What is Pyroluria?

Pyroluria is a condition whose root cause is an inborn genetic error in the production of too much “kryptopyrrole” (KP) in the blood. Elevated kryptopyrrole levels result from an abnormality in haemoglobin (the protein that holds iron in red blood cells). Kryptopyrrole binds with the essential nutrients of vitamin B6 and zinc and is excreted into the urine as pyrroles and when present in elevated levels produces a dramatic double deficiency by making them unavailable for their important roles of co-factors in enzymatic reactions and metabolism. Arachnidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) is also affected and becomes deficient.

Pyroluria is a feature of many behavioural and emotional disorders. Elevated levels of kryptopyrrole produce symptoms including irritability, anger episodes, poor memory, impaired intellectual function, impaired immune function and inability to deal with stress. Patients are easily identified by their inability to tan, poor dream recall, abnormal fat distribution, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Pyroluria can be responsible for a wide range of behavioural conditions in adults, including chronic depression, paranoia, schizophrenia and even certain types of criminal behaviour. Historically, these conditions have been easily misdiagnosed. Thus, early testing is essential for anyone exhibiting such symptoms. The symptoms of excess urinary kryptopyrrole first manifest themselves as behavioural abnormalities.

Pyroluria is characterized by a high degree of perceptual disorganization. While present in up to 70% of diagnosed schizophrenic and depressive cases it is also present in other patients including alcoholics, anxiety states, and in children with learning and behavioural disorders. It is present in ten percent of a non-psychiatric stressed population. It is also present in most cases of lung cancer. Due to its inborn basis, its symptoms can manifest from a very early age.

Pyroluria can affect anybody. Testing is especially valuable for children, who are very difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone because they vary so much one from the other. While it can occur in any group, certain ethnic backgrounds show an increased percentage of pyrolurics, including the Irish.

Pyroluria is an inborn physical condition that manifests in both physical and behavioural symptoms: poor tolerance of physical and emotional stress, mood swings, depression, sensitivity to light, noise and other tactile sensitivities. Later symptoms can range from severe depression to chronic schizophrenia. Accompanying physical symptoms can include pain, seizures, even complete physical debilitation.

Treatment of Pyroluria

Fortunately, elevated kryptopyrrole levels and pyroluria are usually simple to resolve, once the proper tests have been performed and a correct diagnosis has been made. The decisive laboratory test is analysis for kryptopyrroles in urine. Treatment is centred on zinc and B6 supplements together with B3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. If left undiagnosed and untreated, the condition can lead to a wide range of significant health problems, with adults showing increased severity. Because the treatment has a metabolic rather than pharmacologic basis, it must be titrated to individual requirements. A variety of factors are taken into consideration when developing a treatment regimen. Both zinc and B6 supplementation need to be directed by a practitioner, as too much can be toxic. Use of the correct form of vitamin B6 and zinc is necessary to be effective. Avoiding competing minerals and supplements may also be necessary.

Vitamin B6 is important in the formation of many neurotransmitters. B6 deficiency is associated with agitation, irritability, depression and impaired intellectual function. Kryptopyrrole elevation can also be associated with poor tolerance of physical stress. In advanced cases, severe pain in the joints and extremities may be present.

Research into pyroluria

Abram Hoffer and Carl Pfeiffer provided the original discovery research. Although a substantial proportion of psychiatric diseases can be traced to excess urinary kryptopyrrole, other conditions with a genetic basis, such as autism, frequently show elevated pyrrole levels. In more general cases there can be emotional symptoms, physical symptoms, or both simultaneously. It is therefore easy to understand how a misdiagnosis can occur — hence the importance of early testing. In formal clinical trials, the following percentages were determined for frequency of elevated pyrrole in a range of test subjects:

  •  Autism – 50% (Audha)
  • Alcoholism – 40% (Mathews-Larson)
  • ADHD – 30% (Walsh)
  • Schizophrenia & Depression – 70% (Hoffer)

For a checklist of common emotional and physical characteristics of pyroluria click here.


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