Why Does My Pee Smell Like Popcorn? (Diabetes, Dehydration, Or Pregnancy & When To See Your Doctor)

Your urine can smell like popcorn due to common issues like changes in diet, pregnancy hormones, or dehydration. Taking new medications can also cause a change in our urine concentration and smell, especially if we aren’t adequately hydrated. Other causes could result from excess protein in urine or diabetes, where excess ketones in our urine can cause ketoacidosis, causing a sweet or popcorn-like smell. The causes are easily treatable, but sometimes a change in the smell and other symptoms could signal an underlying medical condition. It’s better to see your doctor if the change in the smell doesn’t go away on its own in a few days.

Only you can determine when your urine smells different from its characteristic odor. Every person has a unique odor in their urine, and if sometimes the smell differs like it starts smelling of popcorn, it can make them worry about this change.

These small changes in how your pee smells are usually influenced by a change in diet.

Eating a particular food item or even too much popcorn itself. But sometimes, there’re other factors involved in causing this smell.

Let’s look at the causes behind this, what you can do about it, and when’s there a need to worry.

Causes why pee smells like popcorn

Our urine is another waste excretion that filters our body of toxins and waste products in the form of liquid. It changes colors throughout the day along with its smell.

Our urine is usually darker in the morning, but it might be of lighter color throughout the day. After having meals, it can strangely smell different, or you might notice it smells strongly of something you just ate.

Diet

A man holding a burger and pizza, foods that can affect his urine smell later on

If you’ve ever had coffee or are a coffee lover, you would have noticed that your pee smells like coffee more than once. The simple reasoning behind this is that you had too much coffee to drink.

When you eat or drink anything, it’s broken down in your body, then becomes waste products released in your urine.

A popular and common reason for sweet, strong-smelling urine like popcorn is if you’ve recently changed your diet. A change in diet can also change the smell of your urine.

Some common foods that might cause this smell to appear could be consuming lots of popcorn, large amounts of protein, or even coffee. 

If you’re eating or drinking something new that brought on this change, an obvious solution would be to narrow it down to them.

Increasing your water intake can help get rid of the smell, and having a well-balanced home-cooked meal would prevent your urine from smelling weird. 

Dehydration

A dehydrated woman is sitting and trying to drink water

Things can get complex, and you might smell your pee more like popcorn if you’re generally dehydrated. Water is essential to remove wastes from our bodies and keep us hydrated.

It helps move the waste out in a more diluted form, but when we haven’t hydrated enough, the waste in our urine gets more concentrated, making it appear dark yellow and smell a lot.

If the waste products in urine have a popcorn smell, it’ll smell more like it once it’s concentrated

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased urination
  • Confusion

A simple solution is to drink plenty of water and aim to drink 8 glasses of water a day, typical for an adult.

Don’t try to replace water with other beverages like juice, tea, or coffee, as they can cause more harm than benefit.

Start fusing your water with lemons, mint leaves, or fruits to make drinking water more enjoyable

Diabetes

If you’ve diabetes, this could be just the explanation for your urine smelling like popcorn. Those with diabetes have a high level of ketones in their bloodstream.

When the body excretes these in the urine, it can make it smell like popcorn or a sweet smell. This excretion of the ketone isn’t normal, and if this happens, then the person enters ketosis.

This process of producing ketones occurs because the body doesn’t have enough sugar or glucose for fuel, and this can quickly happen over the night or during a long period of not eating, like fasting.

A small quantity of ketones isn’t something to worry about, but when it’s produced in excess, and people don’t take steps to control it, a high level of ketone can build in their blood.

This high-level metabolic state is called ketoacidosis, which requires immediate medical attention.

People with ketoacidosis have sweet-smelling urine like popcorn, but other symptoms include:

  • Dehydration
  • Increased urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Sweet-smelling or fruity breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Hyperventilating or deep labor breathing
  • Fainting

Most people even get to know they have diabetes due to this symptom of their urine smell.

Ketoacidosis is a medical emergency, and if someone experiences a lot of symptoms, they should immediately seek medical help.

Ketoacidosis can also happen from starvation or excessive alcohol.

What you can do to manage this cause is to manage your diabetes. Take your insulin prescribed by the doctor to regulate your blood sugar level and follow a low-carb diet.

When you’re controlling your condition and managing your diabetes, it’ll help reduce the sugar and ketones stored in the body, which allows your urine to return to normal. 

Excess protein

A woman is holding a scoop of protein powder which she's about to use to make a protein shake

We know how protein is essential for our muscles, but it’s also vital for our bones, to keep fluids circulating, and to fight infections.

