The ‘Wee’ problem about Asparagus

Food, Lifestyle


The asparagus is a tall plant belonging to the lily family and is cultivated for its edible shoots. The tender young shoots of this plant are eaten as a vegetable and is well known for its health benefits.  However, for some, there can be a distinct odor in their urine after consuming this vegetable. 

Brief History of Asparagus cultivation

Asparagus was first known in ancient greek mythology, where the descendants of the greatest greek hero “Theseus” of Athens planted and protected asparagus by law and out of respect for the ancestors. Formal cultivation of asparagus came into being in Roman times (234-149 B.C). It became more popular in Europe, when John Gerard in 1597 called the plant “asparagi ” which he translated to signify “the first spring or sprout of every plant, especially when it be tender”.

Asparagus and Odorous Urine

The phenomenon of asparagus causing odorous urine was first documented in the 18th century. French botanist, Louis Lémery, reported a link in its ingestion causing the production of odorous urine. John Arbuthnot, a Scottish mathematician and physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book on foods first published in 1731, that asparagus affected the urine with the distinct smell (especially if eaten when they are white). French novelist, critic and essayist Marcel Proust described his experience with asparagus to be like a Shakespeare’s fairy-tale story that transforms his chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.

What causes the “Asparagus Wee Phenomenon” 

With the use of soil fertilizers containing sulfur, it is believed that the sulfate components from the soil must have been absorbed by the asparagus plant. It was believed that upon digestion, this produces an odor in the urine. But why is it that other foods like garlic, parsley, cabbage and egg that contain sulfur do not create the same odor in the urine? This is as the asparagus has a unique component of sulfur that even after digestion, stays present in the urine.

Odor producing component in Asparagus

A sulfur derived asparagusic acid (1,2-dithiolane-4-carboxylic acid) is believed to be the main component that produces the odor. This acid is known to be deadly to insects and has a higher concentration in young asparagus. Through digestion, asparagusic acid is converted to methanethiol and other dimethyl components that causes the smell in wee.

Detectors and Non-detectors

The asparagus urine phenomenon does not affect all asparagus-eaters! 

Research tells us that although every asparagus-eater produce smelly components in their urine, there is a variation in:

1. the amount of smelly components one produces.

2. the ability of one’s nose to detect the sense.

There is no known scientific evidence of any clinical problems associated with the production or detection of the asparagus odor.

Despite this, the asparagus has many health benefits that make it one of the most healthy vegetables.

Benefits of Eating Asparagus 

  • Anti-inflammatory action

Asparagus contains a good amount of beacasparanin A, sarsasapogenin, protodioscin, diosgenin and many flavonoids that have been reported to reduce inflammation in the body. It will help in reducing chronic inflammation which is one of the causes for many conditions of heart, liver, joint etc. 

  • Anti-diabetic

The extracts from asparagus have amino acid asparagine and chromium that improves insulin secretion which is responsible for glucose metabolism in the blood. 

  • Anti-oxidant 

Asparagus is rich in glutathione, a detoxifying agent that can help destroy carcinogens. 

  • Rich source of Vitamin B 

Asparagus has a rich content of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 ) that helps to turn the food we eat into energy, it metabolizes sugars and starches, decrease in fatigue. It is essential for healthy skin, hair, and nails. It helps in cell regeneration that help repair and constant renewal of the skin. Vitamin B12 helps protect against unhealthy cholesterol levels, stroke, high blood pressure and cancer.

  • Aid digestion

Asparagus contains a substance called “inulin” that acts as a prebiotic which is used by good bacteria to improve nutrient absorption. Also, the vegetable has a high fiber content that helps get food through the gut more smoothly. Therefore, can provide relief from digestive discomfort.

  • Improves brain function

The folate in asparagus works with the vitamin B12 to helps cognitive function which mean it improves the mental process of knowing, including aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgment.  

  • Diuretic 

The diuretic and alkaline properties of asparagus help flush out the kidneys and eliminate water retention in the body. It contains a substance called asparagine that makes it the remedy of choice for urinary tract problems.

Considering the health benefits of asparagus, it would be wise to ignore the odorous urine and still consume the vegetable. If the smell is an issue, try eating older asparagus instead of young shoots. Though older asparagus have a woodier stem and will need that extra bit of peeling, its sulfate content is much lower yet they have the same amount of nutrients as the younger ones. 

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