Foods to eat (and avoid) for pyroluria
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
For many, the best way to treat pyrrole disorder is with supplementation, but there are those who find they are too reactive to the supplements for pyrrole, can’t get the dosage balance right, or simply just can’t afford on-going treatment. This is where diet can have a huge impact to support the body to clear pyrrole.
I found a higher percentage of my clients with pyrrole disorder responded better to a good diet than many of the supplements used to treat pyrrole disorder, especially if they looked after themselves during stressful times.
Often the reason some reacted to supplementation was due to other genetic variants (SNP’s), They didn’t convert the supplements well, which then became toxins in their body. They would often be ok for a few days on supplements, even feeling much better and somewhat ‘cured’ but then crashed with new, or a return of old symptoms (which happened to me).
Stress can really elevate pyrrole levels. Being sick is a stress which creates more oxidation in the body, which is when extra care needs to be taken with diet. The big issue is that during stress, people are often tired and just reach for quick fixes such as easy snacks and take-away meals to fuel their body, but after a while it feels as if the wheels are falling off and they can’t cope.
If this sounds familiar, particularly around known stress times, then careful planning is needed such as pre-preparing fresh-frozen yummy healthy meals to help get you through these patches.
For those with relatively low pyrrole levels, the right diet may be enough, provided stress levels are managed along with any other health imbalances. A nutritious diet can also be very beneficial to help parents who have difficulties giving supplements to their children because of issues related to swallowing capsules, taste issues with powders, or feeling sick after taking supplements.
Please note that this diet related information cannot replace a pyrrole treatment program that may initially need high doses of supplements, nor the treatment needed for any underlying factors that caused the elevation of pyrrole levels in the first place.
Most importantly, speak to your prescribing practitioner if you are sensitive to pyrrole support supplements.
The following dietary suggestions can also be worthwhile for general good health and other conditions including hormonal imbalances, digestion problems and neurotransmitter imbalances e.g. mental health problems.
Foods to avoid with pyrrole disorder
Anything that affects the liver or gut in a detrimental way is not going to support pyrrole disorder, so foods that contain preservatives, colours, sugar, nitrates (think ham or bacon), along with alcohol, drugs and cigarettes are harmful. Any foods you may be allergic or intolerant to will also be detrimental to your gut and pyrrole disorder. Many people with pyroluria find that avoiding foods with gluten and dairy better supports their body. Keep foods simple, fresh and unprocessed.
Recommended foods for pyrrole disorder
The most important nutrients in foods for pyrrole disorder are vitamin B6, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, boron, omega essential fatty acids and magnesium. There are nutrients specific for each person, but these are the ones that seem to be beneficial for most with pyrrole.
Vitamin B6 plays a central role to clear this toxin from the body. But B6 has many other cool roles in the body such as to support liver detoxification, balance hormones, metabolise carbohydrates and produce red blood cells. Vitamin B6 is important to make neurotransmitters such as GABA, dopamine and serotonin, which all require vitamin B6 for their synthesis.
Foods rich in B6
These include rice bran, many herbs and spices, garlic, pistachio nuts and dry roasted hazelnuts. Any type of liver provides a lot of vitamin B6 – turkey & chicken livers provide the most. All organ meats are rich in B6. Yellow-fin tuna, Atlantic salmon and egg yolks contain good levels of B6. Sunflower and sesame seeds (e.g. as Tahini) are a great addition to salads, and as a snack on their own, to provide good amounts of B6. Pork and chicken are excellent zinc rich foods along with other grass-fed/pasture raised meat.
Apart from helping to bind and clear pyrrole from the body, zinc has many other roles, such as supporting our immune system, and is great for skin and hormonal health.
Foods rich in Zinc
Zinc rich foods include: oysters and other seafood such as crab and lobster; beef and lamb; spinach cooked or raw; other green leafy vegetables such as amaranth leaves, endive, radicchio and rocket; pumpkin and squash seeds, sunflower seeds, chia and flaxseeds; nuts such as cashews, pine nuts, pecans, almonds, walnut, peanuts, and hazelnuts; mushrooms; beans like mung beans, black beans, adzuki, chickpeas and kidney beans.
Vegan and vegetarian diets are naturally quite high in copper, the antagonist to zinc. So if you are a vegan/vegetarian then you will probably need to use a zinc supplement alongside the diet to get the right balance of zinc to copper ratio. Discuss with your practitioner.
Selenium is often overlooked as a valuable nutrient for pyrrole disorder. Selenium is a mineral that I find is really low in a hair mineral analysis for anyone with pyrrole disorder. Because pyrrole disorder tends to create a lot of oxidation, selenium is a very powerful anti-oxidant, which is important. Selenium helps the liver to clear any excess toxins by binding to them so they can be safely excreted. It is especially good for binding to mercury, commonly seen in those with pyroluria.
Foods rich in Selenium
Brazil nuts have the richest source of selenium and you only need to eat a few a day to get all the selenium you need for normal balance – or just a few more to top up your levels (but no more than half a cup in total a day). Other sources of selenium include grass fed beef, chicken, turkey, liver and fish.
Another powerful anti-oxidant, vitamin E is often used in conjunction with the other nutrients to keep the levels of oxidative stress down (created by pyrrole disorder).
Foods rich in vitamin E
These include almonds, spinach, sweet potato, avocado and sunflower seeds.
Boron helps to feed the brain and assist with the absorption of other nutrients. One of boron’s attributes specifically for pyrrole disorder is to help clear glutamate from the brain. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that often creates nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, decreased eye movements (called strabismus) and other reactions like those caused by MSG – mono sodium glutamate. Too much glutamate can burn out your nerve cells and create neurological symptoms. Zinc also helps to reduce glutamate damage.
