Pyroluria Diet : Recommended Foods For Pyrrole Disorder
When a client comes in to see my in clinic for Pyrroles Disorder nutrition advice, I often get asked the questions: “What’s the best diet for Pyroluria?”, “What should I eat?”, “What foods should I avoid?”.
As always my answer is – it depends.
I firmly believe there is no one ‘diet’ that works for everyone which is why I practice highly personalised nutrition.
However, below are some general guidelines that I have formulated based on my personal experience, my clinic experience with hundreds of clients with Pyrrole Disorder, and research by experts in relevant areas.
The absolute key issue to address for anyone with Pyroluria is gut health. This is paramount and is the biggest cause of oxidative stress I see in my Pyrrole clients. If you are experiencing ongoing gut issues (such as pain, feeling bloated with irregular bowel movements, diarrhoea, loose stools or constipation or alternate between all of them, food reactions and many others), my ONLINE PROGRAM – HEALING IBS – is an excellent start. It will guide you through a 5 week elimination and re-introduction diet as well as provide worksheets and recordings to re-program your stress response and calm your nerves, which calms the gut.
Pyroluria Diet Guide
Please use this article as a guide to help create your health journey and Pyroluria diet, however please note that I don’t mean for you to use this information in a way that leads to restrictive eating. If you follow every one of these guidelines you will have very few foods to eat and that creates its own problems!
Some people do just fine eliminating gluten and dairy and ensuring adequate zinc foods: simple. Some people need a lot more attention.
If you are one of these people my recommendation is to book a consult with a Clinical Nutritionist so you don’t have to struggle on your own😊, especially if you’ve tried various dietary approaches and still haven’t achieved your health goals.
Pyroluria Diet Recommendations : What To Avoid
Avoid pro-inflammatory foods: gluten, cow dairy, sugar and hydrogenated fats
Personally, I believe every person should avoid these. If you have pyrolle symptoms or if you have been diagnosed with Pyroluria, I believe avoiding these is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Why avoid gluten?
Wheat is highly inflammatory for our gut and gluten in particular is linked to worsening intestinal permeability issues (leaky gut), (Fasano, A, ‘Gluten Freedom’).
When we have compromised zinc levels as in Pyroluria, the tight junctions in the gut cannot function properly, making us more predisposed to permeability. When you have a leaky gut, you have a leaky brain, with consequent brain symptoms such as anxiety, depression and mood swings.
Gluten triggers immune responses by penetrating the blood brain barrier and increasing inflammation in the brain. Many mental health conditions including schizophrenia have been strongly linked to gluten intolerance. Many people suffer a lifetime of mental illness that is often dramatically improved when eliminating gluten from the diet.
It is well known that glyphosate sprayed on crops (which tends to chelate zinc) and fungicides such as copper sulphates also used on crops are extremely toxic to all humans and especially the extra sensitive Pyrrole people.
I find within my clinic population, most people and especially those with Pyroluria do very well when they remove ALL grains from their diet and adopt a Paleo approach. This is the Pyroluria diet approach I’ve been personally doing 95% of the time for the last 13 years.
Grains are a copper dominant food as well as being a massive strain on digestion (more on this below).
Why avoid dairy?
The cow dairy protein casein is similar to gluten as it triggers inflammatory responses by our immune system. This can lead to a hyperactive immune system that can then become super-sensitive to other foods that weren’t bothersome before, such as tree nuts, citrus, strawberries, or other vegetables and fruits (Wahls, T ‘The Wahls Protocol’).
Both casein and gluten contain morphine like compounds that are psychoactive in our brains, that’s why they can be so addictive – if I had $1 for every time a client said to me ‘I can’t give up cheese, I just can’t’….” – addictions!!
One of the reasons why gluten and dairy are so problematic for people with Pyrroles is due to poor metallothionein function. Metallothionein is a protein that is a binder for minerals such as zinc, copper and selenium.
“A significant impairment in metallothionein function could cause incomplete breakdown of casein, gluten, casomorphins, etc which can result in severe food allergies”, William Walsh PhD (‘Nutrient Power’).
Metallothioneins are proteins that regulate zinc and copper levels, neurons in the brain and their synaptic connections, enhance immune function and protect against toxic metals – all issues that people with Pyroluria struggle with!
One of the metallothionein proteins is responsible for regulating Hydrochloric acid in the stomach and enables taste discrimination by the tongue (Walsh, W, ‘Nutrient Power’). This is why so many people with Pyroluria struggle with morning appetite, bloating (poor protein digestion in the stomach) and why so many children with sensory oral issues have Pyroluria.
There is so much more to these proteins then just gluten and dairy digestion. I find that addressing metallothionein function is critical to many Pyrrole symptoms. For more info on personalised metallothionein enhancing therapies click here to discuss.
