Urobilin is generated from the degradation of heme, which is first degraded through biliverdin to bilirubin. Bilirubin is then excreted as bile, which is further degraded by microbes present in the large intestine to urobilinogen. Some of this remains in the large intestine, and its conversion to stercobilin gives feces its brown color. Some is reabsorbed into the bloodstream, where it is oxidized to urobilin and eventually excreted by the kidneys, giving urine its yellow color.
Many urine tests (urinalysis) monitor the amount of urobilin in urine, as its levels can give insight on the effectiveness of urinary tract function. Normally, urine would appear as either light yellow urine or colorless. A lack of water intake, for example following sleep or dehydration, reduces the water content of urine, thereby concentrating urobilin and producing a darker color of urine. Obstructive jaundice reduces biliary bilirubin excretion, which is then excreted directly from the blood stream into the urine, giving a dark-colored urine but with a paradoxically low urobilin concentration, no urobilinogen, and usually with correspondingly pale faeces. Darker urine also results due to other chemicals, such as various ingested dietary components or drugs, porphyrins in porphyria, and homogentisate in patients with alcaptonuria.