Pyrrole disorder has nothing to do with repeat offenders breaking their bail restrictions, although Dr. William Walsh did find that many parole candidates had undiagnosed pyrrole. What he has since found is that pyrrole disorder is implicated in many psychological and behavioural problems due its powerful effect on mental wellbeing.
Pyrrole disorder causes an imbalance in the brains main neurotransmitters. Pyrrole sufferers might feel they are unbalanced but really its their brains that can't find equilibrium.
In its genetic form Pyrrole disorder is heritable, and once identified people often look to their own frazzled parents or cranky kids and understand that they are possibly afflicted also.
However, pyrrole disorder can also arise as a result of severe oxidative stress and this form may not manifest until later in life perhaps following severe emotional/psychological stress or prolonged illness. Periods of high emotional stress have been shown to promote higher levels of oxidative stress, resulting in higher HPL.
(another post explaining oxidative stress in more detail, is coming soon).
Hold on tight for the long version….
Pyrrole disorder could be a common cause of your garden variety 'stress-head'. People who freak out under pressure, have mood swings and anger outbursts might discover the cause of their liability isn't a personality flaw after all. So what is Pyrrole Disorder?
In short, pyrrole disorder is the presence of high amounts of a substance called HPL, which can be due to a genetic predisposition or high levels of oxidative stress, both resulting in a severe deficiency in nutrients essential for the production of calming neurotransmitters.
The genetic cause of pyrrole is thought to be a disorder in the production of heme where excessive amounts of HPL, a waste product, is created. However, recent research by Woody McGinness indicates that HPL is what interferes with heme production (so the high HPL comes first). What can be agreed on, however, is that HPL depletes levels of several important nutrient co-factors, most prominently Zinc, vitamin B6 and magnesium, and it results in elevated levels of oxidative stress (and neural toxicity) and depleted production of the brains calming chemical messengers.
Pyrrole has a genetic origin, but also can be epi-genetic. That is, we might have the genetic predisposition but it might not reveal itself until the environment causes it's expression. Perhaps we are fine until we hit a very stressful part of our lives, experience a large amount of emotional turmoil, get sick, or overdo it with drugs and/or alcohol. The physical, mental or emotional stress taxes our system and tips us into this little known disorder. Alternately, pyrrole could manifest because we become depleted in vitamins and nutrients, possibly due to poor diet and/or digestive issues. Elevated HPL is almost always found along with elevated oxidative stress. Pyrrole is often found in people with "leaky gut syndrome" (although the jury is still out on what came first, the pyrrole or the permeable gut).
In addition, many children with behaviour problems, ADHD and Autism have been found to have pyrrole disorder and high levels of oxidative stress. In these cases the genetic expression is promoted sooner rather than later and the effects of pyrrole disorder can be seen in irritable children and toddlers with terrible tantrums because oxidative stress has a greater effect on young brains.
While this disorder effects up to 10% of the population, in people with psychological disturbances, learning or behavioural problems the incidence can be from 18 - 35% (Nutrient Power William J Walsh, 2012).
Oxidative Stress results when body's toxic load exceeds it's ability to be detoxified. It's a bit like the slight rot that happens to an apple core, this is oxidation. Normally anti-oxidants (from food and antioxidants our bodies make) will keep things in check. Older people get illness due to oxidation from bad diet and poor digestion, stress, environmental toxic build up and because their natural levels of anti-oxidants get lower as they get older. Its a bit of a vicious circle. The more toxic we get the more detoxifying we need and the less anti-oxidants we have because we are too toxic!
Pyrrole Disorder has a few different names; Pyrolurria, Kryptopyrroles, the Mauve factor, Malvaria and HPL. HPL (hydroxyhemopyrrolin-2-one) is the actual waste product that is measured in the urine if you get tested for this disorder.
The amount of HPL can indicate the severity of symptoms. Too much of this by-product has a neurotoxic effect on this brain as a result of increased oxidation.
So too many Pyrrole's are a problem!
HPL interferes with the production of heme, the oxygen carrying part of blood. Depressed heme levels mean lower levels of zinc and higher oxidative stress. These factors also result in deficiency of...
