What is Hair Analysis ?
Very simply, Hair tissue Mineral Analysis (or HTMA for short), is the analysis of hair tissue to determine its chemical content.
Or, in more scientific language, it represents the spectrographic analysis of an excisional biopsy of human hair tissue to ascertain both the absolute quantum and relative proportions of the mineral, heavy metal and trace elemental constituents of the biopsy material !!!
Such content may include:
Minerals – such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium etc.
Trace Elements – such as lithium, vanadium, rubidium
Toxic Metals including arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead
Because of the chemical make-up of human hair, it traps and stores all these elements between strands of keratin, the protein that comprises around 95% of hair tissue. Minerals become trapped within salt bonds, whilst heavy metals attach to sulphydryl (-SH) groups between adjacent cysteine molecules, that form part of the protein structures of individual keratin strands.
These constituents remain attached to the keratin for the life of that individual hair, enabling them to be analysed when a hair sample is submitted for testing. On average, human hair grows at a rate of about 1cm per month; therefore the analysis of an 3-4 cm cut sample represents what that growing hair has absorbed over the last 3-4 month period.
By contrast, fingernail samples typically represent growth over a 5-6 month period, whilst toenail samples accumulate minerals and metals over a 10-12 month time-frame. By comparing the results of both hair and nail samples, we can check whether exposure to a toxic metal has occurred recently (hair) or over a longer period (nails).
Why should l get my hair tested ?
For quite a number of reasons:
So that l can understand more about how my body works
So that l can know whether or not l have been exposed to or am accumulating various heavy metals, which might seriously affect my health
So that l can find out if l am getting too much of one mineral and not enough of others
And for most people, that third reason is probably the most
You see, minerals either regulate or are involved with virtually every
chemical process that goes on within our bodies.
Different kinds of minerals are needed to facilitate different types of chemical reactions.
For example, Chromium (Cr3+) is needed at insulin receptors, to ensure that insulin is effective at moving sugar (glucose) into cells to be used for energy production. Many diabetics, for example, are deficient in chromium that results in poorer blood glucose control. Lithium (Li+), Magnesium (Mg), Vanadium (V) and Zinc (Zn) are also required for proper glucose control.
Magnesium (Mg2+) is also essential for the normal functioning of muscle & nerve tissue (amongst many other things!). Low tissue magnesium levels may be felt as muscle cramps, or in the heart express itself as disturbances of heart rhythm (arrhythmias). Magnesium deficiency can prove fatal!
By knowing one’s mineral status, you can increase or decrease the types of foods in your diet that are rich (or poor) in particular nutrients, or alternatively take specific nutritional supplements to correct particular deficiencies. For example, a chromium deficiency is an excellent excuse to increase one’s intake of rich, dark chocolate! However, some people become so depleted that they need to take a chromium supplement as well. I therefore advocate the use of both approaches for maximal benefit, depending on each individual’s circumstances.
How much hair do l need?
Not a great deal, but sufficient for the laboratory to run the analysis, and have enough left-over for re-checking any particularly unusual results. In practice, the lab supplies us with a small envelopes which have all the instructions on them. It’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
Will any old hair do?
The simple answer is NO! Hair samples are best taken from the nape of the neck, closest to the scalp. This way, a 3-4 cm sample will give us the best & most reliable results. Pubic and axillary hair can also be used, but are not as good in terms of relating the mineral levels detected to what’s actually happening within your body. However, they are just as accurate as regards heavy metal exposure.
Do perms, coloring and bleaches affect the results?
Yes, they sure do! Therefore, if you have had your hair colored, bleached or permed within the last 4-6 months, do NOT use that hair for testing. Please use only unbleached, natural hair from close to the scalp for testing purposes. If needs be, ask your hairdresser to cover growing hair with foil, to protect it from the products he/she uses, then let it grow out and harvest that portion once it is 3-4cm in length. Furthermore, if you have ever used BLACK hair dyes, some of which may contain lead, please indicate this on the request form.
What about Shampoos and Conditioners ?
Normally, these are not a problem. However, there are two major exceptions:
The use of Selsun shampoo will cause a false elevation of the selenium level
The use of anti-dandruff shampoos containing zinc pyrithione or related compounds may artificially increase the hair zinc levels by up to 30-40%, and therefore affect the important Zinc: Copper ratio, as well as other ratios between zinc and other metals
Similarly, if one works in an environment that is laden with dusts or fine particulate matter, then part of the test result will reflect true occupational exposure whilst part will reflect contamination of your hair sample. If you think this might be the case, then a pubic hair sample is preferred. Alternatively, one may send an equivalent weight of fingernail or toenail cuttings in the test envelope, and mark the appropriate spot on the request form accordingly.
How long do my results take ?
On average, around 3 – 4 weeks from the date you forward the sample back to us. We then forward the hair sample to the lab, with the result being emailed to you prior to the hard copy being posted.
What does the test cost ?
The test report including your personalised commentary & recommendations cost AUD $225-00 incl. postage & handling and are GST-free. (Please add AUD $15-00 for postage & handling if sending from overseas.)
Q - Who performs the test?
A – The samples are analysed by Trace Elements Inc. (TEI) in Addison, Texas through their Australian representatives, InterClinical Laboratories in Sydney.
Q - How reliable are the tests?
A – Extremely reliable. Each sample is processed by a strict methodology called ICP-MS, (Inductively-Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry) by a Perkins-Elmer Sciex-Elan Mass Spectrometer. The University of Melbourne recently installed five of these machines at their Bio-21 Research facility in Parkville, at a cost of over $25,000,000. ICP-MS has been used worldwide by Research and Analytical Chemists for over 30 years to ascertain the chemical composition of the substances they are investigating.
