Updated: Jun 3, 2021
Functional medicine providers can evaluate wellness through a variety of tests; one of those is the hair tissue mineral analysis or HTMA as it can help in determining mineral deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances. Each year, in the United States alone, federally licensed clinical laboratories perform over 150,000 hair mineral assays for healthcare professionals. The information gained can reflect long-term effects of diet, #stress, toxic metal exposure and their effects on your #mineral balance which can be difficult to evaluate otherwise.
Hair is formed from clusters of specialized cells that group over time, all encapsulated within a hardened layer, locking in the metabolic products which have accumulated during a period of formation. This biological blueprint provides a record of your nutritional and metabolic activity over time which guides understanding of your cellular metabolism, structural support, nerve conduction, muscular activity, immune functions, anti-oxidant and endocrine activity, enzyme functions, water and acid/alkaline balance and even DNA function. Great stuff, right?
Food preparation, dietary habits, genetic and metabolic disorders, disease, medications, stress, and environmental factors such as heavy metal exposures all impact your mineral and nutritional health. Rarely do these tests demonstrate a single mineral deficiency. Unfortunately, most of us have several imbalances which may be an underlying cause of dis-ease. It may surprise you to learn that mild and subclinical nutritional imbalances are more than ten times more common than nutritional deficiencies alone.
Trace Elements Functional Testing
One of the hair tests I am more familiar with is obtained through Trace Elements. They have now processed more than a million hair samples and are a leader in the industry. Their test panels evaluate thirty-five different elements and offer a comprehensive report for both the clinician and the client. The clinician can use this information to recommend specific foods and food groups, or implement #supplementation. An individual's age, sex, metabolic type, mineral patterns and other clinical data can guide these recommendations. These results may also indicate the need for additional testing.
Hair testing can also be done for canine and equine. Trace Elements will also test drinking water for twenty different elements which may impact one's health or are a nuisance, and will evaluate fluoride and pH value. It really is fairly simple, in that one offers a cutting of the first inch and a-half of growth closest to the scalp at the nape of the neck.
Thirty to forty days following an acute exposure, elevated serum levels of lead may be undetectable. This is because if the body detects lead in the blood, it will protect itself by moving the #lead out of the blood and into the liver, bones, teeth and hair. Hair then becomes ideal for evaluating the body's heavy metal burden. Long-term nutrient loss can also become so advanced that severe health conditions can develop without any appreciable changes in these same nutrients within the blood, yet symptoms are present.
Why Test for Minerals?
When digging for underlying causes of dis-ease, mineral evaluation is an important part of this evaluation. Zinc, for example, is involved in the production, storage, and secretion of #insulin and is necessary for growth hormones. Magnesium is necessary for normal muscular function, especially in the heart, but deficiencies can also cause anxiety and nervousness. Potassium is critical for nutrient transport into the cells; a deficiency can result in muscular weakness, mild depression, and lethargy. Excess sodium is associated with #hypertension, but adequate amounts are required for normal health.
The body can manufacture many vitamins, but it is vital that one obtains minerals from their diet. Processed foods, alcohol, and fad diets can all lead to a chemical imbalance. Even a seemingly healthy diet can be inadequate as our soils aren't as nutritious as just years before, nor is the food it produces. Preparation of various fruits and vegetables can also impact their nutritional value. Physical and emotional stress can deplete the body of many nutrients while also reducing the body's ability to absorb and utilize many nutrients.
Both medications and pollution can also impact mineral balance or imbalance. Diuretics, antacids, aspirin and oral contraceptives can deplete body stores. Incorrect or improper supplementation can lead to excesses or deficiencies which ultimately causes biochemical imbalances.
We live in a very toxic world and are continually exposed to a variety of toxic metals, including cigarette smoke (cadmium), hair dyes (lead), hydrogenated oils (nickel), anti-perspirants (aluminum), dental amalgams (mercury and cadmium), copper and aluminum cookware and lead-based cosmetics. There are hundreds of similar sources for contamination which can contribute to imbalances and adverse metabolic effects.
A predisposition toward certain mineral imbalances, deficiencies, or excesses can also be #genetic. Understanding your genetic SNPs can help optimize your health in this way. Members of Eden are offered access to our Detoxification & Wellness program which dives into this issue rather extensively.
