Autism, formaldehyde, folate, and vitamin D; a theory

Autism can leave a child unable to take care of themselves independently for the rest of their lives. At a rate of 1 child in 45, there were 3,932,181 births in the USA in 2013, so roughly that would suggest that 87,381 of those children will go on to develop some symptoms of autism or pre-primary developmental delay — and that possibly 87,381 parents will no longer be able to work at their normal jobs because they will be needed as full time caregivers for their child with autism, possibly for the rest of their lives. so if that rate held steady for the decade then in ten years there could be 1,747,620 children with autism and parents who may not be able to work at a normal job. When will it be enough children and parents to do something about?

I closed with the following paragraph but I’m going to paste it here too, as the best of the good news:

A method has been developed using samples of umbilical cord blood to identify which infants are likely to develop autism later in childhood. The method checks fifteen “biomarkers,’ — (various lab values or other physical signs, I haven’t read the full article yet, need to buy it) — infants whose values were more elevated or reduced compared to normal in a certain pattern were found to be predictive of which infants went on to develop autism. [] This is early research but it would help identify which infants were at risk for autistic changes in a year or two, but at birth instead of having to wait — and worry — for a year or two.

I have some good news and some bad news. It looks plausible that autism could be caused prenatally by a combination of low vitamin D (or possibly a vitamin D system that is blocked by pathogens), and low folate availability (possibly due to a genetic methylation defect, [4], defects that may make the supplemental form, folic acid, not as helpful prenatally and possibly even harmful because the folic acid may inhibit the activity of whatever folate is available, [29] ), and increased formaldehyde either from dietary sources like Nutrasweet or from smoking or living in small enclosed rooms with poor ventilation. Other toxins might also be involved that add to an increased risk for there to be production of autoimmune antibodies in the vitamin D deficient mother and fetus. Malfunction in the vitamin D receptor immune functions could lead to malfunctions in the dendritic cell’s ability to inhibit autoimmune overactivity in the immune system. Autoimmune antibodies might cause problems during fetal brain development or later in the child’s life.

Low vitamin D in infants has been associated with autism – but not for all siblings with low vitamin D — so other factors must be involved. And not taking a prenatal vitamin during the three months prior to pregnancy and the first month of pregnancy has been associated with more risk for having a child with autism and certain genetic defects in the methylation cycle that helps make the B vitamin folate more bioactive have been associated with autism risk [4] – but not every mother who doesn’t take prenatal vitamins during the months prior to becoming pregnant has a child with autism — so other factors must be involved.

Not much information is available about Nutrasweet but during digestion the methanol portion of the larger molecule is released which then is broken down into formaldehyde – which is a known cause of birth defects and a known neurotoxin.

Formaldehyde is produced when something is burned so it could be a concern for any people who are around cigarette smoke or inhale other types of smoke regularly. Formaldehyde can also collect in the air in small enclosed spaces, and increased warmth may also increase volatility of the gas so warmer areas or overheated apartments may allow for more accumulation of the gas in poorly ventilated rooms.

Formaldehyde is also found in prepackaged juice products, particularly in older packages, as formaldehyde is produced as the fruit or vegetable juice ages. Formaldehyde is also produced during digestion from the methanol portion of the alternative sweetener Nutrasweet. Studies on the potential risk of the formaldehyde content that might be available to adults from dietary Nutrasweet found that it was a less significant risk than the amount an adult might receive as a cigarette smoker or from environmental exposures. However an adult has a fully mature liver while a fetus does not. Babies and children also have less mature livers and may be more at risk of having chemicals accumulate to toxic levels because they are not being broken down and excreted quickly enough. (Folate, a B vitamin, is necessary to break down formaldehyde, more on that later.)

Formaldehyde can cross the placenta to the fetus where it accumulates to a larger concentration than within the mother’s bloodstream. The fetal liver tissue is less able to detoxify formaldehyde than the mother’s.

Industrial exposure to formaldehyde is associated with an increased risk of the presence of cancer causing human alpha fetoprotein antigens. Occupational exposure to formaldehyde has also been associated with increased levels of alpha fetoprotein in adult male and female subjects. The study subjects with occupational exposure to formaldehyde were also found to have significantly reduced levels of Total Protein, Albumin, and White blood cell count. Subjects with workplace exposure to formaldehyde reported allergic type symptoms including: “sneezing/airways-related symptoms, itching and watery eyes.” [3] Formaldehyde exposure may also be a cause of systemic allergic contact dermatitis, [15, 16] possibly even on the eyelids. {13] A diet designed to avoid formaldehyde intake may be helpful for alleviating the eczema like rash. [14]

Levels of alpha fetoprotein are normally only elevated in pregnant women and the expected infant.