But when we consume excess protein, it can prove to be harmful. Or an indication of poor kidney function and some other medical condition.

The way urine is made is by filtering out waste products and excess water.

Proteins are too large to exit the kidney’s filters and enter the urine, but damaged filters can cause that to happen. This presence of abnormal amounts of protein in urine is called proteinuria or albuminuria.

Medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, lupus, malaria, and others can cause kidney filters to get damaged too. 

Occasionally the high protein in urine could be caused by dehydration, working out too much, stress, fever, or freezing temperatures. 

Eating a lot of protein can also cause ketosis, and it happens when the body uses protein and stored fat for energy instead of using carbohydrates as it usually does.

When ketone leaves the body in urine, the smell developed is similar to popcorn or a sweet smell. 

The solution includes not consuming more than the required protein, especially if you take protein shakes.

Also, keep your diabetes under control and look at other signs and symptoms present for other medical conditions which could be causing high protein levels. 

Pregnancy

A woman is looking at her pregnancy test results

Pregnancy can also make you experience a change in smell in your urine. While it’s a sign of pregnancy for some, it could also be due to hormonal changes during your pregnancy.

Due to change in hormones in the initial stage of pregnancy, an increase in the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) circulate in the blood, which can cause urine to smell different or more intensely.

Pregnant people also develop a strong sense of smell and might be able to smell things in their urine that they didn’t before or find the smell to be quite strong. 

Most importantly, gestational diabetes is common amongst pregnant women.

About 1 in 13 women tend to develop temporary diabetes, known as gestational diabetes, in the US. If you don’t keep it under control, it can cause ketoacidosis, which we explored as a reason behind urine smelling like popcorn. 

Medications

Sometimes we’re on specific medications, which are a combination of different chemicals that can also bring a change in how your urine smells.

You would have noticed this change in smell whenever you take antibiotics to fight your fever, so different medications can cause a similar shift.

The solution to this lies in keeping hydrated. You must have heard how the doctor also recommends drinking one full glass of water when you take your medicines.

It can help dilute the concentrated chemical compound present in the medications and reduce the smell in urine.

When to see your doctor

We explored different causes behind why your urine could smell like popcorn. It could be due to the simple fact that you’re dehydrated, which can be easily solved by increasing your water consumption.

Or it could be a medical condition such as fetor hepaticus. This complexity stops your body from breaking amino acids needed for your body to function. 

All the causes mentioned have a solution to them which can help you reduce this smell. Giving it a bit of time to go back to its typical smell is something you should do.

While you’re making an appropriate change in your diet and water, the smell should reduce, but if it doesn’t, and you notice other concerning symptoms, it’s best to see your doctor. 

We might not know about an underlying medical issue that could be signaling its presence through a change in our urine’s smell.

FAQs

Why does my pee smell like sweet popcorn?

When diabetes becomes severe, it can cause your urine to smell strong and sweet. Excess ketones get excreted in the urine, which causes this change in the smell.

It happens when people are starving or fasting and forget to keep their diabetes in check. It can also occur when people don’t know they have diabetes.

What does UTI pee smell like?

Urinary tract infections can cause strong-smelling urine, among other symptoms. You might feel a burning sensation whenever peeing due to the infection. 

Why do I smell buttered popcorn?

It could be a hallucination if you’ve ruled out every other possible medical condition.

An olfactory hallucination (phantosmia) makes you detect smells that aren’t really there.

The smells may vary from person to person, and some can be unpleasant and others pleasant. The smells might come and go. 

Why does my pee smell like coffee?

You could be drinking too much coffee, and since its diuretic in nature, a higher concentration of compounds in your urine could make it smell like coffee.

Being diuretic in nature makes a person pee often, dehydrating as you can’t keep up with hydrating yourself, causing pee to smell like coffee.

It’s usually harmless, and controlling your coffee intake can make the smell go away. But if you’re experiencing other symptoms such as restlessness, rapid heart rate, anxiety, or nausea, your coffee intake is simply too much, and you would need immediate medical attention.

To summarise

Popcorn-scented urine can be a concern for people as it’s not something you would want your urine to smell.

It typically causes trouble when people can still smell it more than once, and they start to wonder about the reasons behind it.

Mostly the causes are treatable, and for something like dehydration, pregnancy, or a change in diet, people can handle their situation.

But sometimes, it could be an indication of a medical condition we’re unaware of, and looking at this early sign can help us diagnose and treat it in its initial stage. 

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