High Ammonia Levels are a sign you need to detox

High Ammonia Level Symptoms

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Could you be experiencing high ammonia levels?

If you’re suffering from a chronic illness or suspect you have toxicity then checking your ammonia levels is probably not the first thing on your list. When ammonia levels in the body are too high we refer to this as hyperammonemia. Today we’ll find out why high ammonia levels display incredibly common symptoms amonst unwell people and how they could directly indicate a toxic body.

What is Hyperammonemia?

Simply put Hyperammonemia is the name given to somebody experiencing levels of ammonia more elevated than normal. As a result a huge range of signs or symptoms can manifest in the body, which include substantial central nervous system problems. Ammonia is actually needed in the body for amino acid synthesis and is an important source of nitrogen in the body. However levels exceed a normal range ammonia is toxic and is technically referred to as a neurotoxin, meaning a toxin that can damage or destory nerve tissue. There are several reasons why our body could develop excess ammonia, these include a reduced ability to remove nitrogen from the body, environmental exposures and even certain medications can negatively impact ammonia levels. 

Technically speaking ammonia is a waste product produced as a result of the normal metabolic processes of certain bacteria. This process specifically happens when bacteria breaks down protein the intestines. In this instance we recognise ammonia production in the body is both normal and unavoidable. However when ammonia is not correctly removed from the body that excess ammonia can begin to accumuluate in other places such as the blood. When ammonia accumulates in the blood the body transports this blood back towards other organs such as the liver, when it reaches the liver it’s broken down into two parts, urea and glutamine. Once broken down into these two substances the urea then travels to the kidneys where it’s finally removed from the body via urine. Although if this process known as the urea cycle does not function correctly problems begin to occur. The ammonia is not broken down sufficiently and levels in the blood begin to rise which ultimately causes a number of symptoms.

One of the major problems of excess ammonia is its neurotoxic properties. When ammonia levels rise in the blood that blood circulates the entire body including the brain. As a neurotoxin ammonia is specifically toxic to the brain. Under normal conditions the blood passing to the brain has already eliminated dangerous amounts of ammonia, however certain liver conditions can put a halt to this process. The liver function can be compromised by a number of conditions including chronic use of pharmaceutical medications, alcohol abuse, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, parasites burden, chronic stress and more. When suffering from a under performing liver toxic compounds that should already be eliminated can travel to the brain resulting in a condition known as hepatic encephalopathy.

This condition is rarely discussed outside of those suffering from acute cirrhosis, however this condition can be experienced for a number of other reasons. Hepatic encephalopathy is known to cause disturbances in mental and physical function with symptoms that can range from minor changes to severe symptoms such as coma and death.

What causes high ammonia levels?

What are some clinical reasons that could cause Hyperammonemia or high ammonia levels in the body?

  • Poorly functioning liver – whenever the liver is not functioning optimally its ability to process, breakdown, and safely remove ammonia reduces. This will cause abnormally high levels of ammonia which will travel to the blood stream and eventually the brain. A liver that isn’t functioning correctly can happen for a multitude of reasons which we’ll discuss further along.
  • Reye Syndrome – however rare Reye syndrome is a condition that can effect the liver, blood and brain. It starts with a rise in ammonia levels accomapanied with a fall in glucose. Most cases of Reyes syndrome seems to follow common childhood illnesses such as flu or chicken pox which normally put an undue strain on the liver.
  • Poor kidney function – the kidneys play a vital role in removing urea from the body and blood, without correctly functioning kidneys the blood can reach dangerously high levels of ammonia.
  • Disoder of normal urea cycle – very rarely people can experience a genetic or inherited ability to be unable to effectively complete the urea cycle. This could be a result of a deficiency or problem with the assimilation of the enzymes needed to dispose of ammonia.

Common reasons for high ammonia levels

Some much more comon and therefore overlooked reasons for high ammonia include the following;

  • Gastrointestinal problems including bleeding of the GI tract – when blood cells are hemolyzed, or destroyed, in the intestines they will release excess protein.
  • Normal muscle strain – even muscles produce ammonia when being active and moreso under excess strain such as weight training. Here muscle function produces ammonia and conversely absorbs ammonia when under rest.
  • Drug use – both pharmaceutical or recreational drug use can cause high levels of ammonia in the body. These include medications, alcohol, diuretics, narcotics, opiates, smoking and many others.
  • Parasite overload – through its normal metabolic process parasites excrete extremely high levels of ammonia.

When we experience high levels of ammonia in the body its a clear sign that some process of normal ammonia elimination is not functioning correctly. This often results in hyperammonemia which can cause a wide variety of symptoms which can often go misdiagnosed. What’s even more challenging is blood levels of ammonia can remain normal whilst brain levels can be toxic which means blood tests aren’t always conclusive to rule out the condition. However given the circumstances of cause we can normally deduce if a person would be at risk for whatever reason.

What does high ammonia levels and detox have in common?