Levels of maternal serum alpha fetoprotein are already being checked regularly as a prenatal screening test because low levels are associated with having a baby with the genetic condition Down’s Syndrome. Levels of maternal serum alpha fetoprotein have been found to be more elevated for the mothers of children with autism than in mothers whose child did not have autism. [1] Alpha fetoprotein (AFP) has immunomodulatory effects and a recombinant human alpha fetoprotein (rhAFP) version has been found to help alleviate autoimmune symptoms in clinical trials that used mice with “experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), the animal model used for the study of MS.” [2] Alpha fetoprotein is normally produced by the fetus and it does cross into the fetal brain where it seems to be involved with controlling estrogen and helping baby girls to be more feminine and less masculine.

/Speculation: So if alpha fetoprotein antigens are involved in causing autism maybe boys are more at risk for the condition because the estrogen connection somehow is protecting baby girls from developing the antigens. However if the basic problem is a malfunctioning dendritic cell system which is making it more difficult for the mother’s body and fetus’ body to accept the presence of each other’s foreign DNA then other proteins might also have antigen/autoimmune antibodies develop. Male infants may simply be more susceptible to autism because their Y chromosome is more foreign to the mother’s body than a female infant’s X chromosomes. / — Someone already figured this part out and explains it better than me, in a Medical Hypotheses journal – if you have the money for the journal article ($31.50, now added to my shopping list). An excerpt from the Abstract: “Prenatal/maternal factors linked to increased autism risk include valproic acid, thalidomide, alcohol, rubella, cytomegalovirus, depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autoimmune disease, stress, allergic reaction, and hypothyroidism. It will be shown how each of these risk factors may initiate expression of genes which are sensitive to retinoic acid and/or estradiol – whether by direct promotion or by reducing production of alpha-fetoprotein. It is thus hypothesized here that autism is not a genetic disorder, but is rather an epigenetic disruption in brain development caused by gestational exposure to chemicals and/or conditions which either inhibit alpha-fetoprotein production or directly promote retinoic acid-sensitive or estradiol-sensitive gene expression. This causation model leads to potential chemical explanations for autistic brain morphology, the distinct symptomology of Asperger’s syndrome, and the differences between high-functioning and low-functioning autism with regard to mental retardation, physical malformation, and sex ratio.” – CR King [29]

So speculatively,

  • if formaldehyde can make it more likely for someone to make alpha fetoprotein antigens,
  • and maternal serum alpha fetoprotein levels are more elevated in the mother’s of children with autism,
  • and low vitamin D is more common in babies who have autism,
  • and vitamin D helps the dendritic cells of the mother and infant accept each other’s foreign DNA instead of making autoimmune antibodies against each other’s foreign proteins,
  • then low vitamin D might leave the dendritic cells unable to prevent autoimmune antibodies from developing
  • which then may cause changes in the developing fetal brain and may leave the child with autoimmune antibodies that may continue to cause changes in the child’s developing brain later in life.
  • The formaldehyde could be from Nutrasweet and bottled juice products and/or from cigarette smoke or other environmental sources or the combined total of all of the sources. The timing of the introduction of aspartame/Nutrasweet to the U.S. food supply in 1981 and the increase in rate of children with autism is very closely correlated. [5] Nutrasweet and Neotame were both inventions of the Monsanto Company and limited research about them is available. Neotame was invented as the patent for Nutrasweet was expiring and Monsanto was able to get FDA approval for it by 2002. The patent for Neotame was sold to a private equity firm, the J.W. Childs Equity Partners II. L.P.. [https://theredpillguide.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/the-red-pill-guide-neotame/]

So in summary the good news is autism may be preventable – but the bad news is that it will be difficult to prove and preventative education and treatment will likely need to be individualized as so many factors are involved.

A summary of the factors that may interact during the prenatal and/or perinatal  (three months prior to conception) time period in a way that may lead to the development of autism within the fetal brain.

Possible Vitamin D Issues – it might not just be a lack of vitamin D or sunshine:

  • Simple vitamin D deficiency
  • An underlying genetic defect in the Vitamin D Binding Protein causes a tendency to become vitamin D deficient more easily than normal. [10, 11, 12] (Might a simple protein deficiency then also add a risk to a simple deficiency of all important proteins?)
  • An underlying infection is present with a pathogen that is suppressing the vitamin D receptor system.