- Vitamin B6
- Several anti-oxidant's including C, E, and B vitamins
- The oxidation also destroys omega 3 and 6's
A short and very basic course on neuroscience
The brain transmits information from one neuron (brain nerve cell) to another via electrical activity that causes neurons to fire. Once neurons fire they need to be able to stop firing. The main excitatory neurotransmitter (NT) is called Glutamate. Once the signal is transmitted by an excitatory Neurotransmitter (like Glutamate) what usually happens is an inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA and stops the signal. Glutamate is the accelerator, GABA is the brake. (Serotonin can also stop the signalling, but we will focus on GABA to be less confusing for now).
Without enough GABA to calm the stimulation caused by Glutamate, guess what happens? The brain gets over excited - but not in a fun way.
The person with an overstimulated brain might feel as if their mind is always on the go so they feel constantly stressed or anxious. Even if they are not aware of this they will likely have poor stress control and be prone to ‘flipping out’, having mood swings and a short temper.
People who seem to have a ‘3 second fuse’ and just can’t cope with too much going on at the one time might be this way because their brain is already under so much stress, and that little bit more just tips them over the edge.
Getting groovy with GABA
Interestingly GABA - the calming 'brake's on' Neurotransmitter - is made from Glutmate (the stimulating one). This makes sense in a way as they are the main movers and stoppers in the brain.
So you would think plenty of Glutamate = plenty of GABA, right?
Wrong. As with any good recipe we need other ingredients to create a meal. To convert Glutamate in GABA you need additional ingredients, and guess what's on the shopping list? You guessed it, Vitamin B6 and Zinc (and Vitamin C and Magnesium).
So to summarise, you will likely have plenty of Glutmate to stimulate your brain but without Zinc and B6, the nutrients that HPL strips the body, you won't be able to make enough GABA to counteract the stimulation of Glutamate.
Fight, flee or freak out - The adrenaline factor
It gets worse I'm afraid. The brain has more stimulatory neurotransmitters than calming ones and GABA is in high demand. GABA not only works to keep Glutamate from over doing the signal sending, but it also works in opposition with another neurotransmitter very stimulating neurotransmitter called noradrenaline.
Noradrenaline might be a familiar word to some because it is the precursor to adrenaline - the well-known flight/flight hormone. Also called norepinephrine, this neurotransmitter is made from Dopamine (using copper, to convert). Noradrenaline is the key to arousal or stimulation in the brain and its counterpart, adrenaline, is the main fight and flight hormone of the body.
Noradrenaline regulates the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is what ready’s you to fight or flee from danger. It’s very important as it part of our basic survival mechanism, but we need to be able to return to a normal ‘resting state’ once the threat has gone. This is when we need GABA and serotonin to step in an say "there-there, it's all over now", and calm our brain and body down again.
Now you can see why we need lots of zinc and B6, because we need to make GABA to help calm us!
Too much of this fight and flight (adrenaline) and not enough stop and regroup (GABA & Serotonin) and you will find it difficult to feel relaxed, will be easily startled and/or irritated and could have a hair trigger temper.
Noradrenaline can also manifest as the symptoms of anxiety and hyperactivity, but remember, it’s the ‘fight or flight’ guy, so some people will get anxious, while others will just get plain angry.
I mentioned Serotonin was another inhibitory, calming neurotransmitter so lets learn a little more about it too.
Serotonin is the happy neurotransmitter I am sure you have all heard of. It’s the target of anti-depressant medication. Without enough serotonin we feel sad and flat, cranky and crave carbs. Because serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter it will also help put the brakes on those crazy guys glutamate and noradrenaline by keeping us feeling content and in control.
But here's the kicker.
Serotonin and GABA need to be made in the body. In fact, all neurotransmitters are made from the nutrients from food, vitamins, minerals, trace metals, and amino-acids (from protein). Guess what the the two main ingredients of these calming gal’s is? You got it, ZInc and vitamin B6. Exactly the vitamins a person with pyrrole disorder uses up!
When we don't have calming neurotransmitters we can be more impulsive, appear emotionally out of control and have everyone around us walking on eggshells.
We need Zinc, zinc and more zinc.
