I was recently contacted by a reader of my blog who asked me if I’d ever heard of a condition known as “pyroluria.”
As I did a bit of digging into the medical journals, I was surprised to see there really wasn’t much to go on. However, a standard Google search brought up a huge number of alternative health sites which claimed to have the cure.
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Some common questions about this condition include “is pyroluria real?”, “how do I get diagnosed for pyroluria?”, and “can pyroluria be cured or treated?”
Before you break out your credit card in paralysing fear and start buying expensive online tests and supplements, you need to arm yourself with the facts.
Pyroluria goes by a number of names and spellings and all are used interchangeably.
- Pyroluria (pyrroluria or pyrroleuria)
- Pyrole disease (pyrrole disease)
- Pyrole disorder (pyrrole disorder and pyrolle disorder)
- Kryptopyroluria (kryptopyrroluria)
- Mauve factor
- hemepyrole (hemepyrrole, hemopyrrole, hemopyrole)
Origin of the pyroluria hypothesis
Back in the 1960s, during the heyday of the psychedelic revolution, the originators of the pyroluria hypothesis (Hoffer and colleagues) figured that since the effects of LSD were similar to those with schizophrenia that perhaps they could derive some insights from “trippers.”
They looked for biomarkers in the urine of subjects on LSD, one of which was identified as kyrptopyrrole. They assumed that since kryptopyrrole is present in the urine of those taking LSD and those with schizophrenia, then it must be a factor in the development of a host of other mental and physical disturbances (mentioned below).
What is pyroluria?
Pyroluria promoters claim that it is a genetically-determined chemical imbalance associated with haemoglobin synthesis (the molecule that carries oxygen in your blood). People with the condition produce too much kryptopyrrole as a byproduct of haemoglobin production and it is excreted in the urine.
Proponents suggest that this excess kryptopyrrole binds vitamin B6 and zinc, renders them unavailable for their usual biological roles, and then excretes them through the urine as pyrroles.
Accordingly, sufferers may exhibit signs of vitamin B6 and zinc deficiency which could possibly account for symptoms like depression, anxiety, mood swings, nervousness, and a litany of other suggested ills.
Aside from those listed above, I’ve highlighted a number of other symptoms I found listed across a variety of websites.
However, I think it’s important to exercise caution when “diagnosing” yourself given that these symptoms are all quite vague, ambiguous, and nondescript, and could be attributed to virtually any serious illness.
- abdominal pain
- abnormal body fat distribution
- anxiety, nervous exhaustion
- argumentative and/or angry demeanor, mood swings
- cold hands and feet
- difficulty remembering dreams
- frequent colds, fevers, chills, ear infections as a child
- hypersensitivity to loud noises
- male impotence
- cloudy thinking, poor memory
- drug and alcohol intolerance
- lack of regular menstrual cycles
- morning nausea
- pale skin, poor tanning, sun burn easily
- poor morning appetite, tendency to skip breakfast
- preference for spicy or heavily flavoured foods
- significant growth after 16 years of age
- sensitivity to bright light
- unusual breath and body odour
Pyroluria associated conditions
Similar to the host of symptoms listed above, proponents of pyroluria disease suggest it is associated with numerous other health conditions. But all are unclear about whether or not pyroluria causes these conditions or if these conditions cause pyroluria (the chicken or the egg conundrum).
- Autism, Aspergers, Down syndrome, learning difficulties
- Depression, manic depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia
- Alcohol/substance abuse
- Criminal behaviour/violent offences
- Lung cancer
- Tourette’s syndrome
Is pyroluria a real disorder?
I don’t think there’s any question that pyrroles exist. And yes, pyrroles can be found in the urine. The symptoms people experience are also likely real, but whether or not these symptoms are a cause and effect result of excess pyrroles in the urine is yet to be proven.
Hoffer and associates contend that kryptopyrrole is found in the urine of schizophrenics, but other investigators failed to replicate these findings:
- Gendler PL, Duhan, HA, Rapoport H. Hemopyrrole and kryptopyrrole are absent from the urine of schizophrenics and normal persons. Clin Chem. 1978 Feb;24(2):230-3.
- Jacobson SJ, Rapoport H, Ellman GL. The nonoccurrence of hemo- and kryptopyrrole in urine of schizophrenics. Biol Psychiatry. 1975 Feb;10(1):91-3.
- Irvine DG. Hydroxy-hemopyrrolenone, not kryptopyrrole, in the urine of schizophrenics and porphyries. Clin Chem. 1978 Nov;24(11):2069-70.
Referring to the pyroluria hypothesis, Novella adds:
“Studies in the 1970s, however, discredited the hypothesis and it was discarded as a failed hypothesis. The published literature entirely dries up by the mid 1970s. But the originators of the idea did not give up, and continue to promote the idea of pyroluria to this day.”
Based on the available preponderance of evidence, I’m inclined to believe that pyroluria is not a real disorder or disease.
Despite the debunking of his pyroluria theory, Hoffer didn’t give up so easily. Instead, he went on the offensive. Novella continues:
“In this case Hoffer decided that he was not the victim of a failed hypothesis, but rather the victim of a conspiracy of mainstream psychiatry that was simply closed to his revolutionary ideas. He founded the journal Orthomolecular Psychiatry, now the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine – a fringe journal in which he could continue to publish his ideas.”
Pyroluria critical thinking
I find it concerning that there is so much pro-pyroluria information on the internet, yet the vast majority of alternative practitioners (located mainly in the US and Australia) are basing its validity on the same faulty, debunked evidence from Hoffer and colleagues.
Despite evidence that suggests this condition isn’t even real, there are still a large number of websites offering online testing kits ranging in price from $80 to $150.
As you can see in this screenshot from a pro-pyroluria website (click for larger image), there is an exceptionally long list of signs and symptoms located right next to two links where you can conveniently buy a testing kit.
I also noted that many practitioners list symptoms on their websites next to a regimen of dietary supplements purported to cure the condition.
The way many of these sites are laid out, there is sufficient information presented (such as the image above) that can scare and convince someone they are truly afflicted with this condition. With no other corroborating tests aside from those sold on the websites or available in Bio-Balance approved labs, I would recommend people receive further evaluation and blood tests by their GP or a specialist to ensure that they don’t have a more serious condition such as cancer or other hormonal disturbances.
Based on the available evidence, pyroluria appears to be more myth than true medical malady.
- The available evidence does not support the hypothesis that pyrroles are responsible for all the symptoms and conditions ascribed to pyroluria.
- Alternative practitioner websites employ terrifyingly sinister descriptions of pyroluria symptoms, but also happen to conveniently offer expensive tests and dietary supplement regimens to “correct” this disorder.
- The cause of mental conditions like anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia are multifaceted and would likely require more treatment than a few vitamin and mineral supplements.
- Modern western medicine clearly does not have all the answers but, in this particular case, the mere belief that pyroluria exists could be more anxiety-provoking than pyroluria itself (if it were real).
- The symptoms listed across a variety of websites are extremely broad and vague and could apply to virtually anything. My concern is that a person suffering from a real medical condition might decide to forego getting a timely diagnosis and treatment which could save their lives (i.e., early cancer detection).