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Does Your Urine Smell Like Popcorn? MDs Reveal What It Means + When to Be Worried

It may sound strange, but that odor can be an early warning sign of conditions like diabetes or a UTI

Most days, you probably don’t pay much attention to what your urine smells like. But if you notice an unexpected odor, it’s hard not to take notice. Occasionally, some people notice their urine has a slightly sweet or buttery smell. So what does it mean when your urine smells like popcorn?

For the most part, small changes in the way your urine smells are nothing to worry about. However, in some cases, the “popcorn” scent could be a sign of an underlying health condition. We asked experts to share the most common causes and cures.

Top causes of urine that smells like popcorn

Pee that has unusual, sweet odor can be caused by:

1. Diabetes

Let’s get the worst-case scenario out of the way first: Sweet-smelling urine may be a sign that your body isn’t processing glucose properly.

“The ‘popcorn’ odor in urine is often associated with the presence of a compound called ketones,” says Reza Nazemi, MD, endocrinologist at Cedars-Sinai and co-founder of World Top Docs. Ketones are produced when the body starts to break down fat instead of glucose for energy. In some cases, this may be due to undiagnosed or unmanaged type 2 diabetes.

“Diabetes is mentioned as a possible cause because in uncontrolled diabetes, the body cannot effectively use glucose for energy,” Dr. Nazemi adds. “This leads to increased fat breakdown and the production of ketones.”

If you notice your urine smells like popcorn, it’s important to keep an eye out for any additional symptoms of diabetes. Common symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Slow-healing wounds or infections
  • Tingling or numbness in extremities

If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor ASAP. Left untreated, diabetes can lead to a potentially life-threatening buildup of ketones called diabetic ketoacidosis.

And if you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, urine that smells like popcorn may be a signal that you need to talk to your doctor and adjust your treatment. “It is imperative for individuals with diabetes to be vigilant about monitoring their blood sugar levels and recognizing other symptoms,” says David Shusterman, MD, a board-certified urological surgeon and CEO of NY Urology.

A close up of women's hands doing a blood sugar finger prick for diabetes
Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty

Related: These 9 Simple (and Delicious!) Food Swaps Significantly Lower Diabetes Risk, Say MDs

2. Dehydration

When you’ve fallen behind on drinking enough water, it can make your pee a bit more pungent. And your risk of dehydration increases over time. Why? Your sensation of thirst gradually starts to decrease, and changing hormones can mess with the balance between water and electrolytes in your body.

“As we age, our bodies become less efficient at retaining water, leading to an increased chance of being dehydrated,” Dr. Shusterman explains. “When this happens, your urine becomes concentrated, and certain compounds can give off that distinctive popcorn aroma.” (Click through to learn if dehydration can cause high blood pressure, too.)

3. Dietary changes

You may have noticed that foods like asparagus, garlic or coffee can cause strong-smelling urine. Likewise, certain foods could be the reason your urine smells like popcorn. In particular, ground fenugreek seeds give off an aroma similar to maple syrup or butterscotch, and that can change the way your pee smells. “However, it’s important to note that not everyone experiences this phenomenon, as our bodies break down foods differently,” Dr. Shusterman adds.

Another possible culprit is the keto diet. The goal of this low-carb, fat-rich diet is to get into ketosis, a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for energy instead of carbs. This causes the body to produce ketones, which are passed through urine.

A plate of bacon, eggs, avocado and other high-protein and high-fat foods found in a keto diet, which can cause urine that smells like popcorn
Alexander Spatari/Getty

“A high protein diet also results in high urine ketone levels and the resulting popcorn odor,” says Karyn Eilber, MD, a Professor of Urology and Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. (Click through to learn how a keto diet can cause what’s known as a keto rash, too — plus how to cure it.)

4. A urinary tract infection (UTI)

“Urinary tract infections can cause urine to have a different odor, and UTIs are commonly seen in perimenopausal or menopausal women over 50 due to hormonal changes,” Dr. Eilber says. The risk of developing a urinary tract infection increases with age. While just over 10% of women will experience at least one UTI in a year, the prevalence doubles when you hit age 65. 

Let your doctor know if you’re experiencing any other symptoms of a UTI, including:

  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Cloudy or reddish urine
  • Pressure in the lower abdomen

Related: Doctors Reveal the 8 Best Natural Ways To Prevent UTIs — Most Heal The Infection Too!

How to minimize popcorn smells in urine

While it can be alarming to realize your urine smells like popcorn, there are a few simple things you can do to help lessen the intensity — plus one step our experts agree you shouldn’t skip.

1. Stay hydrated

“Staying adequately hydrated is crucial,” Dr. Shusterman says. “Increasing your water intake will dilute the concentration of certain compounds responsible for odorous excretions.” So how much water do you need each day? The recommended amount is 11.5 cups per day for women, but some of that will come from other sources like coffee, fruit, and veggies. Aim to get around 4 to 6 cups of plain water each day to fill in the rest.

Because thirst signals diminish with age, it’s easy to forget to chug water throughout the day. A smart way to up your intake: Try a free water-tracking app like Water Reminder – Daily Tracker (Apple) or Water Reminder – Remind Drink (Android) that sends reminders to nudge you toward hitting your goals. (Click through to learn how a motivational water bottle can help you drink up, too.)

A close up of a woman filling a pitcher of water from the kitchen sink to avoid urine that smells like popcorn

2. Sip cranberry juice

If popcorn smells in your urine are caused by recurring UTIs, Dr. Shusterman recommends drinking cranberry juice or taking cranberry supplements to help ward off future infections. And in happy news, research suggests it only takes a cup a day to make a difference. A review of studies in the journal Clinics found that sipping about 8 to 10 oz. of cranberry juice cocktail daily could prevent up to 50% of recurring UTIs.

3. Savor a spinach salad

“Increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can help promote a healthier urinary system,” Dr. Shusterman says. “Consuming foods rich in chlorophyll — think leafy green vegetables like spinach or kale — might help to mask the scent by imparting a fresher note to your urine.” (Click through for a tasty spinach radish salad recipe.)

There’s one exception to this veggie rule, which you may have already guessed: asparagus. When asparagus is broken down in your body, it produces sulfur-containing compounds that can give your pee that infamous rotten egg smell. While this isn’t a sign of anything harmful, it definitely won’t make your urine any less fragrant.

Fun fact: There’s a genetic component to the ability to smell “asparagus pee.” So if you’ve never noticed a funky odor after eating asparagus, that’s because some people are actually unable to smell it!

A bowl of spinach, beets and radishes on a stone countertop

4. Talk to your doctor

While it may not be the most pleasant topic to talk about, if the popcorn aroma persists, our experts say you should discuss it with your doctor. It’s important to rule out an underlying health condition, especially if you notice any other worrisome symptoms.

“Any sudden, persistent or concerning changes in urine odor should be discussed with a doctor,” Dr. Nazemi says. “If you notice additional symptoms like pain, burning during urination, blood in the urine or frequent urination, it’s essential to seek medical attention promptly, as these could indicate underlying medical issues that require evaluation and treatment.”

For more ways to solve “down there bothers:

Doctors Reveal the 8 Best Natural Ways To Prevent UTIs — Most Heal The Infection Too!

Goodbye, Bladder Leaks! Doctors Reveal the Best Urinary Incontinence Remedies

Doctors Weigh In on The Best Natural Solutions for Female Bladder Problems

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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