Zinc is found all through our body doing all sorts of important things, it's needed for about 300 enzyme reactions in the body. Over 10% of body zinc is found in the brain. Zinc is essential to help in inhibitory neurotransmitters to do what they do best, inhibit. Zinc is not stored well and needs to be eaten regularly. Zinc is competes with copper. More copper less zinc and visa-versa. We eat a lot of copper containing foods and drink water from copper pipes. Copper deficiency is rare. On the other hand Zinc is lacking in most peoples diets and is deficient in the soil so less and less is being introduced into the food chain. So unless we live on a diet of oysters, liver and wheatgerm (all yummy foods rich in zinc) many people are already low in zinc. So you can see that if person has zinc depleting pyrrole disorder they are skating on thin ice from the get-go.
What's more, with zinc and copper being antagonists, being zinc deficient almost always leaves one high in copper. Heres the kicker. High copper creates more noradrenalin. This is because copper causes Dopamine, the feel-good reward neurotransmitter, to convert into noradrenaline.. Another double whammy for the poor pyrrole sufferer.
What?! -but pyrrolurics are already high in noradrenalin due to low GABA!
That's correct, pyrrole depletes calming neurotransmitters levels AND raises fight and flight hormones.
This explains why people with pyrrole have and over active mind (too much stimulatory glutamate) and they are prone to temper tantrums, and stress attacks. Excess noradrenalin shunts them into fight or flight easily and with little provocation.
Pyrrole disorder is measured by a waste product (HPL) excreted in excessive amounts in persons with the epigenetic vulnerability and severe oxidative stress. When pyrrole's are excreted they bind with zinc and other vitamins, and take these important nutrients out of the body. So the key symptoms of pyrrole disorder are actually due to the nutrient deficiencies the pyrrole's create.
If your brain was a road way, having pyrrole is like having half of the traffic lights not working, all the drivers drinking red bull and no vegetables or healthy food. (Actually, that sounds like most Sydney highways).
Magnesium & Vitamin C are the other key ingredients in calming neurotransmitter production and along with vitamin E and Biotin are needed in additional amounts to counteract the oxidation we mentioned earlier. Oxidation is neurotoxic - it’s like your brain is rusting. So while we are replentishing the lost B6, zinc. Vit C and biotin, we need some E and selenium to act as a free-radicals and clean up the toxins.
Ok, this pyrrole disorder sounds serious, so how do I know if I have it?
Pyrrole disorder is not serious or life threatening in any way. However, it can compromise a person's quality of life and the oxidative stress factor is worth addressing.
I have collected quite a comprehensive list of symptoms that are found in people with pyrrole disorder from many sources including my own and others' clinical experience. Many of these symptoms can be traced back to a deficiency in one or more of the nutrients just mentioned or as a result of neurotransmitter imbalances. For example; inability to tan is due to the fact that B6 also helps create melanin, no melanin in the skin means you can still get sunburnt but not tan. In fact, lot’s of pyrrole sufferers are identified by a pale pasty appearance.
You do not need to tick all the symptoms below, but checking up to five or more would indicate further testing might be a good idea.
The most obvious markers of Pyrrole Disorder are mood swings, bad memory and intolerance to stress. However, many people only manifest the"quiet" symptoms of pyrrole such inner tension or anxiety or depression.
Several more of the symptoms below may also be present and depend very much on the individual's personality and how their biochemistry interacts with the nutrient deficiency's and oxidative stress associated with pyrrole .
- “China Doll” appearance - fair, delicate features
- Pale skin, burn easy and tan poorly
- Sparse and fair eyelashes and eyebrows
- Fairer appearance compared to rest of family (if dark) or strawberry blonde hair
- Goes grey early
- Abnormal body fat distribution (e.g. apple shape or extreme pear shape figure - the body is storing much more fat in one area of the body while the other stays relatively slim)
- White spots on fingernails (major zinc deficiency sign)
- Tendency towards iron deficient anaemia
- Abdominal tenderness (especially in area of spleen)
- Dry skin - flaky can have skin problems like psoriasis, dermatitis etc.