Possible Folate Issues:

  • Simple folate/folic acid deficiency/lack of prenatal vitamin during the perinatal time period. [4]
  • Genetic defect in mother affecting the methylation cycle makes her more susceptible for folate deficiency. [4]
  • Genetic defect in the fetus affecting the methylation cycle makes it more at risk for autism. [4]
  • A methylated form of the vitamin may be more effective for reducing risk of developing autism. The natural food form, folate, is more bioactive than the supplemental form, folic acid, that is used in prenatal vitamins. [29]

Formaldehyde might be accumulating from several sources [3, 5]:

  • Aseptically packaged juices
  • Nutrasweet
  • Neotame
  • Smoking
  • Badly ventilated air.
  • Workplace exposure

Other, other factors that may be involved in development of autism may include a variety of chemicals known to be toxic for brain development and which may be common in our modern environment. From the Abstract of a review article by Dr. Philippe Grandjean, MD and Philip J. Landrigan, MD, Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity., (The Lancet Neurology, 2014):  “In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy.” [30]

To help prevent autism from occurring prenatally we may also need to work together and we may need to work together as individuals rather than waiting for the government or a medical corporation to look further into a problem that might leave them at some risk of legal repercussions. Historically there have been several examples of government and corporate interests blocking the lawsuits of factory workers or townspeople whose health was damaged by industrial chemicals by showing expert testimony demonstrating that the supposedly ‘harmful’ toxin really had some beneficial use and was really a safe and helpful ‘treatment.’

Part of the bad news that didn’t make it into the earlier discussion of the digestion of menthol and formaldehyde is that humans have a genetic defect that makes menthol extremely more toxic to us than to all other animals — so lab research would demonstrate that menthol isn’t really that bad after all –(to lab animals, that is, but let’s keep that part a secret between corporate research scientist’s and their consciences). So in a global corporate NAFTA/TPP type world where a corporation can sue nations over lost profits, feasibly corporate research scientists and lawyers could force nations to either accept the products made with aspartame and Neotame whether it is a risk to their citizen’s health or not, or else pay the corporation for their estimated lost profits.

Aspartame and Neotame are so much sweeter than sugar that they are simply cheaper to use in food products than sugar, and since its introduction in 2002 Neotame has never even had to be listed with the ingredients, so sweet, delicious, calorie free and guilt free, no alternative sweetener was used in that product according to the label. Aspartame is the number one food additive for consumer complaints to the FDA about adverse side effects. With Neotame not ever being listed on the food label consumers have no idea if they consumed it or not even if they do have an adverse effect and we have no idea if the FDA would have received consumer complaints about the food additive because it was never required to be added to the ingredient label. People who avoid aspartame due to it causing migraines can’t look for Neotame on the ingredient list.

Avoiding all processed foods and all restaurant meals seems like a lot to ask of pregnant women but that might be necessary in order to avoid Neotame. And with Neotame as a possible source of formaldehyde for the developing fetus then as a prenatal nutrition counselor that would be the most cautious advice given the research that is already known about menthol and formaldehyde’s risks to fetal development. Avoiding all toxins and reducing stress and risk of infection would be the ideal goal for all pregnant women.

Working towards removing aspartame/Nutrasweet and Neotame from the food supply may be an impossible goal given the deep pockets of corporations but trying to get Neotame added to the ingredient list seems like a necessary compromise or first step if we are really going to be able to help prenatal and perinatal women avoid all sources of formaldehyde in the hopes of helping prevent autism from developing in the child later in life.

*This got long and complicated and there’s more: Other, other factors include undiagnosed hypothyroidism and undiagnosed iodine deficiency and BPA/pthalate exposure. Each individual mother/child with autism may have a slightly different combination of genetic and nutritional susceptibilities and load of various environmental toxins and maybe even folic acid (supposedly helping prevent spina bifida but may be adding to autism risk for the babies of moms who have certain genetic defects in the methylation cycle).

So this is a preliminary draft of a preventative health education strategy for trying to prevent autism. A longevity study that started with women at least three months prior to conception and followed them and their children for years would be able to try a multi-factored prevention plan and wait and see if fewer of the children developed autism than compared to the rate of children developing autism in the average population. [rate at 1 in 45 births, Nov. 2015, CDC, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/11/13/cdc-child-autism-rate-now-1-in-45-after-survey-method-changes] Imprecise diagnostic criteria makes it easier for insurance companies to deny coverage.

A method has been developed using samples of umbilical cord blood to identify which infants are likely to develop autism later in childhood. The method checks fifteen “biomarkers,’ — various lab values — infants whose values were more elevated or reduced compared to normal in a certain pattern were found to be predictive of which infants went on to develop autism. [] This is early research but it would help identify which infants were at risk for autistic changes in a year or two, but at birth instead of having to wait — and worry — for a year or two.