I find a lot of conventional dietitians and other food authorities are prone to raising alarms about cutting out whole food groups like grains and dairy. I find this is completely unfounded nutritionally and most leading functional medicine practitioners agree:
“Another criticism is that eliminating grains and dairy eliminates important sources of nutrition, and without them, deficiencies will result. This is simply untrue. You can get all the nutrients you need without eating grains, dairy or legumes”. Terry Wahls MD, ‘The Wahls Protocol’.
If you have a child with Pyroluria, the simplest and effective intervention you can undertake nutritionally is to take them off gluten (and grains if possible) and dairy for 3-6 months (that’s how long it takes to clear these proteins from our immune system) and watch the behaviour changes unfold.
I find clinically, unless this is done, most nutritional/supplement treatments are a lot less effective.
Why avoid sugar?
I don’t think we need a long explanation here 😊
Sugar creates inflammation the moment it enters the blood stream and many Pyrrole clients of mine suffer from hypoglycaemia due to very weak adrenals (weakened by years of copper dominance) and they struggle to regulate their blood glucose.
Keep added sugar intake to an absolute minimum (that’s my phrase for ‘none’) and get your glucose from fresh fruits, berries and occasional dates.
As many people with Pyroluria are very prone to anxiety, one of the simplest ways to address anxiety is to keep your blood sugar as stable as possible with regular protein and veg meals with healthy fats.
Most Pyrrole people will have a terrible time with anxiety and mood fluctuations if they fast or have long periods without food. Avoiding sugar is a great way to remedy this.
Why avoid hydrogenated fats?
There has been a lot written about the toxicity of processed vegetable fats such as canola, soy and sunflower oils so all I will say here is avoid them like the plague.
It’s a pretty well established fact that they are extremely pro-inflammatory and people with Pyroluria already have a lot of inflammation to address.
Big obvious thing to point out here is that 95% of all take away foods and restaurant meals are still cooked in these oils as they are so cheap. So my advice here is to avoid take away as much as possible or ensure olive oil or butter was used in the cooking (ask for this) or buy food from places like ‘build your own salad’ so you can choose the dressing.
The best strategy to reducing hydrogenated fats from your diet is to cook most meals at home where you know exactly what’s in the meal and make take away and dining out less frequent.
Avoid all stimulants
Stimulants such caffeine and alcohol as well as recreational drugs are extremely problematic for people with Pyrroles as they tend to be much more sensitive to these substances. They create oxidative stress in the body and we know that Pyroluria is a condition of high oxidative stress.
Caffeine almost always triggers anxiety, overwhelms liver detox pathways and impacts sleep. Most people with Pyrolles struggle to detoxify alcohol, caffeine and drugs so these are best avoided for optimal health.
Avoid foods contaminated with heavy metals
Tuna, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, fish from Asian waters and all farmed fish (in Australia that’s all salmon and trout and most barramundi).
Use this Australian government guide and eat from the Least mercury section 95% of the time: mecury in fish government guidelines. Fish is an extremely toxic food these days sadly.
Pyroluria Diet Recommendations : What To Eat
Increase high antioxidant foods
These foods need to be increased as much as possible as pyrroles is a condition of high oxidative stress. (Note: the Dutch Hormone test I regularly use in clinic actually has a very validated oxidative stress market 8OHDG, so I regularly test for levels of oxidative stress in clinic).
The most obvious high antioxidant foods are fruit and vegetables as well as small oily fish. If your diet is abundant in fruit and veg, your level of oxidative stress is likely to be lower.
Aim for 6-8 cups of diverse vegetables per day and 2 fruits (less sugary is best).
Eat organic as much as possible or at least follow clean 15/dirty dozen
Avoiding pesticides and increasing the nutrient value of food by buying local organic produce is a great way to maximise your nutrient intake and ensure as many minerals and vitamins as possible.
Of course not everyone can afford to buy everything organic – I would prioritise meats and fats to be organic and as many fruit and veg as you can afford following the Clean 15/Dirty Dozen lists every year.
A caveat here is that unfortunately most of our soils (particularly in Australia) are extremely nutrient deficient and unless you have your own organic garden which you regularly measure mineral content in, sadly we don’t get many minerals from the soil any more.
Nothing irritates me more than government authorities and others who propose that we can get ALL our nutrients from food. This may have been possible 100 years ago, but is no longer the case. Soil analyses routinely find that content of minerals in food is depleted.
I find this is particularly the case with zinc which is so critical for Pyrrole disorder. I have NEVER seen an adequate level of Plasma zinc on any of my clients’ test results, regardless of health condition.
Increase zinc rich foods
Zinc is of course is absolutely essential for everyone, and especially for people with Pyrrole Disorder. Zinc has numerous functions in the body, the key being: mood regulation, anti-oxidant, immune regulation, skin health.
All red meats contain a good amount of zinc, as do oysters and most seafood. Pepitas are a great plant source, so be sure to have these in your diet DAILY.
The best absorption of zinc occurs on an empty stomach. So if you can grab some fresh raw oysters first thing in the morning, you’ll be doing well😊
Increase foods high in vitamin C
Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant and is very important at balancing out any oxidative stress induced by copper in Pyroluria.