- Teens can have joint pain and acne issues
- Abnormal menstrual periods
- Bad short term memory (needs to make notes to do anything)
- Doesn’t like breakfast
- Low immune system - get sick easily
- Insomnia - trouble getting to sleep and then trouble waking up “night owls”
- Poor dream recall
- Depression (including post natal)
- Emotional mood swings
- Low libido
- Low tolerance to stress - gets overwhelmed easily
- Anger – explosive/ irratic
- Reactive - likes to argue
- Irritability with repetitive noises - clicking pens, ticking clocks etc.
- Inability to attend to a conversation when too much back ground noise is going on
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Anxious types - jumpy, fearful, tend toward catastrophising and pessimism
- Anxiety disorders and panic attacks
- Poor coping skllls, gets easily overwhelmed under stress
- Severe inner tension
- Addiction and or Alcohol abuse (trying to self medicate to increase GABA)
Testing for Pyrrole is thankfully easy (no blood draw, yay!) but a little far out. It’s a urine test, but the collection needs to be done in the dark (or as dark as possible) as HPL is very light sensitive. The urine is then mixed with a special substance and frozen before being sent to the lab for testing. Turn around for results is approximately two weeks.
I do not endorse anyone here, but in Australia there are at least two labs both charge approximately $80-$90 for the test. It is not covered by medicare.
SAFE Analytical laboratories
SAFE is used by most pathology labs and will need an additional forms. SAFE labs give a numeric value to the amount of HPL per measure of urine, meaning your value could be from 0-100 or more. You will need a doctors request form and a morning appointment at a certain branch of Douglas Hanly Moir pathology labs for collection. This is because the urine needs to be frozen before being transported (and kept frozen during transportation) and can’t be left in the unreliable little pathology lab freezers overight.
Labs such as NUTRIPATH have self testing kits and do not need the urine to stay frozen during postage. Their index is different, however, with a scale of 1-8 displayed on a bar graph, so you don’t get the ‘wow’ factor if you level is up in the 100’s, it will just read as “extremely high.” You can order your kit and send it back yourself, but you will need to take your results to a Naturopath or Integrative doctor for interpretation and treatment.
Individuals with normal heme production will excrete a small amount of HPL, (less than 20 ug/dl) and won't show any symptoms. However the person with the genetic abnormality can create and excrete a lot more HPL in their urine (greater than 20 ug/dl) and under periods of stress will really blow this number out (from 40 plus ug/dl).
Dosage will depend on your weight and other health conditions, and this list is not to be used to self prescribe, but you will need large doses of Zinc, B6, P5P (activated B6), Vitamin C and E and selenium (to combat the oxidative stress), magnesium, biotin, small amounts of B3, and, (if you are not an undermethylator), a dash of manganese. The best supplements are usually compounded by a pharmacy such as Tugan or Kingsway. You can get the standard vitamins separately but you will need to take a whole lot more pills and be very vigilant of the amount and absorption.
The good news (finally!) is that relief will come quickly, often within 2-3 days, and a feeling of ‘normal’ can be experienced within a month. Bad news is that forgetting to take the supplements for longer than 2 days can see a recurrance in symptoms. Remember, this can be a genetic disorder, not a disease that can be cured, you will likely need to continue to supplement forever and may need to increase your dosage during stressful times when your pyrrole excretion will increase.
I wouldn’t recommend self medicating on a guess as zinc in high levels can be toxic. Also, if you don’t have pyrrole diagnosed and managed by a health practitioner you run the risk of depleting your copper levels, leading to further complications. An integrative practitioner will regularly check your blood levels of zinc to make sure you aren’t getting toxic or are receiving the correct dose.
Be warned none of the tests are covered by medicare and the supplements cost a packet. However, the results can be truly life changing if you are a symptomatic pyrrole sufferer.
Congratulations, you don’t have elevated HPL, or pyrrole disorder! (Be aware false negatives can occur) If you are experiencing many of the symptoms on the list you could still have unbalanced neurotransmitters caused by excess copper and low zinc, and vitamin B6 deficientcy and a blood test will show this.
As mentioned everyone can benefit from ensuring they get adequate zinc, and taking a supplement. However, ALWAYS see your doctor if you have any health concerns, self diagnosis is always risky, especially where children are concerned.
Pyrrole is just one piece of a puzzle, you will need a functionally trained doctor to guide you safely.
William J Walsh Nutrient Power 2103