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

Bibliography:

  1. Abdallah, Morsi W.; Grove, Jakob; Hougaard, David M.; Nørgaard-Pedersen, Bent; Ibrahimov, Fuad; Mortensen, Erik L. Autism Spectrum Disorders and Maternal Serum Alpha-Fetoprotein Levels during Pregnancy, Can J Psychiatry. 2011;56(12):727-734.
    [https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-2562877671/autism-spectrum-disorders-and-maternal-serum-alpha-fetoprotein]
  2. Irony-Tur-Sinai M1, Grigoriadis N, Lourbopoulos A, Pinto-Maaravi F, Abramsky O, Brenner T. Amelioration of autoimmune neuroinflammation by recombinant human alpha-fetoprotein., Exp Neurol. 2006 Mar;198(1):136-44.
    [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16423348]
  3. Euphoria C. Akwiwu, Chinyere A.O. Usoro, Josephine O. Akpotuzor, Maisie H. Etukudo, Occupational Health and the Impact of Long-Term Formaldehyde Exposure on Health Professionals in Calabar, Nigeria., Journal of Natural Sciences Research,  Vol 5, No 22 (2015), [http://iiste.org/Journals/index.php/JNSR/article/view/27141]
  4. Schmidt RJ1, Hansen RL, Hartiala J, Allayee H, Schmidt LC, Tancredi DJ, Tassone F, Hertz-Picciotto I., Prenatal vitamins, one-carbon metabolism gene variants, and risk for autism., Epidemiology. 2011 Jul;22(4):476-85, [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21610500]
  5. Ralph G. Walton, Woodrow C. Monte, Dietary methanol and autism.,
    Medical Hypotheses, Vol 85, Issue 4, Oct 2015, pp 441–446, [http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987715002443]
  6. Newborn screening for autism: in search of candidate biomarkers. []
  7. Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain. []
  8. In utero exposure to toxic air pollutants and risk of childhood autism. /formaldehyde, lead, others/ []
  9. Aspartame: a safety evaluation based on current use levels, regulations, & toxicological & epidemiological studies. []

  10. Intracellular Vitamin D Binding Proteins: Novel Facilitators of Vitamin D-Directed Transactivation: MolEnd: 14, 9 [ ]
  11. Vit DBP Influ Total Circ Levels of 1,25-D3 but Does Not Directly Modulate Bioactive Levels of the Hormone in Vivo [ ]
  12. Gene for Vitamin D Binding Protein (DBP) is similar to those for human albumin (hALB) and alpha feto protein (hAFP) []
  13. Systemic contact dermatitis of the eyelids caused by formaldehyde derived from aspartame?  []
  14. Systemic contact dermatitis in children: how an avoidance diet can make a difference.  []
  15. Systemic allergic dermatitis presumably caused by formaldehyde derived from aspartame. /no abstract avail./ []
  16. Systemic Allergic Contact Dermatitis After Formaldehyde-Containing Influenza Vaccination.  []
  17. Formaldehyde adduct to human serum albumin with reference to aspartame intake. []
  18. Methanol: a chemical Trojan horse as the root of the inscrutable U.[]
  19. A receptor for formaldehyde-treated serum albumin on human placental brush-border membrane. []
  20. Distribution of radioactivity from 14C-formaldehyde in pregnant mice and their fetuses. []
  21. Histomorphological & ultrastructural changes of placenta in mice exposed to formaldehyde. /small baby, big placenta/ []

  22. Formaldehyde Crosses the Human Placenta and Affects Human Trophoblast Differentiation and Hormonal Functions. /Nac/ []

  23. Embryo toxicity and teratogenicity of formaldehyde. []

  24. Effects of heavy metals on alpha-fetoprotein in maternal sera and amniotic fluid of pregnant mice. [ ]
  25. The alpha-fetoprotein third domain receptor binding fragment: …scavenger & assoc receptor targets. [ ]
  26. Route of antigen delivery impacts immunostim activity of dendritic cell-based vaccines for hepatocellular carcinoma. [ ]
  27. Nonsecreted cytoplasmic alpha-fetoprotein: a newly discovered role in intracellular signaling & regulation. /cancer [ ]
  28. Carcinoembryonic antigen, alpha-fetoprotein, & prostate-specific antigen…exposed to phenol, formaldehyde, urea,… [ ]
  29. King CR, A novel embryological theory of autism causation involving endogenous biochemicals capable of initiating cellular gene transcription: a possible link between twelve autism risk factors and the autism ‘epidemic’.,  Med Hypotheses. 2011 May;76(5):653-60 [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21388746]
  30. Dr. Philippe Grandjean, MD and Philip J. Landrigan, MD, Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity., The Lancet Neurology, Volume 13, No. 3, p330–338, March 2014,   [http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(13)70278-3/abstract]
  31. Physiology of alpha-fetoprotein as a biomarker for perinatal distress: relevance to adverse pregnancy outcome. []

