A hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) is a screening test that measures the levels of twenty-one minerals and toxic metals present in a sample of hair.
When it comes to stress assessment and then guiding the process to recovery this test is crucial. To really understand why this test is so critical to the process we need to go a little deeper into understanding how stress affects us.
Our starting point again is the question how did I end up like this?
Intuitively, we know we didn’t get sick in just one day, but most of us don’t understand how we got sick. Here are the facts that will allow you to answer this most important question.
FACT #1: Physical, emotional, and chemical stresses are the negative driving factors of chronic degenerative disease.
FACT #2: If you can measure or see a change in your body, then your chemistry has changed from normal to abnormal.
The next critical question to ask, if you are to reclaim your health is: How did these stresses change my body chemistry from normal to abnormal?
There are five factors that drive this process: genetics, deficiencies, excesses, imbalances, and toxins. If you wish to regain your health and reverse the stress and dis-ease process, these factors must be dealt with in addition to the emotional, chemical, and physical stresses.
Let’s briefly explore these driving forces because when you truly understand them, you will know more than many health professionals.
In his book The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton sums it up beautifully. He writes that unless you are unfortunate enough to have a genetic disease expressed at birth, such as cystic fibrosis, then genetics is not what is causing you to be unwell. Genes need to be “turned on” or expressed if they are going to have an effect on the body.
The relatively recent discovery of epi-genetics has shown that it is our environment that turns on genes. By environment we mean the physical, emotional, and chemical stresses we experience. If you have a gene for a particular condition, unless you trigger it with environmental factors, it will never express itself and the dis-ease will not develop.
The conclusion is that if you live a good, healthy, and clean lifestyle, your negative genes should never turn on and be expressed. Genes are not a significant factor in chronic degenerative disease and probably only apply to about 5% of the population. This is great news as it means the problem is lifestyle-based and can be addressed and corrected.
This is so simple and important; yet commonly overlooked. Here is the rule that you must always remember: all cells require nutrients to function. If the nutrient is not present, the cell will not function at its best. A simple example is oxygen. Without it, we have no life. Without our minerals and vitamins, we would face similar fates. With today’s lifestyles and diets, it is not surprising that deficiencies are commonplace.
In our consumer-driven society, we are often led to believe that more is better. We buy into this in many subtle ways. One way is by using multivitamins indiscriminately. We tend to buy them as insurance policies and think that if we just keep putting more in, it will be good for us. This logic couldn’t be further from the truth! Let’s take Vitamin C as an example because, as it turns out, Linus Pauling had it wrong. He thought there was no way to have too much vitamin C, but the reality is that just as deficiency is an issue, excess is as well. If you have too little vitamin C, you will be immuno-depressed; if you have too much, you will become immunosuppressed. Either way, you experience a similar outcome. Supplements should be a critical part of your overall health plan, but you need to ensure that you are taking the right ones, in the right amounts, and on an individual basis.
Simply put, this is about getting the balance of your chemistry correct. The minerals in your body, for example, are in relationship with each other in a similar way that you are in relationships with your family and friends. Whatever you do, you need to take into account the effect it may have on your body. When you raise the level of a single nutrient, such as magnesium, you will affect the levels of at least two other minerals. (I’ll explore this in more detail shortly.)
Toxins have a far greater influence on your body than most people think—and everyone must deal with this growing problem. Toxins have the adverse effect of substituting or replacing the preferred nutrients in the body and they have the devastating effect of blocking the ability of the body to use nutrients, EVEN IF the nutrient is already present.
These five factors explain what the stressors are doing to you and are the missing link to being able to reverse the stress and disease process. They are absolutely critical when we are looking to balance the body and slowly but surely restore a person’s health. And all must be addressed when we are dealing with serious health challenges. Our program is designed to do this.
Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis – The Starting Point
Now that we have established that deficiencies, excesses, imbalances, and toxins are what drives our body chemistry from normal to abnormal, we need to focus on how to reverse the process. In order to do so, we need to assess and measure what is happening in the body. An individual’s adaptation to stress will be unique; and so, we need to know where they are in order to start peeling back these “layers of adaptation.”
The use of the right test is imperative. You would never use a blood test to assess a broken leg; the same logic applies to mineral, stress, and toxic-metal status. Chronic degenerative diseases occur in tissues, not blood; as a result, we need to assess what is happening in the tissues not only the blood.
A hair mineral analysis is one of the best ways to do this. As explained by Dr. Lawrence Wilson in his book Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, the following are some of the reasons why hair is so valuable and informative.
1. The hair is a cellular biopsy. This means it provides information from the deepest level of metabolism, where most problems begin. For this reason, it often reveals imbalances long before symptoms or signs arise in the blood or elsewhere.
2. The body deposits toxic metals in tissues such as the hair to get rid of them. This can go on for years, until the body can no longer keep up this adaptive behaviour. Only then does the problem cause symptoms or imbalances that are revealed on a blood test, for example.
3. The blood is generally maintained at the expense of tissues such as hair. For example, this means that a zinc deficiency will show up far sooner in the hair because the body will literally reroute zinc from the less important tissues to maintain the level in the blood and other vital organs.
A good way to think of a hair mineral analysis is as a screening test that measures the levels of minerals and toxic metals present in a sample of hair. Providing a “window into the cells,” hair makes an excellent biopsy material and reveals a clear record of mineral metabolism and stress.
Another significant benefit to Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis is that it reflects long-term metabolic activity as it measures an average of mineral accumulation over a three-month period. This is often an advantage, as the test results are not influenced by day-to-day variations in body chemistry due to stress, diet, or other factors.
Hair tissue is like a blueprint of one’s individual biochemistry, and it can assist in identifying mineral patterns which may be associated with stress, blood sugar, and carbohydrate imbalances; metabolic rate; biochemical energy production; glandular imbalances; and more. It is also well established worldwide as a means to measure environmental contamination with toxic metals in the soil, plants, and human and animal populations.
Here is a hair mineral analysis chart to help you better understand why this is such an important tool in guiding the process of health restoration.
At the top of the graph is a section titled NUTRIENT MINERALS. Much like a blood test, there are established levels and these are visualised as the shaded area. Anything above or below the norm needs to be assessed and interpreted.
Below this is a section assessing TOXIC METALS. Of course, you don’t want to see any toxicity in your hair analysis.
At the bottom of the page is a section called SIGNIFICANT MINERAL RATIOS which looks at some of the more important mineral relationships in the body.
It is important with a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis to ensure that you understand what it is saying and what it is not. The basic rule to remember is that this test shows what is coming into the body, or what is leaving the body, during the three-month period that the hair was growing; nothing more and nothing less. Proper interpretation, much like an MRI or ultrasound, is critical.
What Is This Hair Analysis Telling Us?
1. Deficiency. There are low levels of minerals such as iron, zinc, and selenium.
2. Excess. There are very high levels of calcium, copper, and manganese.
3. Imbalance. There are significant imbalances with Calcium to Magnesium (Ca/Mg ratio) and Sodium to Potassium (Na/K ratio)
4. Toxins. Mercury and aluminium are present.
Interpretation is critical.
When looking at the level of mercury in the example, you will see it is at 0.056 mg%. This tells us mercury is present, but it doesn’t clarify if it was ingested or if the body was eliminating it. This is where the detective work (interpretation) comes into play. In our example, the person is young, has no mercury amalgams in her teeth, and eats a lot of tuna. When you consider her history, you can surmise that her high level would likely be from the mercury present in the tuna, which is not unusual.
Let’s assume she cuts out all seafood from her diet and six months later retests. If the mercury shows up at the same level, then it can’t be from the tuna. At this point, the conclusion would be she either has another source of ongoing exposure, or it is her body slowly and steadily eliminating it through her hair.
