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What is Hair Analysis?

A tissue (hair) mineral analysis is a test that measures the mineral content of your hair. Mineral content of hair may accurately reflect the mineral content of other body tissues and organs. If a mineral deficiency or excess exists in the hair, it could indicate a mineral deficiency or excess within the body, or bio-unavailability. For example, if your hair reveals elevated calcium two or three times normal, calcium within the body may also be elevated. Excess calcium or impaired calcium utilization may increase calcium deposition into soft tissues such as blood vessels, a feature of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). If calcium is low, a tendency exists toward osteoporosis, bone fractures, dental caries, periodontal disease and muscle cramps, among other conditions.

Hair analysis does not diagnose disease. However, various mineral imbalances seen in hair are indicative of trends that may lead to metabolic dysfunctions often before symptoms manifest. Hair analysis assesses for wellness and can be considered a preventative measure. 


Mineral Imbalances

There are many conditions that can be caused or worsened by mineral imbalances. For example, a lack of chromium, magnesium or zinc can impair glucose regulation. Excess aluminum or copper levels may have roles in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and high levels of iron can contribute to heart disease. Just one mineral out of balance can affect all other minerals in the body.

Minerals are the "sparkplugs" of life. They are involved in nearly all enzyme reactions in the body. Nobel laureate Linus Pauling stated, "Every sickness, every disease, every ailment can be traced to a mineral deficiency." Likewise, elevated levels of minerals or poor mineral ratios can be problematic. A small imbalance in a ratio, such as sodium to potassium, can mean a big difference in one's health.


Toxic Heavy Metals

In addition to nutrient minerals (calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc.), hair analysis assesses toxic heavy metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and aluminum. Bio-accumulation of heavy metals can be extremely harmful to various organs. Hair analysis is a valid, scientific test used in government sponsored studies for heavy metal detection.

Mercury and other toxic metals are commonly elevated in Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the blood of one in twelve Americans exceeds the EPA’s “safe” level for mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can harm the brain and nervous system. There is much concern about mercury levels in pregnant or nursing women and young children. A child’s developing brain is most vulnerable to the harmful effects of mercury. A hair analysis is an inexpensive, non-invasive screening tool to find out if you are overburdened with heavy metals.


Heavy Metal Elimination

Nutritional programs can reduce the burden of toxic metals by several means. Supplementation with appropriate amounts of specific nutrient minerals can displace toxic metals. For example, calcium is antagonistic to lead and cadmium. Selenium is protective against the effects of mercury and cadmium. Chelating agents such as vitamin C and sulfur-containing amino acids such as NAC and SAMe help eliminate toxic metals by binding to them. Also, increasing biochemical energy and stimulating a slow metabolism can step up the rate of excretion of toxins via the liver and kidneys. This is accomplished primarily by nutritionally supporting the thyroid and adrenal glands as well as liver and kidney functions.


What About Blood Testing?

Blood tests for nutrient minerals, other than calcium, potassium and iron, are not commonly available. Also, they are invasive and can be expensive and unreliable. For example, the body maintains a constant level of calcium in the blood even if you are deficient. It does this by pulling calcium from the bones. If your blood calcium is much above or below the normal range, you are probably in the hospital or very ill.  Likewise, the level of magnesium in blood can remain stable even with long-term low magnesium nutrition. In addition, blood constituents tend to fluctuate in relation to meals and fasting. Compared to a blood test, a hair analysis represents a much broader period of time.


The Hair Sample

Hair should be clean and dry. Approximately, one teaspoon of hair is taken from the nape of the neck within one inch of the scalp. For those who do not have head hair or have recently dyed their hair, pubic hair can be used. The sample is placed in a paper envelope and sent to a lab for analysis. Interpretation of the test results should be made by a qualified practitioner who has experience and training in hair analysis. Corrections are not made simply by supplementing with minerals that are found to be low.


Selected References

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis: An Emergent Diagnostic Technique by Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., Thorsons Publishers, Inc. 1984.

Jacob, R., Klevay, L. and Logan, G. “Hair as a Biopsy Material: Index of Hepatic Copper” Am J Clin Nutr, 31 (1978), 477-481.

University of Rochester Medical Center. "Copper identified as culprit in Alzheimer's disease." ScienceDaily, 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 1 Sep. 2013.

Seafood Sense: The Truth about Seafood Nutrition and Safety by Ken Babal, C.N., Basic Health Publications 2005.

Paredes, S.R., Kozicki, P.A., Batlle, A.M. S-Adenosyl-L-methionine: a counter to lead intoxication? Comp. Biochem. Physiol. B 1985; 82(4): 751-7.

The Magnesium Factor by Mildred S. Seelig, M.D., MPH, Master, American College of Nutrition and Andrea Rosanoff, Ph.D., Avery 2003.