Anybody who is suffering from chronic illness is more than likely suffering from chronic toxicity. Experiencing chronic toxicity in our modern industrial world comes as no surprise thanks to a slew of environmental pollutants. Everyday more chemicals become airbourne or are released into the environment without almost none of them being tested for human safety, and absolutely none of them being tested in combination with eachother.

The great Canadian naturopath and alternative healer, Hulda Clark, stated there were only two causes for illness. Parasites and Pollutants.
Hulda Clark Parasites and Pollutants
Hulda Clark
Natural Healer

Every second of every day our bodies are working tirelessly to breakdown and eliminate these environmental toxins which include; heavy metals, aerosols, pesticides, herbicides, GMO foods, cosmetics and so on. Whilst our bodies do an incredible job at this there are instances where it begins to fail. This could be following; a viral or bacterial infection, an acute injury, contracting a parasite or stomach bacteria, a heavy period of stress or many other reasons. Whenever we have a reduced immune system our body has temporarily let down its defences. When these defences go down our bodies can begin to be overwhelmed with toxicity. This is where more toxins are being circulated than are being excreted, creating a cascade of physical and mental problems.

Whilst mainstream medicine seems to perpetuate the idea that high ammonia levels are only seen in those with alcohol induced cirrhosis, genetic defects, or people with Reyes disease. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Anybody who is suffering from chronic illness is going to have impaired elimination organs. When we need to excrete toxins they always pass through our livers in some way or another. This is why the liver is such an incredibly important puzzle to chronic health conditions. You do not need to be a chronic alcoholic or obese individual to have impaired liver function. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease for example is one of the fastest growing ailments effecting adults in the UK.

We should be treating high ammonia levels as our bodies trying to tell us we are suffering internally. In that regards it’s a very helpful measure of chronic illness.

Common symptoms of high ammonia levels

High ammonia levels can effect anybody because the causes are wide and varied. However most importantly ammonia levels rise when liver or kidney function is not optimal. Both of these organs are put under immense stress everyday eliminating toxins. Chronically ill people are almost always suffering from under-performing livers and kidneys. Let’s take a look at some more common signs that you’re not processing or excreting ammonia correctly.

Early symptoms of high levels of ammonia including those of in children can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Poor appetite
  • Protein avoidance

Symptoms of high ammonia levels in adults can include:

  • Behaviour disturbances
  • Epilepsy or epilepsy like symptoms
  • Protein avoidance
  • Ataxia
  • Intellectual impairment
  • Vomiting
  • Migraines or headaches
  • Gait abnormality
  • Anxiety
  • Slurred or confused speech
  • Daytime sleepiness and difficulty sleeping at night
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Forgetfulness
  • Poor judgement
  • Personality changes
  • Lack of concentration
  • Sweet or strange breath odour
  • Shaky hands
  • Slow movements

When reviewing the symptoms of excess ammonia its clear why it’s so commonly misdiagnosed. The symptoms are broad and varied and can effect almost any aspect of our daily lives. Very often these symptoms can be confused with autism which is interesting because people with autism very often have high levels of ammonia.

The symptoms I find most interesting are gait abnormality which can manifest in a strange, overly deliberate or forced style of walking. Another is ataxia which can again include gait abnormality, speech changes, and abnormalities in eye movements. Ataxia is known as a dysfunction of certain parts of the nervous system including the cerebellum, not surprising then this could be a result of excess ammonia which as we know is a neurotoxin.

Chronic illness and high ammonia levels

Many people suffering with chronic illness experience the above symptoms. In fact it’s becoming so obvious to me now I can spot people in the street who are experiencing these issues, mostly in part because I have experienced this issues myself. If you have ever experienced uncontrollably shaky hands, altered gait, or slurred speech, then you will know how alarming, distressing and upsetting it can be. Often times these symptoms are transient which means they come and go which leaves the person at odds as to how to diagnose or even report such a symptom.

Whilst mainstream doctors could be quick to label each of these symptoms as a seperate condition, could it be as simple as a person experiencing high ammonia levels as a result of poor liver or kidney function? I believe that is the case.

How to fix high ammonia levels naturally?

If you believe yourself to be suffering from hyperammonemia this certainly isn’t a death sentence. It doesn’t mean you have chronic liver failure and it doesn’t neccessarily mean you require medication. There are several simple methods of reducing ammonia in the body naturally that can be explored.

Firstly there are three key amino-acids whose specific job is to excrete ammonia. Without a healthy supply of these amino-acids we cannot excrete ammonia and can begin to suffer from hyperammonemia symptoms. These are L-Ornithine, L-Aspartate and L-Glutamine. Before we go reaching for the pharmaceuticals why not assist the bodies natural mechanisms of ammonia clearance first.

L-Ornithine to reduce ammonia levels

So what is L-Ornithine? L-Ornithine is a conditionally essential amino acid which means the body can produce some but not all of the amounts it needs naturally. We simply have to ingest some through our diet to in order to remain healthy. Amino acids are essentially the building blocks that make up protein. When used correctly the body uses these amino acids to create muscle. Whilst different amino acids serve different functions L-Ornithine is directly responsible for your bodies ability to self detoxify. This is because L-Ornithine is involved in the process that converts excess ammonia into substances much more easily removed via your urine. Simple huh? Well providing your ingesting enough of the stuff, absolutely!