When we look at the results, we must always be aware that they are not showing total body load, only what is present in the hair during the period of time it was growing. Many people who use these tests would look at these results and say something along the lines of “her zinc is very low at 11 mg%; let’s give her zinc.” This is potentially dangerous and reckless; and is reductionist not holistic.
We need to stop and ask why the zinc is low in this person. In addition to a pure zinc deficiency, there are two main reasons zinc could be low on a hair analysis and they are critical to understand. Conceptually the reasons can be grouped into the categories of the “mineral wheel” and “toxic metals.”
The Mineral Wheel
The law of cause and effect is one that most people are familiar with and it has massive implications for your health. One application of this law for optimal health is that of the mineral wheel.
It turns out that each mineral in our body affects the levels of all the other minerals in extremely specific and sometimes surprising ways. They are in a relationship, as are vitamins. Let’s look at the following illustration.
When a single mineral in the body is affected, with either too much or too little, it can have an effect upon at least two other minerals, which will then have an effect on at least two others. It turns out that the field of nutrition can be complex and confusing, and the key to understanding the effects of nutrients is to understand their interrelationships.
In the hair mineral analysis example, we can see the person is low in iron (0.9 mg%) and zinc (11 mg%), and high in copper (4.7 mg%). The mineral wheel can help explain this.
Let’s look at copper (Cu), located in the 6 o’clock position on the wheel, to show how complicated treating a zinc or iron deficiency can be. Notice they are connected by a line. It turns out that copper excess negatively affects the zinc (Zn at 9 o’clock) and iron (Fe at 2 o’clock) level by lowering it. Logically, if we are looking at things holistically, if copper is affecting your ability to use zinc and iron, we would want to get rid of the excess copper. Just trying to raise zinc and iron through supplementation wouldn’t be the right decision. This is one reason why measuring and not guessing is so important when it comes to your supplement needs.
The next question to ask is what is causing the copper excess? It could be any of the minerals that are in relationship to copper, such as zinc, sulphur, or manganese. If these are low, then copper will be high proportionately. The fix for the iron problem would then be raising these minerals to lower copper, which in turn will raise the iron. Complicated yet fascinating when you know what you are doing. (Farmers have been doing this for generations with their soils.)
There is yet another reason for copper excess, and that is the presence of chemicals and substances that mimic estrogen. This includes things like plastics, pesticides, soy, certain toxic metals, petroleum products, birth control pills, and of course hormones in the food chain. In this example, these estrogens and estrogen mimickers would need to be assessed and dealt with if they were the ultimate reason the person is low in zinc and iron.
What does this mean for you? It means that to flourish physically and mentally you need to get the balance of nutrients and minerals correct. It also means that guessing what to take can be problematic and damaging. The correct balance of nutrients must be maintained and this must be done in a way that measures levels and takes into account the complex interrelationships that exist.
What I find very concerning is that while the vast majority of us recognize the need for supplementation, virtually none of us take the time to figure out what we really need, and as a result play Russian roulette with our health.
Remember that too much or too little of a mineral or vitamin, and the resultant imbalances, are damaging to your health and are what drives the change from normal to abnormal.
A hair analysis is critical to assessing and managing stress. It will do the following
1. Assess what stress has done with respect to deficiency, excess, imbalances, toxins
2. Assess long (3 month) averages of what stress is doing. HRV assesses in real time while hair analysis looks at averages over time.
3. Indicates the stage of stress you are in according to Selyes general adaptation syndrome (alarm, resistance or exhaustion stage of stress)
4. Assess your oxidation rate (fast or slow)
5. Assess other indicators of stress such as Na/K ratio, sympathetic dominance and other burnout patterns
With this information you have the tools to measure and reverse the stress response, and in turn get your health back on track.
The best summary is a quote from Lord Kelvin “To measure is to know. If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.”
At Lifestyle Integration we provide natural solutions for stress and lifestyle-based health issues for over 50’s.