Why Use Hair Mineral Analysis To Devise Nutrition Plans?
Our nutritional needs are not being met by the modern food supply, therefore, many of us supplement. But we need a way to know what to supplement, how much to use, and for how long to continue. “Random” supplementation can be detrimental to a person’s health.
Hair mineral analysis can give us a guide for supplementation. It also allows us to monitor progress and help predict and avoid many health problems.
HAIR MINERAL ANALYSIS BASICS
How Is The Test Performed?
A hair mineral analysis test is performed in a laboratory through a method called spectroscopy. The hair is burned at a high temperature to release all the mineral elements trapped within the hair. Each element, when heated to burning, emits particular frequencies or wavelengths of light. By analyzing the emission patterns it is possible to determine the types and amounts of various elements such as sodium, potassium, zinc, copper, chromium, and so forth, found in the hair.
This technique has been used for more than 100 years in laboratories worldwide, for this purpose. It has been used to assist in the development of nutrition therapy since about the mid 20th century.
Let’s take a closer look at what a hair mineral analysis test shows and why this information helps to devise nutrition plans that are targeted and effective.
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data revealed that, despite their micronutrient intake from all sources (like enriched and fortified foods), almost 90% of the US adult population takes less than the estimated average requirement for vitamins D and E, 51% for vitamin A, 43% for vitamin C, 61% for magnesium, and 49% for calcium. Besides, only 39% and 2% of the adult US population had respectively potassium and vitamin K intakes over the recommended adequate intake. (Kiani AK et al. Main Nutritional Deficiencies. J Prev Med Hyg. 2022 Oct 17; 63)
A Hair Test Shows Mineral Levels
A Hair Mineral Analysis shows the levels of minerals in the hair. These tend to be broken up into three categories. The first is macro-minerals. These are Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium and Phosphorous – some tests measure Sulfur as well. These minerals are found in relatively large quantity within the human body.
The next group of minerals are called micro-nutrients. The main ones are: Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Chromium, Selenium, Nickel, Cobalt, Molybdenum, Lithium, Boron and Iodine. There are others – this is not an exhaustive list of all the trace elements needed in the human body. Many hair tests focus on these 11 minerals in addition to the macro minerals above.
Toxins Are Also Revealed
Toxins are the third major group of minerals measured on a hair test. Some well known toxic elements are Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Arsenic and Aluminum and Nickel. Some tests also measure Antimony, Uranium, Beryllium and a few others that are needed in extremely small amounts but are toxic in excessive amounts.
Did You Know?
The first use of hair mineral analysis to analyze human hair for toxins was done in 1858. The analysis was reported by Hoppe in The Practical Guide To Legal Medicine wherein he reported a case of arsenic poisoning confirmed via hair mineral analysis. The analysis was done on the hair of a body that had been buried for 11 years. Minerals do not as a general rule, decay or disappear from the hair, therefore, it is possible to carry out such an analysis even many years after a person’s death. (Forensic Science International, 84, (1997) 7 – 16)
An important note here is that not all toxins in a person’s body will show on a first hair test. This is because a person can have an accumulation of toxins within the tissues of the body that simply does not move into the hair. For the body, moving toxins is an energy-intensive endeavor, and it is also hazardous because toxins cause cellular and organ damage. Therefore, the body will keep the toxins sequestered in tissues if it does not have enough energy to effectively eliminate them and protect itself from them. During the process of elimination or when there is a very high accumulation, toxins will show up in the hair.
Ratios Of One Element to Another Are Given
Ratios of one mineral to another give information about cellular functioning. This is because cellular functions, for example the utilization of sugar or carbohydrates to produce energy, affect minerals that are excreted into the hair due to the fact that all cellular processes rely on minerals to make enzymes function. Thus, adrenal activity affects sodium and potassium levels, and in turn these affect calcium and magnesium levels, and so on. The mineral ratios commonly used in Nutritional Balancing are:
Calcium to Magnesium ratio – an indicator of how the body handles sugars and carbohydrates
Calcium to Potassium – an indicator of the strength and activity of the thyroid gland
Sodium to Magnesium – an indicator of the strength and activity of the adrenal glands
Sodium to Potassium – and indicator of a number of different factors such as adrenal strength, immune competence, liver and kidney stress, overall vitality, and mental outlook.
