite. “It’s healthier, certainly, to clean your body with water," Asbury says. "Nobody takes a dry piece of paper, rubs it over their skin, and thinks they’re clean.” Even the Greco-Romans (332 BCE–395 CE) knew this, as one historical account from the philosopher Seneca revealed that they used a damp sponge affixed to a stick as a post-toiletry practice. Of course, some ancient cultures also wiped with pebbles and clam shells, among other poor ideas, so perhaps we should stick with contemporary advice.

INVEST IN A BIDET

A bidet sprays water out of a toilet
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Asbury is an advocate of the standalone or add-on toilet accessory that squirts a spray of water between your cheeks to flush out residual fecal matter. While bidets are common in Europe and Japan, the West has been slower to adopt this superior method of post-poop clean-up; others might be wary of tapping into existing home plumbing to supply fresh water, even though DIY installation is quite easy. For those patients, Asbury has developed an alternative method.

TRY PAPER TOWELS AND WATER

“What I tell people to use is Viva, a really soft, thick paper towel made by Kleenex,” he says. “You get a squirt bottle and you leave it near the toilet and moisten the paper towel.” Regular toilet paper is usually too flimsy to stand up to a soaking, while normal paper towels are too harsh for rectal purposes. Viva is apparently just right. (And no, Asbury is not a brand ambassador, nor does Kleenex endorse this alternative use.)

This advice does come with a major caveat: Viva wipes are not flushable and might very well clog your pipes if you try to send them down the drain. When Asbury recommends the technique, he advises people to throw used towels in the trash. If you find that idea appalling, and provided your butt is not already red from bad wiping strategy, lightly moistening a wad of durable toilet paper should do the job.

DRY THOROUGHLY BUT GENTLY

Once you’ve wiped enough to see clean paper, take a dry square and mop up any excess moisture. Whether it’s wet wipes or bidets, some people don’t bother with this step, but “it would be weird not to dry,” Asbury says. Occasionally, moisture can lead to intertrigo, which is irritation in skin folds, or a fungal infection.

You also want to have a soft touch. “I see people scrubbing hard,” Asbury says. “That just makes the problem worse.” Excessive wiping can lead to micro-tears in the anal tissue, causing bleeding and discomfort.

WIPE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Make sure to go from front to back, pushing waste away from the groin. This has traditionally been advised for women to keep poop away from the vaginal canal and prevent urinary tract infections. While Asbury hasn't found specific studies to back up this advice, he still believes it's likely more hygienic. There’s also something to be said for sitting while wiping, since ergonomically, it may keep your perianal area open. But if you’re uncomfortable reaching into the toilet to wipe, standing should suffice.

Assuming you’ve done all that and you’re still feeling discomfort, Asbury warns it might be something else. “If you’re not feeling clean, there could be issues with your sphincter,” he says. Weakened muscles can cause leakage. But generally, it’s dry-wipers who have trouble getting everything they need to get. For the hard-to-clean, Asbury advises that they make the switch to a bidet.

“It’s cold at first,” he says. “But you get used to it.”

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