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Why Is Pee Yellow?

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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.


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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AFP//Getty Images
China Is Using Technology to Thwart Toilet Paper Thieves
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AFP//Getty Images

Tourism officials in Beijing face an unusual privy predicament: As The New York Times reports, thieves are swiping sheets of toilet paper from tourist site bathrooms, forcing administrators to install toilet paper dispensers with facial recognition software.

Due to a boom in domestic travel, the AP reports that tourism authorities have launched a $3.6 billion campaign to overhaul the capital city’s public toilets—particularly the infamously crude tourist bathrooms at popular attractions. Around 34,000 new public bathrooms are slated for construction; many of them will be built in the Western-style sit-down design, instead of the ubiquitous squat design. In addition, around 23,000 bathrooms will undergo renovations.

Some facilities are also equipped with the technologically advanced toilet paper dispensers, which cost around $720 each. When visitors enter these bathrooms, they are required to stare at a wall-mounted computer for three seconds. A machine provides them with a single, two-foot sheet of paper; after that, the visitor must wait nearly 10 minutes for a second one.

Toilet paper is a rarity in China, where most public restrooms either don’t have paper, or provide visitors with a single roll to share among themselves. However, it’s a required amenity for tourist sites if they are to receive top ratings from the country’s National Tourism Authority. Unfortunately, it can also make them a magnet for thieves.

For the past decade, Beijing’s popular Temple of Heaven Park has stocked its bathrooms with toilet paper, and locals wanting to replenish their own personal supply often stole it. Now, the park is testing out the face-recognizing toilet paper dispensers. Administrators say they will install the special dispensers in all of the park’s public bathrooms if the machines do, indeed, put an end to their toilet troubles.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Parisian Street Urinals Turn Pee Into Compost
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In many cities, getting caught peeing in public can saddle you with a hefty fine, or even land you in court. But there are simply not enough public restrooms to accommodate the needs of bar hoppers, the homeless, and people with weak bladders. Some cities have attempted to rectify this problem with free-standing bathrooms, while others have installed retractable urinals that rise up from the ground at night. (Amsterdam has a version that’s made for women to use, too.)

Paris is dealing with the perils of stray pee in a more attractive way, as Co.Design reports. Uritrottoir, a public urinal created by the Nantes-based design studio Faltazi, is a flower bed urinal that creates compost out of men’s pee. The city has bought two of the urinals so far, with plans to purchase more if they prove effective.

The flower boxes sit on top of a compost bin filled with hay. The urine is diverted into the straw, adding an extra source of nitrogen to the composting process. It doesn't directly provide compost to the flowers atop the bed, though; the plants are just for a little extra class. In order to make sure that no individual Urtrottoir overflows, the bins have wireless sensors, so someone can monitor the pee levels remotely and replace the bins, transporting the golden-soaked straw to a facility outside the city. According to The New York Times, it will cost around $865 a month to pay workers to clean the two toilets and haul away the pee-straw mix.

Faltazi previously created a funnel that can be installed in hay bales at music festivals to create outdoor, compost-friendly urinals in any location. Placed on sidewalks and in secluded corners, the flower-box version gives men out and about in the city an opportunity to relieve themselves in a way that doesn’t require a city cleanup crew. The boxes come with a privacy shield much like a regular urinal would have, so passersby don’t get an eyeful. And when no one is actively adding compost materials, they just look like a nice little flower bed.

It's a stand-up only design, though, so women will have to keep holding it for the foreseeable future.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy Faltazi.


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