Urine Smells Like Coffee: What Does it Mean?

Urine Smells Like Coffee: What Does it Mean?
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Have you ever noticed that your urine smells like coffee when you pee after drinking a cup of coffee? If so, you are not alone. Many people say that drinking coffee affects the smell of their pee. In fact, coffee is just one of many food and drink products that can cause your pee to smell funny. For example, asparagus, salmon, garlic, and green leafy vegetables can all give your urine an unusual whiff.

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However, this is not the case with everyone. Some people after drinking coffee or eating asparagus don’t notice any hint of an unusual aroma in their pee. Why does some people’s pee smell like coffee after drinking the beverage and why don’t other drinks seem to affect urine smell as much?

This article looks at the science behind the reasons why urine can smell like coffee. You will also learn about other foods that can turn your pee smelly. Of course, urine with an offensive odor could be a symptom of a medical condition and you need to know when to see a doctor for pee that smells bad.

How Certain Foods and Beverages Affect Urine Smell

Our kidneys are responsible for removing waste products and excess fluids from our body. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, urine odor is usually mild and is determined by the concentration of waste products and other chemicals that the kidneys excrete. Your urine will start to give off a noticeable odor if there is a large concentration of waste products in it.1 The color of healthy urine should also be almost transparent or a pale yellow color.

It’s not just the concentration of waste products that affect the urine’s odor. The journal Archives of Disease in Childhood reported that certain foods can cause the urine to smell different. Also, dehydration can affect the concentration of various substances that find their way into your urine and give urine a distinctive odor.2

An article in the New York Times reported that foods like asparagus and beverages like coffee do affect the smell of urine.3

Researchers from Harvard Medical School reported that substances from many foodstuffs find their way into urine. Chemicals from foods and drinks can affect the color and smell of your pee. For example, it’s thought that the sulfur content in asparagus gives urine a distinctive “rotten cabbage” aroma.4

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Why Pee Smells Like Coffee

Coffee contains powerful aromatic compounds

There are a few reasons why coffee seemingly affects the smell of urine more than other beverages. According to an article published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, coffee contains chemical compounds with extremely high odor activity which give coffee its unique aroma.

Interestingly, the researchers found that coffee also contains several sulfur-containing compounds. Some of these compounds on their own smell like rotten cabbage or have a “catty” odor. Others have sweeter aromas with some being spicy or smoky.

Aromatic compounds can be detected in the urine

In fact, it shouldn’t be surprising that these chemicals and other substances from coffee find their way into our pee and make it smell of coffee. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that urine samples can help doctors know what a person’s dietary intake has been when they analyze the metabolites (chemical substances) in the urine.6 So, some odor-causing chemicals from coffee or other beverages and foodstuffs will appear in urine if they have not had time to metabolize in the body.

Some people are more sensitive to the smell of aromatics in urine

Another reason why your pee can smell like coffee after drinking it is that coffee makes your pee more. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport reported that coffee is a mild diuretic that can increase the frequency of urination.7 Therefore, it could be that coffee makes us pee more and exert the aromatics from coffee quicker in the urine.

However, everyone is different and not every person who drinks coffee will notice that their pee has a coffee-like aroma. This is nothing to worry about. According to research into the causes of odor in urine, the journal Chemical Senses stated that some people excrete odor-causing chemicals in urine and other don’t. Also, research has shown that not every person can detect the smell of metabolites in urine.8 Therefore, it seems that aromatic chemicals in coffee are excreted in the urine of some people causing their pee to smell of coffee. Or it could be that some people are more sensitive to the smell of coffee in their pee and they notice it much more than others.

Urine smells like coffee: the conclusion

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The bottom line is that your pee can smell of coffee because coffee contains powerful odorants that can be released into your urine giving it a distinct coffee smell. Some people could be more sensitive to the smell while others may not notice it at all. In addition, the fact that coffee makes you pee more, results in the faster release of its aromatic compounds into your urine giving it a distinct coffee smell.

Other Foods that Make Pee Smell

Apart from coffee, there are other foods that can make your urine smell. The odor coming off your pee could give a hint of something rotten (as in the case of foods that have a high sulfur content) or your pee could have a hint of the aroma of what you’ve recently eaten.

Asparagus

When a person is asked what foods make your pee smell, the top answer is usually asparagus. Asparagus stalks have a distinct flavor and many people report that their pee has a nasty odor of rotten cabbage.

Much research has gone into why some people’s urine gives off a pungent smell after eating asparagus. Dr. William Smith on WebMD reported that sulfurous compounds break down during digestion into chemicals that are very odorous. These odors can appear in urine as soon as 15 minutes after eating the vegetable.9

From studies, it seems that everyone’s urine is affected when they eat asparagus. The journal Chemical Senses reported that just because some people didn’t think they had pungent pee after eating asparagus was just down to perception. Not everyone has the ability to detect the strong smell that asparagus causes.8

Garlic

Garlic is another food containing sulfur compounds that can make your urine smell bad. Garlic is an amazing food that is very easy to grow at home. Garlic also has many health benefits and is a natural antibiotic that can help to get rid of infections.

