In my work with children on the Autistic spectrum, I continually come across a little known condition called Pyrrole disorder. It is relatively common in the kids I see, with around 70% testing positive.
Pyrrole disorder is thought to be a genetic disorder of haemoglobin metabolism that produces too much of a chemical called hydroxyhemopyrrolin-2-one. (HPL for short) This chemical in itself is harmless and is excreted in the urine.
A simple urine test can confirm a person’s HPL levels.
So why is HPL a problem?
When HPL is in the body it binds with two incredibly important nutrients – Zinc and vitamin B6. If a person has high amounts of HPL being produced, then more Zinc and B6 is “stuck to it” and carried out of the body in the urine. This creates a double deficiency of zinc and B6. Also affected by this process but to a lesser degree are the nutrients Biotin and the omega 6 essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
Zinc and B6 do so much in the body, being involved with growth, digestion, memory and learning, mood and behaviour control, feeling happy, eliminating toxins, immunity, sleep, dealing with stress, energy production and more.
Symptoms of pyrrole disorder
Pyrrole disorder shows up differently in different age groups, so here are some typical symptoms to watch out for.
- Pyrroluric people of all ages can suffer with motion sickness.
- The pyrroluric baby is very unsettled, startles easily, is irritable and never sleeps. He may suffer from reflux and colic, have cradle cap and be prone to nappy rash. He often reacts to foods in mum’s diet. His skin is often dry and scaly and may develop into eczema.
- The standout feature for a toddler is spectacular tantrums and meltdowns! Physically they may have pale skin, fine features and be small for their age. They often have food intolerances and little interest in food except for strong flavours like salt, processed meats and in some cases curries. They are difficult to settle and take a long time to fall asleep.
- Older children may be smaller than their peers, have learning, sensory and processing problems as well as an inability to interpret social situations appropriately. Anxiety is a big one for many kids. Other symptoms are picky eating and skin problems, including lumpy bumpy skin (keratosis pilaris – also known as chicken skin) on their upper arms. Occasionally I see children who get a stitch when running and who suffer from joint pains, particularly in the knees.
- Some children just can’t cope with any stress. They are exhausted after a day and need time just to sit and relax, often doing nothing. Strangely enough, exercise may greatly help them as it increases serotonin levels.
- In teenagers, pyrrole disorder is a major concern with symptoms like severe depression and anxiety which can lead to substance abuse, violence and criminality. The teenager can withdraw socially, has severe mood swings and a highly abnormal sleep cycle. Pyrroluric people are night owls so in some cases the whole sleep cycle is reversed. There may be physical signs such as white spots on nails, keratosis pilaris and stretch marks. Milder cases typically have milder versions of a selection of these symptoms
- In severe adult cases we see depression, anxiety, porphyria, learning difficulties, addictions, criminal behaviour, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
- In less severe cases general unhappiness and negativity, a tendency for emotional outbursts, joint pains, stretch marks, tiredness. Depression and anxiety are common in women.
A person doesn’t need all of these symptoms to have pyrrole disorder, severity varies from person to person. As we get older we develop coping mechanisms to deal with stress and to stay happy. Exercise helps many people as it produces serotonin which is often low in pyrroluric people. Serotonin is vital in maintaining moods and sleeping patterns as well as many other functions throughout the body. And guess what – a large amount of serotonin is made in our gut – so it’s back to those darn gut microbes again!
Here are some statistics for the correlation of high HPL levels to various disorders
Learning difficulties 40-47%
Down Syndrome 71%
Acute schizophrenia 59-80%
Chronic schizophrenia 40-50%
Adult criminal behaviour 71%
Youth violent offenders 33%
These figures vary depending on the study used for reference. As an example, one study has found 59% of acute schizophrenia sufferers had a high HPL result whilst another study found that 80% had high HPL levels
Research is also suggesting that pyrrole disorder is highly associated with oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is driven by any sort of stress – physical, environmental and emotional.
So eat a good diet as low as possible in processed food, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water, reduce your exposure to chemicals and have an effective way to deal with emotional stress.
Pyrrole disorder is treated with specific nutritional supplementation of zinc, two different forms of B6, biotin and omega 6 oils. Adverse reactions can occur to the supplements as the body starts to excrete accumulated toxins. In some kids, improvement happens within the week but best results are seen after 5-6 months on the therapy.
What to read next
Interested in other children’s health topics? Have a look at:
- Could oppositional defiant disorder be the cause of your child’s bad behaviour?
- Writing difficulties: could your child have dysgraphia?
- Could your fussy eater be neophobic?
- Get along days: mental health for kids