Why does beetroot turns my poop and pee red?

Beetroot is a popular healthy vegetable, whether it is in chocolate cake, on pizza or in salad. But some people may be dismayed by what happens after eating it: red poop and pee.

Beetroot in the plate
The red beetroot pigments are strong antioxidants. They leave their traces in some people’s poop and pee too.

If you’re a lover of the beetroot like me, you might have run into this question. After eating a tasty beet a visit to the toilet some time leaves a scarlet mark.

Beeturia is the scientific term for the presence of the red beetroot pigments in urine or stool. This colorful surprise is felt by around 10 to 14 per cent of the general population after consuming beets.

Beeturia is thought to be mostly harmless but in some individuals it may be a sign of iron deficiency.

So, what’s behind the red poop and pee? And should you think for first time experiencing it?

Beetroot pigments

In beets the red pigments are called betalains. Such potent antioxidants are present in the beetroot in each cell.

Recently scientists from the Universities of Bologna and Urbino in Italy have shown that in laboratory tests, betalains are able to destroy colon cancer cells.

It’s not clear exactly what happens with betalain in the human body. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, UK, found a correlation between oxalic acid, which is a main component of most kidney stones, and beeturia.

They assume the red pigments usually break down in the stomach and colon. The red color is retained when the oxalic acid levels are elevated and this can lead to red poop in people who do not usually experience beeturia.

Many foods contain oxalic acid including spinach, rhubarb, and cocoa powder. Consequently, eating these in combination with beetroot will leave those who are not used to red poop with a shocking experience.

It is not clear how beets induce red pee, but scientists believe that those affected somehow fail to absorb the red pigments and then excrete them in the urine and feces.

Mostly harmless

Although the rate of beeturia is relatively low in the general population, it is significantly higher in iron-deficient individuals.

It can be as high as 80 percent in those who are not currently being treated for their anemia, while in those currently receiving iron supplements the incidence is about 45 percent.

Dr. Zackariah Clement – from the Department of Surgery at Canberra Hospital in Australia – states in a case study in the Journal of Current Surgery, “Beeturia can cause unnecessary anxiety among patients and their families and can lead to expensive investigations.”

If beeturia is your lifelong friend, as it is for me, you probably have nothing to worry about. But if you are experiencing it for the first time and are concerned about your iron levels or your health in general, it may be worth talking to your doctor.

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