Updated 21 June 2018

Sweet-smelling pee – what’s up with that?

If you notice that your urine has a sweet smell, it could be an indication of diabetes. And if you have diabetes, it could mean your blood sugar levels are not under control.

Our urine can tell us a lot. The colour can indicate whether we’re dehydrated or hydrated; while pain during urination can indicate an infection. And, if you notice a sweet smell, that could hint at an underlying condition like diabetes.

What urine is made up of

We all urinate throughout the day – the amount of urine you produce or the amount of times you go to the bathroom varies on a number of factors, such as how much fluid you have taken in or how much you are sweating. 

When you are healthy and hydrated, your urine should be a clear yellow liquid with no noticeable odour. Your body produces urine to get rid of waste products from what you consume – food, drinks or even medication. Urine is the liquid by-product of metabolism and contains three main nitrogenous toxins – urea, uric acid and creatinine – all of which need to be expelled from your body. 

Plus, scientists have discovered that there are more than 3 000 compounds in urine. This is of value to physicians, nutritionists and environmental scientists because it can reveal medical conditions and important information about what a person has consumed.  

When urine smells sweet

Urine doesn’t have a particularly strong smell. But sweet-smelling urine often indicates the presence of sugar or glucose. Your kidneys usually try to remove excess glucose from your body when levels climb above 18mmol/L, which means it will pass into the urine.

If you haven't been diagnosed with diabetes, however, this could be a warning signal. “Sweet-smelling urine is often an important clue in the diagnosis of diabetes,” Dr Holly Phillips, a women’s health specialist and medical contributor for CBS2 News in New York City, told Women’s Health.

For people who have type 1 diabetes and some type 2 diabetics who use insulin, that sweet or fruity smell could also be due to ketones, which form when the body uses fat for fuel. This happens when there isn’t enough insulin to convert glucose into energy. Sweet-smelling urine in diabetics could also be an an indication that blood sugar levels are not being properly managed.

Other weird smells

Diabetes is not the only thing that can cause your urine to smell.

Dehydration can cause an ammonia odour. "When your body is dehydrated, the urine has a strong odour and appears dark in color,” Dr Sherry Ross, an ob-gyn at Providence St John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, told Women’s Health. It’s one way your body tells you to rehydrate immediately. 

Here are some of the other things that can cause your urine to smell off:

  • Asparagus
  • Coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Garlic
  • Vitamins, such as B12

If you haven’t consumed anything out of the ordinary and you are worried that your urine smells (or looks) different, it’s a good idea to see your doctor so you can get to the bottom of what is happening.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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