Deficiency linked to caffeine

AS PART of mental health month, a Clarence Valley doctor wants people to be aware of a little-known condition called pyroluria.

Dr David Richards, who runs the Iluka Wellness Centre, said the condition affects up to 10 per cent of the general population.

He said the symptoms could include finding it hard to get started of a morning and needing high doses of caffeine.

“I’ve always wondered why some people can handle strong coffee and those high energy drinks,” he said

“I was speaking to a friend of mine who is a nutritionist and he told me about a condition called pyroluria – a genetic problem that blocks the action of zinc and B6.

“You need zinc and B6, and stomach acid, to turn your food into the next step, which eventually creates the chemicals we need to allow our brain to function.”

Dr Richards said those chemicals were needed to create noradrenalin, which helps us wake up in the morning.

He said they also created serotonin which makes us feel good, and melatonin that helps us sleep well.

“It turns out that if you haven’t got enough zinc and B6, and even stomach acid, or you’ve got a condition that blocks any of those, you can’t make these chemicals,” he said.

“So, people with pyroluria can’t make enough noradrenalin and can’t wake up early so they tend to substitute the noradrenalin with other chemicals like coffee and energy drinks.

“But those things have a very short action, so it wakes them up and makes them feel normal but it doesn’t last, and some people can get quite toey and quite angry as well.”

Dr Richards said because he’d never heard of pyroluria, he asked other doctors but they’d never heard of it either.

“I asked a local psychologist and he’d never heard of it either,” he said. “That absolutely staggers me because it turns out that it affects one in 10 of the normal population.

“Twenty-seven per cent of schizophrenics have it; apparently 20 per cent of people with depression have it; a significant proportion of people with ADD have it; and apparently a number of people with bipolar and with autism also have it.”

Dr Richards says fixing the defect that creates the problems in the first place would help a significant proportion of people affected.

“I suspect a number of kids who cause trouble at school probably have it, but nobody knows because people like me don’t know about it,” he said.

“And I’d just about guarantee that our jails are full of people with pyroluria.”

Dr Richards said evidence suggested pyrolurics were often heavily attracted to marijuana.

“I would say a large number of people who smoke marijuana all day are pyroluric,” he said.

“My point about all this is that, firstly, I’ve never known about this as a doctor; and two, if we can try to help these people in some way, especially in the early days, we might be able to have a huge benefit on society.

“We might be able to reduce the numbers in jail, for instance.”

Dr Richards said the treatment involved giving pyrolurics massive doses of zinc and B6, and anything else needed to overcome the blockade.

He said some people were even able to reduce the dosage of antidepressants and antipsychotics. But he did say not everyone would be happy.

“The drug industry’s not going to like it,” he said.

“I just think it’s unbelievable that people like me don’t know about it, yet it seems to affect such a significant proportion of people. So I’d like to get the message out.

“If you don’t like breakfast; if you can handle strong energy drinks or coffee; if you function better as the day wears on; if you really like marijuana; or if you have anger outbursts or issues like that, there’s a fair chance you could be pyroluric.”

Dr Richards said there was a non-Medicare-funded urine test which could be done locally then sent to Brisbane for testing.

He said he was hoping to speak to Page MP Janelle Saffin to see if she could help get a screening program started.

In the meantime, Dr Richards said he intended learning more about pyroluria.

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