  32. Maternal serum transformed alpha-fetoprotein levels in women with intrauterine growth retardation. [ ]

    Dyslipidemia in pregnancy may contribute to increased risk of neural tube defects -a pilot study, north Indian pop.[ ]

    Comparison of proteins in CSF of lateral and IVth ventricles during early development of fetal sheep. – PubMed NCBI []

Methyl Donors and BPA

Methyl donors are chemicals that can donate a methyl group which is made up of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms. Methyl groups on DNA signal the genes to remain unactivated, to stay in an off position. Removing the methyl groups can signal the gene to become active. A gene that has few methyl groups atttached may be more easily activated than normally.

This excerpt includes methyl donors and at least one methyl remove-er (BPA).

“Nutritional components that may influence the methylation of epigenetically susceptible loci include folic acid, vitamin B6 and 12, selenium, choline and betaine, methionine, soy genistein, bisphenol A, tocopherols, diallyl disulfide in garlic, and tea polyphenols [28]” [1]                                               *tocopherols are the vitamin E group.

Bisphenol A is not a natural component of food as I understand nutrition but BPA may be part of the plastic lining of cans and other food packages such as plastic drink bottles. It is also found on the slick coating of some types of register receipts. BPA may cause hypomethylation of DNA, fewer methyl groups on the DNA may cause activation of genes.

Bisphenyl A can act similarly to the hormone estrogen. Soy genistein is a phytoestrogen that may help block harmful effects of the estrogen mimetics. Other methyl donors that may help block the effects of BPA are the B vitamins folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12 and choline and betaine.

Avoiding the supplement forms and eating more food sources of Folate and methyl B12 may be more beneficial for people with defects in the methylation cycle.(MTHFR is one example). Taking the unmethylated supplement forms may interfere with the smaller quantities of bioactive folate and B12 that might be found in natural sources.

Adequate B vitamins prenatally may also help protect against DNA changes in the infant.

Folate or Folic Acid:

Folate is the form of the vitamin found in food and it is more bioactive than Folic acid. Folic acid is the form that is commonly available as a supplement and in fortified foods however it requires adequate supplies of vitamin B12 to be available in order to be converted into a more usable form. A genetic difference may exist in some individuals that prevent the body from being able to convert the inactive Folic acid form into Folate, the methylated bioactive form of the vitamin.

Food Sources of Folate, the bioactive natural form, include: most beans and peanuts, black eyed peas, green peas, grains, asparagus, most dark green vegetables, orange juice, citrus fruits. Fortified cereal and rice are good sources of folic acid, the supplemental form.

Vitamin B12:

Food Sources of Vitamin B12 include: shellfish, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, dairy products, Nutritional or Brewer’s yeast. Vegetarians who don’t eat dairy, eggs, fish or other meat products may need a supplement or nutritional yeast, a vegan food source of vitamin B12.

Injections of B12 may be needed for better absorption of the nutrient for some individuals with stomach problems. Adequate stomach acid and a cofactor are required for normal absorption of vitamin B12. A genetic difference may be a problem for some people causing them to need the methylated active form of B12 rather than being able to benefit from the more commonly available unmethylated supplement.

Vitamin B6:

Food Sources of Vitamin B6 include: fortified cereal, barley, buckwheat, avocados, baked potato with the skin, beef, poultry, salmon, bananas, green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, sunflower seeds.

Choline and Betaine:

Choline is also a water soluble essential nutrient that is frequently grouped with the rest of the B vitamins. Choline is found throughout the body but is particularly important within the brain. Betaine is a metabolite of choline. Spinach and beets are rich in betaine. Good sources of choline include egg yolks, soy beans, beef, poultry, seafood, green leafy vegetables and cauliflower.