The Test Shows Patterns of Three or More Minerals
In addition to mineral ratios, there are also mineral patterns which involve levels of three or more minerals. A few examples of mineral patterns are a “four lows” pattern, a “double high ratio” and a “three highs” pattern. These patterns are found by examining the levels of the four macro minerals; calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. Much can be determined about a person’s metabolic state from the macro minerals alone.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Naturally, these correlations had to be discovered. In the early years some very diligent scientific work was done by Dr. Paul C. Eck (1925-1996), the originator of Analytical Research Laboratories, to correlate medical diagnoses with the readings on over 200,000 hair mineral analyses (1). Dr. Eck built upon the work of over two dozen scientists. Among these scientists was Dr. George Watson, PhD, who discovered the oxidation types; fast and slow and “sub” oxidation. Oxidation refers to the burning of fuel by the human body to produce energy, and roughly correlates with the idea of “fast” and “slow” metabolism. Another contemporary from whom Dr. Eck learned, was Dr. Melvin Page, DDS, who pioneered the use of micro-doses of hormones and described how the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system impacts a person’s health.
WHY NOT USE BLOOD AND URINE TESTS INSTEAD OF HAIR TESTING?
Hair provides an excellent tissue for measuring minerals in the human body because it is easy to sample – requiring no extraordinary techniques to take the sample or store the tissue prior to testing, the test is relatively inexpensive compared to blood testing which can cost around $50 per mineral measured, and it measures the minerals used in cellular metabolism versus measuring those that are being transported in the blood, a crucial difference. In addition, it measures the minerals used in cellular metabolism over time, so it is not a single snapshot but a record of averages which is more indicative of health than a single snapshot. Though we are concerned here with human nutrition, it should be noted that hair mineral analysis is used in ranching and farming and in many research studies involving animals. A similar mineral test, measuring nearly all the same minerals as well, is used for soil analysis so that gardeners and farmers can adjust their soil for better productivity and healthier plants.
Blood Shows What Is Happening In the Moment, Hair Shows What is Typical Over Time
Hair grows relatively slowly, about 1 cm a month or a little less than half an inch per month. This means that when a hair sample is analyzed the results show an average record of metabolic activity over the time frame during which the hair grew. Usually a hair sample is from a half to 1.5 inches long. It is taken from next to the scalp so that it is the most recent month to three months that will be represented by the results, therefore hair test results indicate an average of metabolic activity over a period of from one to three months’ time.
This means that a hair test can overcome one of the chief problems with many blood tests and that is that the blood test shows a record of what was happening in the body at that moment when the blood was drawn, and this may differ from what is normal or typical over time for that person. For example; blood cholesterol and blood sugar are known to fluctuate widely based on a person’s recent meals. For this reason, tests such as the A1C test and the practice of fasting before blood is drawn have been implemented to try to overcome the problem. However, there are still many fluctuations that do occur and which can be difficult to control for.
As mentioned previously, most toxins such as lead and mercury will show up in blood only very briefly following an exposure. They will also show up in blood during ongoing exposure if the exposure is high enough. However, past exposures and low level exposures typically will not show in the blood because the body very rapidly stashes the toxins in tissues in order to avoid their damaging effects. For this reason, hair tissue analysis tends to be much better to check for toxic exposures and indeed it is often used for this purpose.
The Body Maintains Homeostasis At The Expense Of The Tissues When There Are Deficiencies Or Imbalances
Some elements must be held within a narrow range within the blood in order to maintain homeostasis. This is how the body maintains function during widely fluctuating conditions within our changing environment and our varying intake of food, water and nutrients. For example, calcium must be held within a narrow range of values within the blood to maintain life. Because of this fact, the body will take calcium from the bones and tissues to put it into the blood in order to preserve homeostasis. Therefore, a person can have osteoporosis, or a very insufficient calcium intake, yet calcium will show within a normal range in the blood. Therefore blood calcium levels are worthless for assessing the strength of the bones and teeth. In cases of deficiency, calcium will not show within a normal range on a hair test however; typically it will show at either an abnormally low level or sometimes at a very high level. The same factors of the body maintaining homeostasis while tissues may be starved for nutrients are involved in the levels of many other nutrient levels in blood.