Minerals interact not only with each other but also with vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Minerals can act as enzyme activators and they are synergistic to minerals as coenzymes. Vitamin C affects iron absorption and reduces copper retention. Boron and iron influence the status of vitamin B2, which affects the relationship between calcium and #magnesium. Vitamin B1 enhances sodium retention, B12 enhances iron and cobalt absorption, and vitamin A enhances the utilization of zinc, while antagonizing vitamins D and E. Protein intact will impact zinc status. Each is dependent on the other; therefore, evaluating mineral status provides good clues of vitamin status and requirements.
Over the past twenty-five years, hair mineral testing has been extensive. An important component to utilization of hair analysis though is understanding one's metabolic type. Our endocrine glands are responsible for regulating nutrient absorption, excretion, metabolic utilization, and incorporating these into tissues of the body. Identifying your type and how these test findings can be understood under those terms may be the missing link in resolving your chronic dis-ease and greatly improving your lifelong vitality. If you have interest in digging into what your hair may say about you, schedule a wellness visit with me.
Interpreting Your Results
When results come back, I will work with you to understand these findings and identify how best to approach finding an optimal balance. A few points that can help you better understand what we are looking for and how we might approach testing results:
This element accumulates in the hair tissue, so evaluating it via a hair analysis is helpful in identifying toxicity. Surprisingly, this has been a not too uncommon finding in my practice. Arsenic can be found in the water, food (particularly rice), seafood, and some fruits and vegetables. This may be related to heart disease or cancer in the skin, lung, or bladder.
These results, from the hair, do seem to correlate well with those found in the bone, but several hair tests may need to be done before it is identified as aluminum does like to bind with body tissues. A detoxification and wellness program can help mobilize aluminum and move it through the body, allowing the hair analysis test to capture it. Cookware may be an underlying source of elevated levels, as might wrapping foil, various containers, deodorant, vaccines, and over-the-counter medications. Neurological disorders can result from elevated levels.
This isn't an ideal test to evaluate via the blood as it is soon moved out of the serum following ingestion. Hair is a little better or more consistent with the levels found in the kidneys. Similar to aluminum though, it can take a few tests to identify its presence as it does tend to bind to tissues. Those working in battery factories may find higher levels of cadmium in their testing, but it is also found in #cigarettes, fertilizer, and polluted foods. When eating a high plant-based diet, cadmium may be higher. It can be carcinogenic, impact the renal system and increase blood pressure. The prostate may also be impacted, as well as the central nervous system.
Calcium is one of the more important minerals in the body which may be evaluated on the hair analysis. If this mineral is imbalanced - either too low or too high - as compared to the other minerals of magnesium, potassium and sodium, then important functions in the body can be affected.
Over ninety percent of calcium is stored in the bones and teeth, which is a sort of reserve for the body. When calcium is not properly utilized, it may accumulate in other areas of the body, which contributes to various ailments, such as joint stiffness, changes in skin and hair texture, and low energy.
Elevated calcium in the hair typically indicates that calcium is being eliminated from the bones and accumulating in the soft tissue of the body. If this happens in the ligamentous structures surrounding the joints, stiffness will result. This seems to be aggravated by cold weather and is worse in the mornings or after inactivity. Exercise can improve stiffness. When calcium accumulates in the skin, you may feel dryness. Wrinkling may be more prominent. Nails may be brittle. Hair texture may change.
Elevated levels occur with a slow oxidation rate and is an indication of copper toxicity. This may also cause fatigue, insomnia, muscle cramps, depression, and anemia. Elevated levels should cause the practitioner to evaluate the individual's thyroid function, potentially even parathyroid function. When elevation is found on a repeat test, this could mean the body is eliminating excess calcium.
Inadequate protein intake can cause elevated calcium, as well as excessive sugar and refined carbohydrate intake, high vitamin D intake, and increased requirements of other vitamins and minerals.
When low, it may indicate calcium is being lost in the urine from a fast oxidative rate, indicating stress. The central nervous system is more sensitive to lower calcium and serum lactic acid levels are increased, which may contribute to increased anxiety. Lower levels may be related to copper deficiency, or lead or mercury toxicity.
A high chromium level is often indicative of a loss of chromium through the hair and is frequently caused by iron toxicity or another mineral imbalance.
This can be a tricky one to evaluate as copper can largely be unavailable biologically. It may be present, just not available, which occurs any time the adrenal gland activity is low. Some people are faster oxidizers as well, and they will more often be deficient, while those who are slower oxidizers will have either high copper or it simply won't be available to them. A normal finding on a hair analysis doesn't mean it is optimal due to issues with bioavailability. If results indicate an elevated calcium however, above 75 percent or a potassium level less than 3 percent or even a sodium/potassium ratio less than 2.2:1, then there is concern for a hidden copper imbalance. Mercury toxicity often indicates a hidden copper toxicity as well.