However, garlic can make your pee, breath, and even sweat give off a pungent aroma. Researchers have found that metabolites from garlic make their way into urine. These odor-producing compounds can be detected by smell and chemical analysis. They found that the excretion rate of sulfur compounds was dependent on time and the individual.10

Even though garlic can make you give off unpleasant aromas, there are many reasons to eat more garlic in your diet. For example, garlic is known to help prevent various cancers and it can help boost your immune system naturally.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is a delicious herb that is used to spice up meals and give a distinctive flavor to some curries. However, consuming fenugreek can cause your sweat and pee to give off sweet aromas.

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The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reported that the sweet smell of fenugreek in urine has a maple syrup-like odor.11

Brussels sprouts

Another vegetable that can make your pee smell funny is Brussels sprouts. Many green leafy vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale contain sulfur compounds that may make your pee smell funny.

Salmon

Many people report of having smelly pee after they have eaten salmon. One reason for this could be that salmon is high in vitamin B6 and this could have an effect on your urine odor depending on how your body metabolizes it.

It’s interesting because the Cleveland Clinic reports that taking B6 supplements can give a person’s urine a strong odor.12

Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other vitamins and minerals. Please read my article on why you should always buy wild salmon to avoid ingesting many pollutants that farmed salmon contain.

Curries

You may find that the strong aroma of the herbs and spices in a curry comes out in your pee. Most curries contain cilantro (coriander) and cumin, both of which have very strong odors. The Journal of the Bangladesh Pharmacological Society reports that coriander contains aldehydes that give off a pungent smell.13

As this article has already shown, fenugreek can affect urine smell and it is a common ingredient in many Indian curries.

Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can make your pee smell bad and cause many other serious health consequences. Sometimes, drinking to excess may cause your urine to give off a tinge of alcohol the next morning.

However, there is another reason why drinking too much alcohol can make urine smell. According to the website DrinkAware.co.uk, alcohol is a strong diuretic that makes you pee more. In fact, urine output increases by 10ml for every 1g of alcohol consumed. So, drinking too much alcohol has a double negative effect on your kidneys. You need to pee more to get rid of excess fluid and the diuretic effect causes you to pee even more and can leave you dehydrated.14

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The end result can be an increase in the concentration of toxins and other chemicals in your kidneys that will make your pee smell funny.

Also, very often people will drink coffee to try and sober themselves up which can then give their pee a distinct smell of coffee. Alcohol stays in your system longer than you may think and drinking coffee doesn’t negate the effect of alcohol. Please read my article on how long alcohol stays in your system for more information.

Chili peppers

Some people also report that eating chili peppers or spicy hot foods makes their urine smell different. This could be because of the way capsaicin (the chemical compound that gives chiles their kick) is metabolized in the body.

Medical Reasons for Smelly Urine

Usually, urine that smells of coffee, asparagus, or any other foodstuff is only a “passing” condition and nothing to worry about. When you no longer consume the foods that caused a change in your urine smell your pee should return to its normal odor. However, there are some medical conditions that can make your pee smell of ammonia.

For example, one of the effects of dehydration on your body is that the chemicals in your urine become more concentrated. This can have an effect on both the color and smell of your pee. It may also be a reason why you have frothy urine.

A urinary tract infection can also turn your pee a dark color and give off an offensive odor. The reason for this is that bacteria in your urinary tract affects urine and can give it an ammonia-like odor. Doctors may order a urine test to check for white blood cells in your urine or the presence of nitrates in urine.

Other serious health conditions can turn mild-smelling urine into pungent pee are kidney disease, kidney infection, liver infection, or diabetes.

When to See a Doctor for Smelly Urine

If there is no recognizable cause for having smelly urine, such as drinking coffee, eating asparagus or spicy foods, you should visit your doctor. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, this is especially important if you also have some of these symptoms:

  • Your urine is a dark red or brown color or you notice blood in your urine
  • It is painful when you pee
  • You have flank pain or pain in your lower abdomen or groin
  • You have started urinating more frequently and haven’t increased your fluid intake
  • You have difficulty emptying your bladder

Read these related articles:

Article Sources

  1. MayoClinic. Urine odor.
  2. Arch Dis Child. 2003;88:250–252
  3. NYTimes. A medical tell-all can be found in urine.
  4. HealthHarvard. Urine color and odor changes.
  5. J. Agric. Food Chem Potent Odorants of Raw Arabica Coffee.
  6. Am J Clin Nutr. February 2011 vol. 93 no. 2 314-321
  7. J Sci Med Sport. 2015 Sep; 18(5): 569–574.
  8. Chem Senses. 2011 36 (1):9-17.
  9. WebMD. Why your pee smells funny after eating
  10. Metabolites. 2016, 6(4), 43.
  11. NCCIH. Fenugreek.
  12. ClevelandClinic. Changes in urine.
  13. Journal of the Bangladesh Pharmacological Society. The chemistry of coriander.
  14. DrinkAware. Why does alcohol make you pee more?
  15. MayoClinic. Frequent urination.
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