/Disclosure: This information is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

  1. Kyung E. Rhee, et al., Early Determinants of Obesity: Genetic, Epigenetic, and In Utero Influences, International Journal of Pediatrics, Vol. 2012
  2. J. Higdon & V. Drake,  An Evidence-based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals:  Health Benefits and Intake Recommendations, 2nd Ed., (Thieme, Stuttgart / New York, 2012)
  3. “Choline” on whfoods.com: [whfoods.com]
  4. Betaine,” (Feb. 11, 2012) PubMed Health: [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/]  *link not working, part of the information is available here: [med.nyu.edu]
  5. Rebecca J. Schmidt, et. al. , “Prenatal vitamins, one-carbon metabolism gene variants, and risk for autism,” Epidemiology. 2011 Jul; 22(4): 476–485. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  6. MTHFR C677T Mutation: Basic Protocol,” 

Pyroluria, anxiety, and deficiency of B6 and zinc

(originally posted on March 18, 2013, most recent update 4/9/17)

Research suggests that pyroluria is a condition caused by a genetic difference that prevents the normal breakdown of pyrroles which are side products of hemoglobin breakdown. [5 , 8] The excess pyrroles are not toxic but when they aren’t broken down to smaller chemicals they instead combine with vitamin B6 and zinc and form a compound that is excreted by the kidneys. In normal metabolism zinc and B6 molecules would be recovered for reuse instead of being excreted. The daily nutrient loss can lead to a chronic deficiency of vitamin B6 and zinc and a variety of symptoms.

Symptoms of Pyroluria:

Physical symptoms might include white spots on the fingernails from zinc deficiency. The spots can occur where a bruise to the fingernail occurred but they are more likely to form when zinc deficiency is present. Zinc is important for both wound healing and cell growth so skin infections may also be more common. Stunted growth and teeth that are crooked from overcrowding may result when zinc deficiency is a chronic problem throughout childhood.

Poor dream recall is a symptom of B6 deficiency. Digestion problems and skin symptoms may occur. Dry peeling lips with poorly healing cracks at the corners of the mouth may be a problem with B6 deficiency.

Migraines, seizures and joint pain may be symptoms of pyroluria. Insomnia, exhaustion and sensitivity to light and sound may be problems. Anxiety can become severe over time and the person may isolate themselves to reduce stress. Depression, mood swings and temper outbursts are possible symptoms. [3, see link for more physical signs and symptoms.]

I learned of pyroluria as a possible cause of B6 and zinc deficiency in a book by Julia Ross, MA, called The Mood Cure, The Four Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions – Today. It included a self test and information from a book by Joan Mathews Larson, PhD, called Depression Free Naturally. Excerpts are available on her website which include more detail about pyroluria as a treatable cause of anxiety and depression: [7] Her work has helped patients at the Health Recovery Center for years. The center uses therapies designed to restore nutrient balance and correct deficiencies that may be underlying causes of anxiety, depression or addictions. [healthrecovery.com]

Zinc and B6 are needed for production of neurotransmitters that help prevent anxiety and depression. Mental health problems caused by nutrient deficiencies would not be helped much by typically prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. [1]

Ten percent of people may suffer from pyroluria but the condition is not yet widely recognized in the medical field. A research study found the condition to be more prevalent in people with mental health diagnoses and in groups of violent criminals. The pyrrole chemical was present in 71% of adults charged with sudden onset criminal behavior and in 33% of youth charged for a violent crime. Evidence of pyroluria was also more commonly found in patients with OCD, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or Lyme Disease. It was found  in 40% or more of people with autism, ADHD, manic depression (bipolar disorder), schizophrenia, Down’s Syndrome, epilepsy, or porphyria. [35 ]

/Speculation/ This could explain why some studies have found B6 supplements helpful for autism but others weren’t able to replicate the results. If 40-50% of the autistic patients in a study had undiagnosed pyroluria then those participants might find high dose B6 supplements very helpful while the rest of the study group might not notice any change.

Pyroluria may also be associated with hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency according to lecture by Dr. Erica Peirson. And a lack of stomach acid may be involved and which would increase risk of nutrient deficiencies. If that is a chronic condition then having salsa or a dill pickle or something else acidic with larger meals can help improve digestion and absorption of B vitamins and other nutrients, especially as we get older in years. Watch this video, Dr Erica Peirson – Pyroluria: Links to Down syndrome and autism, for more information: [10] .

The good news is that, once identified, pyroluria is very treatable with use of well absorbed forms of vitamin B6 and zinc. The bad news — the supplements have to be taken everyday because the amounts needed are more than is really possible to be found in foods. The supplements are replacing the excessive nutrient loss caused by the daily excretion of the nutrient pyrrole compounds. Deficiency symptoms may start to return after only 48 hours without the high dose zinc and B6 supplements. [3]

A few other nutrient supplements may also be needed to restore nutrient balance. Magnesium may be helpful and niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5) and manganese may also be deficient. [1] The essential omega 6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid, may also become deficient. [2] The nutrients, zinc and vitamin B6, are essential for enzymes active throughout the body. Deficiency of B6 may lead to digestive problems and impaired absorption of B12 and other nutrients. Zinc deficiency can also lead to excessive levels of copper which can be neurotoxic and may require chelation therapy. [3] Avoiding foods rich in copper and red and yellow food dyes may be helpful. [2]