Iron is referred to as the strength mineral. When findings are elevated in the hair, often clients report feelings of anger and hostility. They are more often in a fast oxidation and have elevated aluminum levels. This can be due to an iron loss due to destruction of body cells or an iron toxicity due to iron cookware or excessive iron in drinking water. When levels are low, this is typically a slow oxidation rate. It is fairly common to see iron levels around 1 percent, but low iron levels does not indicate anemia.
Lead is found in older paints, soil, water, around construction, roadways, ceramics, pipes, cosmetics, ammunition, gasoline, batteries, and even in the air. Elevated levels here are significant.
Lithium appears to lower sodium levels based on research done by A Frazier, but understanding its clinical significance in hair is still a bit unclear.
Magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation, protein synthesis, nerve excitability and energy production on a cellular level. However, magnesium also has a sedating effect upon the body, and when in excess may contribute to a number of conditions such as low blood pressure, fatigue, craving for salt, decreased mental alertness, depression, dizziness, muscle weakness, and lowered body temperature. When magnesium is low, this typically means the individual has a slow oxidation rate and is likely suffering from fatigue or #depression. A high magnesium level is often associated with anxiety and irritability.
Interestingly, animals deficient in manganese cease to care for their young. When high in the hair, toxicity may be present from drinking water. When low, which is quite common, this is often correlated with low energy levels and slow oxidation. Exceedingly low levels are at 0.03 percent and lower.
Both blood and hair are effective ways to detect #mercury poisoning. One study demonstrated hair levels to be closely correlated to serum levels, but at 300 times the level found in blood. Copper toxicity and zinc deficiency are often associated with mercury toxicity. Fish, amalgams, mining, and various factory work may increase mercury levels.
A unique property of molybdenum is that it binds or completes directly with copper facilitating its removal. It is a powerful copper antagonist and can facilitate copper removal without many of the common side effects that can otherwise occur. Molybdenum also raises sodium which is helpful, as sodium is typically lowered when copper is eliminated. Molybdenum absorption is antagonized by copper, sulfur, methionine, and a high-protein diet. It is antagonized by manganese, zinc, and at times, sulfur.
An elevated phosphorus level is frequently indicative of excess protein breakdown within the body, but can increase temporarily as toxic metals are being eliminated in the course of a nutritional program. Exceedingly high phosphorus (higher than 25 percent) can indicate serious metabolic disturbance. Keep in mind that when testing pubic hair, phosphorus readings may be elevated. Lower levels of phosphorus is associated with a zinc deficiency, cadmium toxicity, or zinc loss. Poor digestion or assimilation of protein may be another cause, so think digestive enzyme deficiency or low hydrochloric acid levels.
These results may not be accurate depending on how the laboratory is washing the hair prior to analysis. If high, this may be associated with high sugar and glucocorticoid levels. Very high may be related to excess body cell breakdown. When low, adrenal gland exhaustion may be present and if very low, think allergies, fatigue, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, and even sweet cravings.
When these levels are high in the hair, shampoo may be to blame. Elevated levels may also indicate a loss of selenium through the hair, but low levels can be related to dietary deficiency. This is simple to replace with as little as a Brazil nut a day, but is a fairly common deficiency when the diet is largely refined. Selenium can create issues for the #thyroid when it is insufficient as well. Supplementing selenium can help cadmium levels, address mercury and arsenic toxicity, and protect against free radical damage. Don't exceed 200-400 mcg a day however.
The volatility mineral, it is very indicative of adrenal gland function. When low, think impaired activity and when high, think excessive gland activity. Very low sodium often results in exhaustion and when high, excitability and fast oxidation. Sodium levels in the hair can be elevated by toxic metals, especially cadmium.
Important in the formation of male sexual hormones, zinc is often a supplement of priority for those suffering with fertility. It may be elevated in a hair sample when the body is losing it for whatever reason. It may be purged from the body when copper toxicity is present or even cadmium toxicity. Head and Shoulders shampoo is another cause of elevated #zinc readings. Zinc can be low in fast oxidizers, so if the sodium/potassium ratio is less than 2.5:1, then supplementation doesn't need to be too aggressive. Very low zinc levels are often associated with emotional instability and with problems with growth and development in children.
Eden members have excess to a plethora of information similar to this in the Detoxification & Wellness program, all available free to active clients.