Why is urine yellow?

11 January 2009

Question

Why is urine yellow? Is it usually yellow in most species, just mammals? It’s mostly water so why is it yellow?

Answer

Chris - The yellow colour is because of the stuff that makes your blood red. When we break down red blood cells which last about 120 days the haemoglobin makes a protein which has a iron atom at the centre. That protein gets broken down into something called bilirubin. Bilirubin is dumped out of the body by the liver. The liver metabolises the bilirubin bit by adding sugar to make it dissolve in water, puts in bile and your bile then gets squirted into your small intestine to help it reabsorbs fats. The bilirubin, because it has sugars stuck on it becomes broken down by bacteria. The bacteria metabolise the molecule and they turn it into something which is called urobilinogen. Urobilinogen gets reabsorbed further down the small intestine. Unlike bilirubin, which is not very soluble in water urobilinogen is very soluble but it's a brown colour. The urobilinogen goes round the blood stream again but when it goes round in your blood stream again but when it goes through you kidney, because it's soluble in water, it moves out through the kidney in the same way as the other things that go into urine do and it goes into your urine. Because your urine is a concentrate of plasma you take water back but leave the products that have got filtered behind and it builds up in the urine and adds this brown colour. So urine goes darker and darker. The more dehydrated you are the darker it is because the concentration is higher. Kat - It may be a bit of it's riboflavin as well because if you take a lot of B vitamins you just wee them out. I think, riboflavin, when it's dissolved in water is very yellow as well.

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