Beets are a root vegetable with many health benefits. They are packed with vitamins and nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. And eating beets can increase your energy level, boost your brain power, and improve your immune system.
But there’s a side effect of eating beets that takes some people by surprise. Beets can cause beeturia, which is when urine turns red or pink. According to one study, this condition affects about 14 percent of the population.
Symptoms of beeturia
The primary symptom of beeturia is discolored urine or stools. Urine appears red or pink after eating beetroot or foods and juices containing extracts or pigments of beetroot.
The extent of discoloration varies from person to person and depends on what you ingested. For example, raw beet juice can cause dark red or dark pink urine. But if you eat cooked beets, your urine may be a lighter color of pink or red.
Causes of beeturia
Noticing red or pink urine for the first time can be scary, and you may think the worst. But beeturia is a harmless condition.
Discoloration is due to a compound in beets called betanin, which is what gives the vegetable its red pigment. Some people have difficulty breaking down this pigment. After you consume beets, betanin travels through the body and eventually makes its way to the kidneys. Here, it is flushed from the body, resulting in pink or red urine.
Even though beeturia isn’t usually a cause for concern and dissipates on its own, red or pink urine after eating beets can sometimes indicate problems with your health. Therefore, consult a doctor if you have discolored urine every time you eat beets.
Having red or pink urine after ingesting beetroot is sometimes a symptom of an iron deficiency. This is when your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to different parts of the body. A study found that this condition occurs in about 66 to 80 percent of people with untreated iron deficiency anemia.
Other symptoms of an iron deficiency can include:
- hair loss
- leg cramps
- mood swings
Beeturia can also occur in people with low stomach acid. A healthy level of stomach acid helps your body absorb minerals, nutrients, and vitamins.
Because low stomach acid can make it difficult to digest and absorb nutrients, your body may have trouble metabolizing the red pigment in beetroot. So, you may notice red or pink urine after you eat beets or drink beet juice. Signs of low stomach acid include bloating, gas, and constipation. Here are some methods for increasing stomach acid at home.
Even if you believe the pigment in beetroot is responsible for red or pink urine, you should still speak with your doctor if discoloration happens often.
Your doctor can perform a number of tests to see whether an underlying condition causes this discoloration. These tests may include one or more of the following:
- Complete blood count (CBC). This test allows your doctor to examine your number of red blood cells to confirm or rule out anemia.
- Urinalysis. Your doctor can use this test to check your kidney function by examining your urine for traces of blood and bacteria.
- Stool analysis. A stool sample is examined to rule out the possibility of blood in the stool.
- Heidelberg test. This allows your doctor to check your level of stomach acid.
Your doctor may diagnose beeturia if your blood test and other laboratory tests come back normal and there’s no blood present in your urine or stool.
Treatment for beeturia
Beeturia itself is harmless, so treatment isn’t necessary. However, if you have a condition that is contributing to red or pink urine when eating beets, your doctor will let you know what treatment is best.
When an iron deficiency or low stomach acid is responsible for red or pink urine, getting rid of beeturia involves treating the underlying problem.
Internal bleeding in the stomach, rectum, or pelvic area can cause iron deficiency anemia. An ultrasound of the pelvis, an endoscopy (examination of the digestive tract), and a colonoscopy (examination of the inside of the colon) can identify the location of bleeding.
If a heavy menstrual cycle or ulcers cause the deficiency, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or contraceptives. Or your doctor may suggest surgery to remove a bleeding tumor or fibroid. In cases of iron deficiency without internal bleeding, your doctor may recommend iron supplementation to help increase your production of red blood cells.
Reducing your dose of an H2 blocker or proton pump inhibitor (which are used to treat acid reflux) can help increase your stomach acid. Your doctor may even suggest a digestive enzyme, such as Betaine HCL with pepsin, to increase the acid level in your stomach.
While there’s no treatment for beeturia when tests rule out other conditions, drinking more water increases urination and helps flush the pigment out of your body sooner.
Red or pink urine can be alarming, but it’s not usually a cause for concern. Still, notify your doctor if you notice discoloration every time you eat beets, or if you can’t tell whether this discoloration is blood. You should also see a doctor if beeturia occurs with other symptoms, which could indicate problems with your iron or stomach.