Foods containing L-Ornithine

We should always aim to get our amino acids and nutrients through means of our diet. This is because when found in nature they are usually in a correct balance with other amino acids.

Animal products that are rich in L-Ornithine include the following:

  • Grass-fed meats
  • Fatty fish
  • Omega-3 rich eggs
  • High fat cheese such as sheep cheese or goat cheese

Plant based sources of L-Ornithine

  • Coconut meat
  • Nuts
  • Soya
  • Rice
  • Wheat

Look to include a combination of these foods to get a varied and balanced intake of L-Ornithine. Increased consumption of L-Ornithine could have a dramatic impact on reducing ammonia levels. Be aware that those suffering high ammonia levels already experience impaired protein digestion. Bear this in mind if you’re thinking of chowing down a huge steak to increase your L-Ornithine levels and consider a less protein heavy source to begin with.

If you feel your digestion is too impaired or prefer to get your L-Ornithine directly consider a supplement. These supplements can sometimes more readily and quickly reduce ammonia levels in the body. What’s more as an amino acid L-Ornithine supplements have a very high chance of being well tolerated.

NOW Supplements, L-Ornithine, 500 mg, 120 Veg Capsules

  • Ornithine plays a central role in the urea cycle to rid the body of ammonia, a byproduct of protein metabolism.
  • Soy Free, Vegan, Nut Free, Non-GMO, Egg Free
  • Great detox support

L-Glutamine to reduce ammonia levels

Another amino acid the body uses to reduce ammonia levels is none other than L-Glutamine. This amino acid is one of twenty amino acids that are responsible for making nails, organs, skin, hair and even hormones. In fact is the most abundunt amino acid in our entire body, which gives you some idea of how important it is. It is made and stored in the skeletal muscle and plays an incredibly important role in gut health. Moreover L-Glutamine is the actual food source our intestinal cell walls use for energy making it the perfect addition to anybody interested in detox.

In one study researchers decided to investigate the role of L-Glutamine on excess ammonia. In a double-blind study researchers found 15 men who were able to run long distances. These individuals ran outdoors for 120 minutes on 4 separate occasions. During the first run none of the men took supplements, this was the control. Then before the second run these same men took carbohydrates. The third run, the men were allowed to consume l-glutamine. Finally, the last run the men had a combination of carbohydrates and L-Glutamine. When researchers analysed the blood which had been taken every 30 minutes during each run, they noticed that ammonia levels rise to about 70% baseline levels. Interestingly when the men received glutamine their blood ammonia still increased after excercise similar to the control group, however 60 minutes after exercise blood levels of ammonia were significantly reduced. Researchers condluded that glutamine was effective in reducing blood ammonia levels. [study]

Whilst L-Glutamine is clinically known to reduce ammonia levels in the blood its still beneficial to see it performed under research conditions. Many other studies have proven L-Glutamine to be effective in reducing ammonia during exercise [study], which is important because one reason ammonia levels rise is when muscles are under stress.

Foods containing L-Glutamine

Animal products high in L-Glutamine

  • Bone Broth
  • Whey Protein (Grass-fed source)
  • Grass fed dairy
  • Venison
  • Poultry (organic)

Plant sources high in L-Glutamine

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Spirulina

Once again, when choosing natural sources of L-Glutamine, be aware that protein dense foods produce ammonia when digested. So be aware when slamming down a whey-protein shake in hopes of improving your gut health or reducing ammonia levels, it might do the exact opposite! Instead, look for a low-protein source first and gradully work your way back to eating high-protein sources when your ammonia levels have reduced.

L-Glutamine has numerous other benefits which is why it’s one of the most commonly used amino acid supplements. Benefits of L-Glutamine supplementation include reduction in gut inflammation, supports liver health, improves constipation and diarrhea, can improve a healthy gut microbiome and finally a perfect source of nutrients for the intestinal cell wall which has been shown to improve food allergy sensitivities.

Nutricost L-Glutamine 1 KG – Pure L Glutamine Powder

  • 200 Servings Of L-Glutamine Powder
  • 3rd Party Tested, Non-GMO, & Gluten Free
  • No additives
  • Proven to reduce ammonia
  • Contribute towards improved food allergy response

Ammonia detoxification and chronic illness

To conclude I hope I’ve expressed the connection between high ammonia levels, high ammonia symptoms and their connection towards chronic illness. Many people suffering from parasite burden, chronic digestive conditions, transient or adult onset neurological conditions, and many more symptoms listed above should absolutely take note of their potentially high ammonia levels. Whilst the root-cause of the problem will need further investigation, managing your ammonia levels could have a significant reduction in symptoms when managed correctly. Consider reviewing your L-Glutamine and Ornithine consumption, and if neccessary purchase a quality supplement to improve more quickly.

Are you interested in other mineral interactions and how supplements effect one another? Find every single interaction in our Ultimate Guide to Mineral Balancing within the Body


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