Evening primrose oil is recommended as an additional supplement by a medical doctor in the following post. Evening primrose oil would be a good source of essential omega 6 fatty acids. More detail is included in the article about the mental health and other physical symptoms common for patients with pyroluria to experience. It also states in the article that treatment with the supplements can quickly end the negative symptoms for patients when the condition is first diagnosed and treated. [8]

I have found personally that continuing the supplements daily is an ongoing necessity. Earliest symptoms of the B6 and zinc deficiency may be experienced after only missing a few days of the supplements. For me increased anxiety and headaches may occur after only a couple days of forgetting the supplements.

Before I had discovered the problem zinc deficiency was severe enough for me to have many white spots on my fingernails and for me it also seemed to be the cause of anorexia – extreme lack of appetite. Which is a symptom that was not mentioned in the article [8] that included a long list of symptoms. See excerpt:

Here is Dr. Walsh’s list of some of the symptoms correlated with pyroluria: Poor stress control, sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises, morning nausea, tendency to delay or skip breakfast, very dry skin, pale skin, inability to tan, high irritability and temper, history of underachievement, little or no dream recall, auto immune disorders, white spots on the finger nails, poor growth, coarse eyebrow hair, stretch marks on the skin, severe anxiety and/or depression, fearfulness, obsessions with negative thoughts, delayed puberty, dark or mauve colored urine, affinity for spicy and salty foods, abnormal fat distribution, delicate facial features, extreme mood swings, history of dyslexia, severe inner tension, frequent infections, premature graying of hair, poor muscle development, spleen area pain, joint pain, poor wound healing, psoriasis, tendency to stay up very late, abnormal or absent menstrual periods. [8]

Zinc deficiency has been associated with anorexia nervosa. [9]  For me at the time, swallowing just one or two bites of food at the time would seem like a lot of work. The food felt like dry sawdust when I would try to swallow and my mood when being encouraged to eat would tend towards feelings of “how can you ask such a difficult task of me,” (eating shouldn’t promote anxiety or feel like sawdust). Once I had been on the high dose supplements for a little while my appetite normalized and I don’t get many white spots on my fingernails (an opaque white spot instead of the pinkish color of the skin under the nailbed; white spots may appear in anyone’s fingernail after a bump or some sort of injury damaged it).

Caution: Taking high dose zinc supplements can be dangerous to copper balance in people who do not have pyroluria.

Gluten intolerance and excessive use of coffee or other diuretics may increase the severity of the condition. [3] Infections or other problems that cause increased destruction of red blood cells could also exacerbate the condition. The pyrroles can be a produced during hemoglobin synthesis and also during break down of red blood cells. [6]

If white spots on fingernails seems like a normal part of life then consider reading more about pyroluria. [7] Not all physicians are familiar with the condition and lab samples need to be treated carefully or the pyrrole compound will deteriorate. One lab protects samples from oxidizing by adding ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to the collection tube and the sample is then kept out of light and is frozen until testing. [4]

More information about vitamin B6 and food sources is available here: Vitamin B6

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. By Julia Ross, MA, “The Mood Cure, The Four Step Program to Take Charge of Your Emotions – Today,” (Penguin Books, 2004 ed., New York) p314-315  *This book also addresses nutrients that can help during addiction recovery in addition to other mood disorders.
  2. J. Kaslow, MD, “Pyroluria,” DrKaslow.com: [drkaslow.com] This article suggests that avoiding red and yellow food coloring may be helpful.
  3. “Pyroluria, A Hidden Disorder,” Naturalinsight.hubpages.com: [naturalinsight.hubpages.com]
  4. “Do I Have Pyroluria,” A self test about the condition is available on this laboratory website under the Reference Tab: [kryptopyrrole.com/]
  5. McGinnis WR, et. al., “Discerning the Mauve Factor, Part 1,” Altern Ther Health Med. 2008 Mar-Apr;14(2):40-50.  [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov] *The abstract mentions that use of B6 and zinc or the use of antibiotics helped reduce urinary excretion of hydroxyhemopyrrolin-2-one (HPL). The chemical was originally nicknamed the Mauve Factor, due to its purplish color.  Prednisone has been known to increase urinary loss of HPL and it is theorized that increased stress would also cause increased excretion of HPL possibly due to changes in intestinal permeability that affect urinary concentrations.
  6. A patient forum, braintalkcommunities.org, has a post by member, Halsgluten, which suggests that SIBO, small intestine biofilm/bacterial overgrowth, may add to pyrrole production by causing an increase in red blood cell breakdown. The pyrrole compound, HPL, can be formed during synthesis of hemoglobin or during destruction of red blood cells. *The observation that antibiotics helped in reference #5 could be due to their helping fight an underlying intestinal infection or other chronic infection that is causing destruction of red blood cells.
  7. Joan Mathews Larson, PhD, “Soothing the Anxious Brain,” includes excerpts from her book, “Depression Free Naturally,” [joanmathewslarson.com]
  8. Pyroluria, Mental Health and the Immune System, JudyTsafirMD.com,
    http://www.judytsafrirmd.com/pyroluria-mental-health-and-the-immune-system/
  9. Humphries, L., et al., Zinc deficiency and eating disorders. J Clin Psychiatry. 1989 Dec;50(12):456-9.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2600063
  10. Video: Dr Erica Peirson – Pyroluria: Links to Down syndrome and autism, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOFU7q9EIyM