Apart from having boron rich foods and avoiding MSG, another way to keep glutamate under control is to eliminate gluten and casein from your diet. It’s important to exclude glutamate and aspartate and anything that sounds like these from your food and supplements.
Glutamine is a frequently recommended supplement, but glutamate and glutamine can change into each other. This means that the use of glutamine, say for gastro intestinal support, can at times, increase the level of glutamate.
Elevated levels of glutamate deplete your levels of glutathione (GSH), which is an important antioxidant and metal detox agent used by your liver. Depleted GSH leads to increased inflammation and can exacerbate leaky gut and increase pyrrole levels.
Foods rich in Boron
Many plant-based foods offer wonderful amounts of boron. Some of the best include hazelnuts, peanuts, brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, avocado, broccoli, bananas, prunes, oranges, red grapes, apples, pears, raisins, most vegetables, chickpeas and many other beans and legumes.
Omega essential fatty acids
There is much written about how good fats are needed for a healthy body. These include Omega 3 fatty acids which contain: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in linseeds and walnuts; eicosapentaenioc acid (EPA); and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in all seafood; along with Omega 6 fatty acids in nuts, seeds, seed oils, eggs and evening primrose oil.
For most people, the Omega 3’s need to be higher than the Omega 6’s, but with pyrrole disorder it can be reversed for some, but not for others. There is no clinical test to show which is right for you, so the best way to find out is to trial supplements.
Once you have established which fatty acids are best, you can then use the food sources to keep your levels stable (or supplementation if that works better for you).
For example, if you take evening primrose oil and you feel good, then the Omega 6 fats suit you best. If you feel no different or worse, then try fish oil supplements containing Omega 3 fats. Be sure to use a quality fish oil as some cause reflux and contain mercury, thus are not good to consume. Again, if you feel good from taking a fish oil supplement, or are drawn to eating loads of fish, then Omega 3 fats are right for you. If one type of Omega fat makes you feel horrible then go for the other one.
If your body loves each of these types of supplemental fats, then a diet containing foods with both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids will be best for you. Each type of fat has special unique properties, so the more variety of fats you can eat, the better. Let’s look at some…
Foods rich in good fats
These include: flaxseeds, walnuts, mustard seeds and other nuts and seeds; sardines, salmon and fish in general; scallops and prawns/shrimps; brussels sprouts, collard and turnip greens, spinach, kale, green beans, romaine lettuce and avocado; coconut oil and coconut products; summer and winter squash; legumes and foods made from legumes such as soybeans, tofu, and miso; fruits such as strawberries and raspberries; animal foods including beef, lamb, chicken, duck, turkey and eggs – but only if they have been grass/pasture fed.
Be aware that sometimes the same type of fat (omega 3 or 6) can create a different reaction when it’s from different sources.
It’s important to honour how your body feels and eat what feels right, not just because someone says it’s good for you.
For example, I can tolerate and love most shellfish and white fish but I can only eat a little of the more fatty fish like salmon and tuna or I feel sick. Similarly I can eat lots of saturated fat in coconut and feel good, whereas my husband Rod can’t handle much coconut oil. Yet he can eat lots of lamb and the fat around it, whereas I can’t tolerate even small amounts of lamb fat. Chicken fat or pork fat I can eat with no issues.
So it’s not just the type of fat i.e. Omega 3 or 6. Listen to what your body needs by how you feel when eating certain fats.
Magnesium is a relaxation mineral to help us handle stress, which is super important for those with pyrrole disorder. Stress elevates pyrrole levels, which means anything that can reduce stress is beneficial – and magnesium is great for this job.
Some people need strong doses found in supplements, but it’s also worthwhile to have plenty of magnesium in the diet as this is how it is best absorbed by the body. Magnesium also plays a role in controlling inflammation, nervous system balance (helping with depression), supports energy production pathways and creates and maintains bone integrity.
Foods rich in magnesium
Rich sources of magnesium can be found in all leafy greens and other green veggies, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), soy beans, sesame seeds, quinoa, black-beans, sunflower seeds, cashews and navy beans. To get enough magnesium from your diet it is important to have at least 1½ cups of greens each day plus a variety of the other food sources of magnesium. If you can’t manage this, then a supplement may be useful, but please talk to your practitioner about dosages and types best for your needs.
How to treat pyrrole if you are a vegan/vegetarian
As mentioned in the zinc section, vegan and vegetarian diets are naturally quite high in copper, which is the antagonist to zinc, meaning that copper pushes out zinc.
If you are a vegan/vegetarian then you need to use a supplement alongside the diet to get the right balance of zinc to copper.
Some of my vegan/vegetarian clients had been to an integrative doctor and were told they needed to eat meat, because meat is a good source of zinc, and because there is so much copper in a vegan diet that it can be hard to get enough zinc naturally.
Most were understandably upset with this notion; some were even told that they would not heal unless they stopped being vegan. This was totally against their belief systems and they would do anything else to not have to eat meat.
I reassured them that they could, in fact, still eat a vegan diet, but they must supplement with zinc. The dose will depend on two factors. One is how high their copper level is and the other is how high their Caeruloplasmin level is.
Caeruloplasmin is what binds to copper to make it relatively safe (depending on the amount) in the body. Copper is needed in trace amounts for many things including good hormone balance, but in high levels or in an unbound form (without enough Caeruloplasmin) it can be toxic.
For more information on Caeruloplasmin, copper and zinc ratios, please read my article Tests to find out why you have pyrrole