Alternative and Complementary Treatments for Porphyria


What is porphyria?

Porphyria is a group of rare disorders that affect the skin (cutaneous porphyria) and nervous system (acute porphyria). It involves a buildup of natural chemicals called porphyrins in the body. Porphyrins are necessary for the production of heme, which is a part of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to organs and tissues.

In order to convert porphyrins into heme, eight enzymes are needed. Without these enzymes, porphyrins build up in the body. This results in major issues, especially regarding the nervous system and skin.

Alternative and complementary treatments

The treatment for porphyria depends upon the type. Certain supplements may be beneficial in the treatment of porphyria; however, iron supplements are not recommended. Excess iron can cause the condition to worsen. Supplements that may help with porphyria include antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin C, and vitamin D.


Antioxidants can be found in various foods, including broccoli, spinach, carrots, avocados, squash, etc. Antioxidant supplements are beneficial in reducing oxidative stress and cellular damage.


Beta-carotene has been used to offer a certain amount of protection against photosensitivity. However, data regarding its efficacy is insufficient. The safe dose of beta-carotene is 25 mg per day or less.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is mainly found in animal products and vegetables. Individuals with acute intermittent porphyria and variegate porphyria have insufficient levels of B6 in plasma and erythrocytes. This could be due to excessive amounts of vitamin B6 being needed for mitochondrial heme synthesis. Therefore, vitamin B6 may be used to treat porphyria.

Vitamin E

Oxidative stress can result from the chronic build-up of heme in the body. Since vitamin E can limit oxidative damage, it may be beneficial as a treatment of cutaneous porphyria. Vitamin E is found in nuts, plant seeds, and plant oils.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is found in fresh fruits and vegetables. A vitamin C deficiency is sometimes found in individuals with porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT). It may help improve the antioxidant machinery in PCT patients.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is not commonly found in food; however, it can be obtained from fortified milk, cereal, orange juice, and in certain fatty fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, and sardines). When exposed to ultraviolet light, the body makes vitamin D. Since sunlight is a trigger for cutaneous porphyria, vitamin D supplements may be necessary.

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