Good news about the deficit and about preeclampsia

With so many sad stories in the news it was nice to read an opinion piece with a positive tone. The deficit may seem huge but  it was encouraging to read that in relation to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the national deficit has stabilized over the last few years. [1]

More jobs leads to more income which allows more people to buy more products and services which leads to more jobs to create more products and services  — which increases the GDP.

There was also good news in the prenatal health industry – an inexpensive diagnostic test has been discovered that can detect preeclampsia during early stages of the prenatal condition. Misshapen proteins similar to those found in Alzheimer’s disease were found to be present in the urine of women with preeclampsia. The beta-amyloid proteins have an unusual folded shape which can’t be broken down by enzymes and instead collect in the placenta and disrupt blood flow to the growing infant. [2]

Discovery of an accurate and inexpensive diagnostic test may add to the GDP through direct sales of the paper-based Congo Red Dot urine test and by helping prevent sick days during pregnancy. Preeclampsia can be life threatening for the woman and child but more typically the condition is associated with high blood pressure and increased protein losses in the urine. It is a leading cause of premature delivery which increases risk of low birth weight and other birth defects. [3] The discovery of the presence of beta-amyloid proteins in preeclampsia may also help researchers identify possible causes the condition, which are not known at this time.

Following the clue about the special type of protein found in common between Alzheimer’s and preeclampsia led me to a third condition that is associated with both conditions and with amyloidosis, which is a non-specific term referring to an excess of the misshapen proteins.

Cardiomyopathy can be a diagnosis  or symptom found with Alzheimer’s, preeclampsia, amyloidosis and it also may be associated with hypo- or hyperthyroidism or with infectious conditions such as sarcoidosis. Cardiomyopathy may also occur with starvation and with deficiencies of potassium and magnesium or taurine, carnitine, selenium and thiamine (vit. B1). [4] The amino acid taurine has also been found useful for preventing damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease. [5]

Starvation is certainly bad for pregnancy and so are nutrient deficiencies but at least those problems have known solutions – increase intake of healthy foods. A prenatal person with severe nausea and vomiting might not easily be able to increase their intake but use of targeted supplements or nutrient dense foods might help reduce the severity of symptoms or prevent worsening of an underlying condition.

Detecting who is at risk for preeclampsia before symptoms are severe could provide time to test and treat autoimmune thyroid disease which may not have been detected by standard thyroid lab tests. If sarcoidosis were present then excessive use of vitamin D and calcium might increase risk of there being a deficiency of magnesium and potassium.

Babies are made from nutrients not from medications. So discovering a medication that helps break down beta-amyloid protein might be helpful but finding out why the body is producing the folded malfunctioning protein and how to stop their production would be more helpful. – Addition 2/26/2017, a deficiency or defect in the cannabinoid system might be involved. THC and other chemicals found in marijuana helped cause the break down of beta-amyloid placques from Alzheimer’s disease.  [7 http://neurosciencenews.com/thc-amyloid-beta-alzheimers-4598/ ]

Interesting news from the pet food industry – It may be better not to feed cats raw fish more than three times per week because some species, when fresh and unheated, may be a source of an enzyme, thiaminase, which can  cause excessive break down of the B vitamin thiamine. And taurine is frequently added to processed foods for pet cats because heat processing causes destruction of the essential amino acid. [6]

/Disclaimer: This article is for educational or entertainment purposes and is not intended to be used in place of individual medical guidance for humans or cats./

DSC_0531
A catfish perhaps,
and raw, a source of thiaminase;
limit raw fish for cats to three times per week.