Although first discovered back in the late 1950’s, pyroluria has become a bit of a hot topic over the last few years as more people are making a connection between specific nutrients and mental wellbeing.
Pyroluria, also known as pyrolle disorder or mauve factor, is associated with a genetic, chemical imbalance related to the abnormal synthesis and metabolism of haemoglobin, the molecule that is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body.
During the processing of haemoglobin, pyrolles or hydroxyhemopyrrolin-2-one (HPL) is produced as a waste product. Whilst it is normal to produce some HPL, elevated urinary levels have been found in those suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, ADHD and autism as well as Alzheimer’s.
Clinical observations in 1971 found that supplementation with B6 and zinc brought about significant improvements in urinary HPL levels and a striking reduction in symptoms. It has since been established that HPL binds to these nutrients and increases their urinary excretion and/or inhibits their function, which also contributes to other health manifestations outside of mental health. Several other nutrients are also impacted with excess copper being a common finding.
What Causes Pyroluria?
Although having a close relative suffering from a mental health disorder may predispose you to pyroluria, there are lifestyle factors that may exacerbate this condition:
- Poor diet lacking good levels of micronutrients;
- Increased intestinal permeability leading to malabsorption of nutrients; zinc is an important nutrient in the digestive tract;
- Imbalance in microbiota, with less-desirable microbes being in higher numbers and/or lower counts of the beneficial microflora; many B-vitamins are synthesised by the gut bacteria.
- Stress whether it’s of a physical, environmental and/or emotional nature;
- Inflammation in the brain or elsewhere in the body;
- Toxicity and/or an under-functioning liver.
How Pyroluria May affect your Mood
By highlighting some of the roles that B6 and zinc perform in the body, we can identify some of the areas that their deficiencies may impact your mood:
- B6 is needed to convert the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate into the calming GABA; too much glutamate may increase anxiety, panic attacks or agitation.
- Both B6 and zinc are needed to synthesise the happy hormone, serotonin; deficiencies may contribute to depression and feeling flat.
- Zinc attaches to certain glutamate receptors, modulating excitability and exerting an anti-depressant effect.
- B6, along with other B-vitamins, is critical for making energy in our body; lack of energy may impact our resilience to stress and may manifest in other symptoms such as fatigue, irritability and cognitive dysfunction.
- Zinc plays an important role in the activation of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF); BDNF is critical for the maintenance and growth of new nerve cells.
- As part of the blood brain barrier, zinc helps stop harmful chemicals from entering the brain.
- B6 is a vital cofactor in the synthesis of dopamine which is integral to your pleasure and reward system.
- Zinc helps convert B6 into it’s active form pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P).
What are some of the key signs and symptoms relating to pyroluria?
There are so many lists on the internet citing dozens of signs and symptoms as indicative of pyroluria, that it’s easy for a high number of people to mistakenly think that they have this disorder.
However, some key ones to look out for are the following; having at least half may warrant functional testing:
- Skips breakfast;
- Recurrent illness or infections;
- Poor short-term memory;
- Unexplained or sudden mood swings;
- Heightened sensitivity to noises and/or light;
- Not enjoying reading for leisure;
- Severe dry skin issues;
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep;
- Very poor dream recall;
- If a dream is recalled it is usually a nightmare or similar;
- Tendency to come to life at night and stay up late.
What can you do if you suspect you have pyroluria?
A health practitioner with knowledge of pyroluria may be able to help you manage this condition and as a consequence, help support your mental health issues.
Treatment for Pyroluria
You may need to:
- Undertake an HPL urinary analysis through a health practitioner; this could be a nutritionist, naturopath or integrative GP but is unlikely to be requested by your traditional GP.
- Have blood tests for zinc and copper amongst other standard blood tests.
- Address nutritional deficiencies.
- Assess if you have food sensitivities and/or allergies.
- Review your diet to include more nutrient-dense foods and less inflammatory foods.
- Support gastrointestinal health and in particular microbial balance.
- Lessen exposure to harmful chemicals and heavy metals.
- Improve detoxification pathways.
If you think that you may have an issue with pyrolles or if you’d like to find out more and work with a nutritionist, please make an appointment with me.
Author: Beverley Dorgan, BHSc Nutritional Medicine, ANTA.
Beverley Dorgan is a Brisbane Clinical nutritionist with a special interest in how the foods we consume can impact on our mental health from anxiety and depression to OCD and behavioural or learning issues.
Beverley is not currently taking appointments. However, to make an appointment with a Vision Psychology Clinician try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
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- Mindd Foundation https://mindd.org/conditions/mauve-factor-pyroluria/
- Mlyniec K. Zinc in the Glutamatergic Theory of Depression. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015;13(4):505-513. doi:10.2174/1570159×13666150115220617
- Pfeiffer CC et al Treatment of Pyroluric Schizophrenia (Malvaria) With Large Doses of Pyridoxine and a Dietary Supplement of Zinc http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1974/pdf/1974-v03n04-p292.pdf
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- Woody R et al, Discerning the Mauve Factor Part 1 http://www.walshinstitute.org/uploads/1/7/9/9/17997321/discerning-mauve-factor-part-1-galley-feb-2008.pdf
- Woody R et al, Discerning the Mauve Factor Part 2 https://www.walshinstitute.org/uploads/1/7/9/9/17997321/discerning-the-mauve-factor-part-ii-galley.pdf