Q – Can l mix hair from different body parts to make up the required quantity?
A – No. The reference ranges are calibrated for each type of hair sample. However, you can mix both toenail and fingernail samples, so long as you indicate this fact on the appropriate place on the request form.
Q – How come different laboratories report different results for the same hair sample?
A – Good question! Many commercial labs make the mistake of repeatedly washing their hair samples in a solution of de-ionized water containing the chemical surfactant Triton X-100, prior to completing the other preparatory steps for the analysis. Chemical companies distributing this chemical specifically state that it is NOT to be used for diagnostic purposes. Whilst this step has no appreciable effect on heavy metal results, it markedly alters the mineral content and some trace element data. Elements particularly affected include sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and rubidium. Other minerals may also be affected, but to a lesser extent.
Only two major commercial labs: TEI and Analytical Research Labs (ARL) in Phoenix, Arizona, do NOT wash their samples; hence their results are much more compatible. Split sample testing which we have performed has indicated identical results from the two labs for a number of analytes, and close correlation for most others. Furthermore, TEI tests for a wider range of analytes than the standard ARL test; their reports contain far more vital ratios than their ARL equivalent and are much, much easier to read! We therefore feel that Trace Elements Inc. (TEI) is the best laboratory in which to have your hair tested, with ARL close behind in second place.
Q – How does the lab define what’s normal from what’s not normal?
A – In regard to both minerals and trace elements, the lab presents its data in a graphical format, color-coded into different sections. The central section is white, with a fine horizontal line running across the chart, centered upon the words “Reference Range”. The middle of the reference range (or 50th percentile) represents the global average for a particular mineral, based upon literally thousands & thousands of test results from across the world. The next two horizontal lines bordering the white sections statistically represent one standard deviation from the mean, representing a total of approximately 68.2% of the results. Ideally, all mineral and most trace element results should fall between these lines.
What about the data in the palest mauve & palest green sections of the charts?
These sections represent 13.6% of test values in each zone, making 27.2% of the total. Results in the more heavily shaded zones may either lie within the remaining 4.2% of so-called “normal” readings, or may lie outside of normal variables. However, individual cellular tissues do not recognise statistical values, as these are simply an artificial construct with which to evaluate variables within a given population. Cells depend on a constant supply of nutrients, just like any manufacturing plant that depends upon a regular supply of raw materials to function properly. If any one material is in short-supply, the whole factor’s production may be affected.
So clinically, all these readings are important, as they indicate that one may be developing a relative deficiency or excess of a particular element, that may interfere with materials handling by cellular machinery, thereby altering cellular homeostasis. Such alterations express themselves in symptoms described in combinations as clinical syndromes.
Q – Why do the Heavy Metal charts have a Reference range?
A – Note that there is no “Normal” recorded on the Heavy Metal charts! Heavy metals such as Mercury, Arsenic, Aluminium, Beryllium, Cadmium, Uranium or Lead have no known biological purpose and uniformly interfere with normal biological processes. The Reference range is provided here purely for statistical purposes, indicating that a particular variable, such as lead, may be present in small or large quantities within a given hair sample.
Q – What do the Toxic Metal Ratios mean?
A - This chart is laid out differently from all of the others. Firstly, there are nine ratios displayed, each with a nutritional element (Ca, Fe, Se, Zn, S) as numerator (top figure) divided by a particular metal (Hg, Pb, Cd) as denominator (bottom figure).
All these bars should be at the top line of the chart, as one can see in the following diagram. The greater the heavy metal burden, the lower the height of each particular bar. Any result in the dark pink low zone is particularly significant.
Q – Can l accumulate heavy metals that don’t show on a hair test?
A – Yes, most certainly!
Firstly, the lab does not record metals such as cerium, cesium, gadolinium, gallium, gold, indium, iridium, palladium, rhodium, silver, tantalum or thorium that can be assayed by means of a urinary DMPS / DMSA Challenge Test.
Secondly, some people either inherit or acquire Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (or SNPs for short) in their DNA that codes for heavy metal transport proteins. For example, SNPs in the gene coding for the Mercury (Hg) Transporters: MDR1 & MRP2 result in significant accumulation of mercury within body tissues, without showing much (if any) Hg in their hair reports. However, clues can invariably be found in one or more of the toxic ratios, and can be readily detected by means of a Challenge Test. In such cases, very little Hg is excreted in the first, early morning sample, but large amounts are subsequently excreted attached to the chelating agent (DMPS or DMSA). This is because, as the chelating agent passes through kidney tissue, it binds to any heavy metals present, and “escorts” them from the body into the urine container provided. The volume is recorded and samples of urine are then sent to the testing laboratory for analysis.
Q – I’ve heard that Copper can cause lots of problems, just like Mercury. Can people accumulate the two together?
A – Yes. Around 30% of the Australian population accumulate excess copper, whilst around 5-10% are deficient for various reasons. Furthermore, a subset of the excess copper group also retain significant quantities of mercury, and this combination causes some serious biological disturbances. Hair copper is generally a reliable indicator of tissue copper status, with the Copper: Molybdenum ratio being especially important. However, patients with the genetic disorder Wilson’s disease may have low-normal copper levels on an hair analysis, but excrete vast quantities of copper in their urine. Both DMPS and DMSA readily bind both copper and mercury, so a Challenge test will confirm whether one or both metals may be accumulating in bodily tissues.