What Can Your Hair Tell You About Your Health?
Beach Metro Community News
As naturopathic physicians, one of our main guiding principles when considering patients, is to “treat the cause”. This principle means that we must address the root cause of a problem, rather than just treating a person’s symptoms. However, in order to effectively achieve this goal, we may often need to use diagnostic tools that will help us to determine what is causing or contributing to a person’s symptoms or condition.
What is hair mineral analysis (HMA)?
One of these valuable tools that we utilize is hair mineral analysis (HMA). HMA involves obtaining a sample of a patient’s hair and analyzing it for mineral status and heavy metal toxicity. We all know the importance of minerals and the vital role it plays in many biochemical reactions in the body. In fact, it is estimated that minerals are involved in more body functions than any other nutrients that we consume, including vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and even water. It is evident that a deficiency or imbalance in any of these vital minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, chromium, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, selenium, silicon, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus) can lead to many potential illnesses and symptoms.
As well, increased levels of toxic metals such as aluminum, lead, cadmium, and mercury can lead to neurological, digestive, immune system, and hormonal problems. For example, mercury toxicity can contribute to symptoms such as: fatigue, headache, insomnia, nervousness/anxiety, impaired judgement and co-ordination, poor memory and concentration, and depression.
What can HMA tell us?
Although HMA can be used to determine deficiencies in essential minerals and toxicity of heavy metals, it can also indicate if someone may have metabolic acidosis (caused by accumulation of lactic acid in the cells or by consuming an excess of acid-forming foods), blood sugar control problems, hormonal imbalances (e.g. of the thyroid or adrenal glands), predisposition to cardiovascular problems, and bone loss (osteoporosis). Many studies have also shown a strong correlation between the presence of toxic elements and learning disabilities and/or behavioural disturbances in children. For example, even subtoxic levels of lead have been shown to cause hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and short attention span in children. Elevated levels of cadmium, mercury, and aluminum have also been linked to behavioural problems in children.
Why do we use HMA?
Why do we use HMA instead of measuring blood or urine levels of minerals or heavy metals? Most metabolic processes occurring in the tissues are at the cellular or mitochondrial (energy source of the cell) level. Blood (which is an extracellular fluid) functions mostly as a transporter of nutrients and is not representative of tissue levels, which presents problems with analysis. Also, minerals in the blood are found in much lower concentrations than inside the cells, therefore imbalances in tissue mineral levels may not be detected until late in the process. Blood analysis also shows acute (short-term exposure) to toxic elements and not cumulative levels. These elements tend to be deposited in tissues (organs, bone, teeth), and this explains why individuals can still experience symptoms of toxicity long after their blood levels have returned to normal.
Urine analysis will detect levels of the minerals and trace elements which the body excretes, but also does not reflect tissue levels. In this way, urine tests are more useful for monitoring the removal of toxic elements when undergoing a heavy metal cleanse or detoxification (such as chelation).
Other methods of mineral analysis, such as liver biopsy and tooth analysis are either too invasive or not readily available for analysis.
HMA is one of the many diagnostic tools and methods that we use to assess a person’s overall health by determining the status of the minerals in their tissues and to rule out heavy metal toxicity. These results can help us to determine the potential causes or contributing factors related to a patient’s condition. After analyzing the results, we can then help the patient to implement the necessary nutritional and lifestyle changes that will help them to optimize their health and wellbeing, while addressing the cause of their problems.
Note: This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare professional.