By Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D., FACOG




Porphyria is a group of genetic disorders in which heme, a major component of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in out blood, is not properly produced.



So, how could a disorder that affects the production of hemoglobin possibly explain the vampire folklore? Well, the answer lies in the symptoms that Porphyria suffers experience, many of which were poorly understood centuries ago. These symptoms include:

1). Extreme sensitivity to light:

Many Porphyria sufferers have an extreme sensitivity to light and exposure to the UV light in both sunlight and some artificial can light cause:

  • 1). Skin burning, redness and blistering.
  • 2). Skin scarring and thickening.
  • 3). Excessive hair growth on sun exposed skin.
  • 4). Red urine.

2). Anemia and pale skin:

Porphyria sufferers are severely anemic because of the impaired synthesis of hemoglobin (a major component in red blood cells). This pale skin is exacerbated by their inability to be exposed to sunlight (or most artificial lights).

3). Porphyria teeth:

Many Porphyria sufferers experience shrinking and contractions of the gums. This causes the teeth to have a longer, more canine like appearance.

4). Drinking Blood:

Yes, that is Bella from Twilight drinking blood and no, she did not suffer from Porphyria, she just happened to pregnant with a half vampire baby. What Bella had in common with Porphyria sufferers was her need for healthy blood. Porphyria sufferers are missing the heme that is normally in blood. The heme in hemoglobin is strong enough to resist degradation during digestion and it is thought that many early Porphyria sufferers may have ingested blood to improve their symptoms.



Thankfully with modern medical advances, we have a much better idea of what Porphyria is and why Porphyria sufferers experience the symptoms that they exhibit. Most folklore has some basis in fact and while Porphyria sufferers are not the blood sucking vampires of horror movies, there are many that think the pale, sun averse people with sharp teeth who may have drank blood to feel better gave rise to the modern day vampire folklore.

Thankfully we know more and more about Porphyria and how to adequately treat it’s symptoms. Some of the mainstays of modern day Porphyria treatment include:

  • Blood transfusion.
  • Injection of Hemin, a medication that forms heme in the body.
  • Vitamin D supplements (since most of our vitamin D synthesis comes from sunlight).


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About The Docs


Idris is the creation of twin OB/Gyn Doctors Jamil and Idries Abdur-Rahman. Jamil (Dr. J) and Idries (Dr. I) were inspired to start after participating on season 22 of CBS’ ‘The Amazing Race’.

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