Pyroluria – a Zinc and Vitamin B6 deficiency

Mental Health | July 3, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

mental health

Pyroluria – a Zinc and Vitamin B6 deficiency

Pyrroluria or pyrrole disorder is a condition where elevated levels of pyrroles are found in the urine. Pyrroles, or kryptopyrroles are a biproduct of haemoglobin metabolism (haemoglobin is the protein found in red blood cells that carry oxygen in the bloodstream). There is no known physiological function of pyrolles in the body but what are they are known to do is bind to vitamin B6 and zinc before they are eliminated via the kidneys. This causes a deficiency in both these nutrients which are essential for a variety of different enzyme reactions within the body.

Unfortunately, pyrroluria is not a recognised condition by many health practitioners, most doctors have never even heard of it. There is certainly still more to understand about this common disorder but at the end of the day, excessive pyrroles in the body results in nutritional deficiencies which can sometimes have severe consequences Simply reversing these deficiencies can have dramatic effects for some people, who may have been suffering from depression or other similar problems for many years.

What causes pyrroluria?

The cause of pyrroles is epigenetic—a combination of genes and environmental factors such as stress and heavy metal burden. It’s onset usually occurs during adolescence with a traumatic incident or stress, such as the loss of a family member, moving or changing schools.

Pyrroluria and associated conditions

pyrrole schizophreniaHigh levels of urinary pyrroles were first discovered in 1961, where elevated levels were identified in up to 80% of patients with schizophrenia. On remission, the levels of pyrroles in these individuals reduced to within normal range.
Although further studies have found pyrroluria is not specific to Schizophrenia it has been linked to severe depression, manic-depressive disorder, criminal behaviour and on rare occasions dissociative identity disorder.

Pyrroluria is also frequently seen in Down’s Syndrome. About 10% of the general population have pyrroluria, many of which don’t even realise it. 20% of adults and children with autism, attention deficit disorder and behavioural disorders are found to have elevated pyrroles in the urine. All of these associated conditions are different manifestations of the disorder.

Nutrient deficiencies

Pyrolles render zinc and B6 unavailable and increases their elimination from the body. Deficiencies in these nutrients is often the result which range from mild to severe. Symptoms of pyrroluria may include the inability to deal with stress, nervousness, anxiety, mood swings, severe inner tension, episodic rage, poor short-term memory and depression. You could also have sensitivity to light, sound and odour, allergies, pale skin, constipation and migraines.


pyrrole zinc foodsZinc is essential for growth and development and for a healthy immune and reproductive system. It helps to metabolise carbohydrates and proteins and is essential for DNA repair, vision and healthy cognition/behaviour.

Deficiency signs of zinc include impaired immune function, reproduction and growth. Skin conditions such as dermatitis and lesions of the skin, mouth and nose can occur if there is a lack of zinc.

Zinc deficiency can cause deficits in taste and smell and behavioural changes, irritability and impaired cognitive function. Another result of zinc deficiency is an elevation in copper levels. Although copper is an essential micronutrient, having too much can have side-effects such as contributing to the depletion of zinc in the body.

Supplementing with zinc will help to correct the imbalance. Food sources of zinc include red meat, pulses, chicken, oysters, fish, nuts, seeds and ginger.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine, is a coenzyme that is involved in a variety of metabolic reactions. It is important in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as GABA in the central nervous system and the metabolism of serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. It is involved in carbohydrate and fat metabolism, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids and phospholipids—fats important for the health of our cell membranes. As vitamin B6 deficiency affects the metabolism of healthy fats, poor skin health can entail. Deficiency can also lead to a poor immune system, depression, confusion, PMS and irritability. Ulceration at the corners of the mouth, mouth ulcers and tongue inflammation are other signs of low B6 levels. As vitamin B6 is important for healthy red blood cell formation, deficiency can result in microcytic anaemia. Foods rich in this nutrient include wholegrain cereals, organ meats, lentils, legumes and vegemite. It is best when supplementing with vitamin B6 that the active form called pyridoxine-5-phosphate (P5P) be taken.

pyrrole Essential fatsEssential fatty acids

Faulty fatty acid metabolism is another result of pyrroluria, with a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids often aggravating symptoms such as impulsiveness, depression, aggression, irritability, poor stress tolerance and anxiety. Supplementing with omega-6 essentials acids such as evening primrose oil are much easier for people with pyrroluria to metabolise.

Other nutrients which may assist include vitamin E and C, niacin, manganese and pantothenic acid.

Starting treatment

pyrrole treatmentAlthough healthy diet and eating foods rich in zinc and vitamin B6 is incredibly important, reaching adequate levels for people with pyrroles may not occur from diet alone. Symptom improvement with supplementation can be experienced in as little as two days, with levels of pyrroles being decreased by up to 50% after one month of treatment. Discontinuing the products will result in the body quickly reverting back to elevated pyrroles and the associated symptoms. For people with more severe pyrroles, an improvement in symptoms may take a bit longer.

Diagnosing Pyrroluria

Pyrolurria is diagnosed by a simple urine test which detects kryptopyrrole or mauve factor in urine. Most people have less than 10 mcg/dL, persons with 10-20mcg/dL are considered to have borderline pyrroluria and could benefit from treatment and people who have higher levels than 20mcg/dL are considered to have the disorder. To avoid false/negative results it’s important to avoid vitamin and mineral supplementation prior to the test. A pyrroluria test can be ordered through your naturopath or doctor who will also assist you with supplementation advice if the result is positive.


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McGinnis WR, et al. Discerning the mauve factor, part 1. Altern Ther Health Med.  Mar-Apr;14(2):40-50

Heleniak EP, Lamola SW. A new prostaglandin disturbance syndrome in schizophrenia: delta-6-pyroluria. Med Hypotheses. 1986 Apr;19(4):333-8

Walsh WJ, GLab LB, Haakenson ML. Reduced violent behaviour following biochemical therapy. Physiol Behav. 2004 Oct 15;82(5):835-9

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