Blood is a categorically different means of assessing the body’s functions. At times, and for certain purposes, blood is more appropriate than hair testing. In other cases, and particularly when it comes to nutrition status, and certain other assessments such as the health of the adrenals and thyroid, or early stages of metabolic problems, hair testing is the better option.
Urine provides a record of what has already happened in the body, and is very subject to fluctuations based on hydration and other factors. Urine is a lot like blood in its limitations for showing us nutritional status; in fact, urine is filtered blood. Many nutritive minerals are impossible to assess through urine, as urine is really providing a record of what the body no longer wants to hold onto. Like blood, urine will not reveal toxins except during active excretion and this tends to occur only during current or ongoing exposure, not past exposure.
MINERALS FORM A SYSTEM WITHIN THE BODY
One of the most important reasons why hair mineral analysis is so useful is that minerals do not work by themselves within the body, rather, they work in pairs and groups, and the levels of one mineral affect those of another mineral, which affects still others. Not only that, minerals also affect the functions of vitamins and hormones in the body.
The scientists who have studied these relationships have devised a method for showing these interrelationships. A pictorial representation is shown here.
Some of the better known mineral pairs are:
Copper- Iron – synergistic
Copper-Molybdenum – antagonistic
Copper-zinc – antagonistic
Manganese-Iron – antagonistic
Magnesium-Manganese – synergistic
Selenium-Arsenic – Antagonistic
The diagram is somewhat of an oversimplification. Interactions between the minerals are often more complex than simply synergistic or antagonistic. For example, calcium and magnesium are to a degree, both synergistic and antagonistic; they work as a pair. The same is true of sodium and potassium, copper and zinc. For the purposes of illustration, the diagram is effective because one can see that changing one mineral level in the body can easily affect a number of other minerals.
Hair Mineral Analysis and Nutritional Balancing Form A Unique and Important Nutrition Knowledge Base
Hair mineral analysis is particularly useful when knowledge about the mineral system is utilized to design a nutrition plan. From this knowledge base we know that low copper levels lead to difficulty maintaining good calcium and iron levels, and that cadmium antagonizes zinc in the body and increases the need for zinc. We also know that excess copper can result in high calcium levels and low zinc levels, and that too much molybdenum can worsen a copper deficiency. Zinc antagonizes many minerals and therefore is helpful in reducing a person’s toxin load, as it replaces many mineral in enzyme binding sites, thus allowing the body to eliminate more easily what it does not want or need.
Mineral levels have an impact on the function of vitamins as well. For example, high copper levels lower vitamin C levels, and conversely, excess vitamin C intake can lower copper levels. Low manganese levels can result in insufficient B vitamin activity. High manganese intake can antagonize calcium levels. Excess iron can interfere with manganese function in the body. Manganese can substitute for magnesium in some enzyme binding sites.
In short, many conditions such as calcium deficiency, zinc deficiency, copper or heavy metal toxicity, poor adrenal function (AKA adrenal exhaustion, fatigue, insufficiency, burnout), low thyroid function, and much more, can be revealed through hair mineral analysis, and are not discovered through other testing such as blood or urine testing or various body scans.
In an ideal world, our medical and other health professionals would have a basic understanding of hair mineral analysis and they would use it in conjunction with blood and other testing to gain the most complete view of a person’s biochemical functioning and nutritional status. Until that time arrives, health seekers can gain a great deal of insight through hair mineral analysis to inform their nutritional diet and supplementation strategies, their detoxification efforts, and their overall health.
Following are links to other author’s discussions of hair mineral analysis as a tool for devising nutrition plans and assessing the body for trends toward disease states and toxicity:
Why Use Hair Mineral Analysis To Design Nutritional Balancing Programs? By Dr. Lawrence Wilson https://drlwilson.com/ARTICLES/WHY_USE_HA.htm
Hair Analysis: A Diagnostic Tool for Measuring Mineral Status in Humans By Dr. Joseph Campbell http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1985/pdf/1985-v14n04-p276.pdf
Wilson, L. (2016). Nutritional Balancing And Hair Mineral Analysis (Fifth edition). L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
Watts, D. L. (1995). Trace Elements And Other Essential Nutrients: Clinical Application Of Tissue Mineral Analysis.