There are many vitamin C rich foods most of which are fruits, berries (particularly inca berries), camu camu, rosehips, etc. Consume some of these in your daily diet to increase your Vitamin C levels.
I do find however that the vast majority of people do not take in enough vitamin C from foods and foods are also depleted as they travel large distances (and come from nutrient deficient soil).
I highly recommend a wholefood vitamin C supplement for most people which is a blanket recommendation I’m happy to make here as it is completely safe.
NOTE: NOT ascorbic acid based supplements, but wholefood vitamin C powders only. Ascorbic acid unbinds copper from ceruloplasmin which we really don’t want.
Reduce phytic acid content of foods
Reduce phytates by soaking/activating nuts and seeds and soaking/rinsing grains of you eat them.
Phytates bind zinc and iron as well as calcium, making them less absorbable. If you can soak all your nuts and seeds in salted water overnight and then dehydrate them in oven at low heat for 24h you will remove large amounts of phytic acid.
The big Copper foods question
Individuals with excessive tissue copper accumulation will often crave foods that are high in copper. Avoid the following foods, whilst addressing your copper issues.
As always, this is best individualised for each person based on actual results because we still need usable copper from foods for many functions in the body. Copper is not evil, it just needs to be kept in check.
Foods high in Copper:
- Chocolate (yes and I know you already hate me)
- Crab, herring, lobster, haddock, prawns, trout
- Walnuts, pecans, peanuts and peanut butter, almonds, brazil nuts
- Sesame, sunflower seeds
- Bakers yeast
There are many lists around with copper high foods and there are some variations as it’s difficult to consistently measure mineral contents of foods.
The above list is from Interclinical Labs whose hair analysis test I use in clinic with Pyrrole clients on a daily basis (watch my video on hair analysis and Pyrroles).
The absolute worst Pyroluria diet choice: vegan and vegetarian diets
Vegan and vegetarian diets are very copper rich and zinc deficient as most foods such as grains, legumes and nuts are very high in copper.
If you choose to pursue a vegetarian or vegan diet for philosophical reasons and you have tested positive for pyrrole disorder, it’s very important to work with a knowledgeable practitioner to ensure you maintain an optimal copper/zinc balance and supplement your diet correctly and test your blood and hair copper and ceruloplasmin levels regularly.
From Hair Mineral analysis testing it is always very clear to see copper accumulation and imbalance in vegan/vegetarian diet adherents. This often leads to copper related issues such as hormonal dysregulation (PMS, period pain, breast pain, fibroids and many other estrogen dominant conditions) as well as mood issues related to copper overload- anxiety, irritability, anger, emotional withdrawal etc.
A note about drinking water
It is absolutely essential to ensure copper is not leaching into your drinking water. Older homes contain copper pipes that usually will leech copper and lead into water, this is sadly a very common issue and one that I’ve had personal experience with.
Get a proper water filter: reverse osmosis or a system that removes 99% of heavy metals.
For those with histamine intolerance
Many people with Pyrroles often have issues digesting high histamine foods due to lowered methylation capacity in the liver. This area really requires individual attention.
What I’ll say here is if you react negatively to:
- bone broths,
- fermented foods, and
Meaning that your body reacts to those foods with increased:
- itchy skin
Then you likely have a histamine ‘intolerance’ and need to address your gut and liver health.
For those with oxalates as well as Pyroluria
Another common problem that many people with Pyroluria have is poor capacity to digest dietary oxalates and these substances can build up in the joints and kidneys and cause joint pain and kidney stones.
READ MORE: High oxalate foods to avoid
For those with Gilbert’s syndrome as well as Pyroluria
Many people with Pyrroles also test positive for Gilbert’s syndrome. This is when your bilirubin stays elevated on bloods and causes a host of issues.
Read more about Gilbert’s syndrome and foods associated HERE.
Quick summary of Pyroluria Diet Recommendations
Best overall diet for most: Paleo/Ancestral
Caution with: Keto (read more on why caution HERE)
Absolute worst choice: Vegan
Navigating optimal nutrition and discovering a Pyroluria diet that’s right for you can be challenging. It requires a deep understanding of your personal test results, genetic heritage, gut health, adrenal health and numerous other factors.
To get to the bottom of what’s truly best for YOUR personal situation, feel free to book an online consult with me HERE.
Learn more about Pyrrole Disorder
If you’ve found this information useful, you will also enjoy my other blogs related to Pyroluria:
My online Healing IBS Program is a great starting point to resolve many symptoms or Pyroluria related to the gut-brain axis.
Stress Reduction e-course
We all know that Pyroluria is a stress intolerance disorder. I find that ALL of my Pyrrole clients benefit greatly from mindfulness based stress reduction.
Here is an excellent e-course that you can do at your own pace that will help with anxiety, stress tolerance and resilience. Highly recommended (and also suitable for children over 14y.o): RETURN TO CALM E-course