Hair analysis – a window to your health
by Geraldine Hinter
Hair analysis could soon be the new, easy way to diagnose diseases such as breast cancer at an earlier stage than can be obtained by blood and urine analysis, a UniSA study shows.
Research Fellow at the Ian Wark Research Institute, Dr Ivan Kempson has been conducting research to find different components in hair that can be accurately measured and any changes monitored to reflect what’s happening within our bodies.
“Because hair incorporates nutrients and other substances obtained primarily from the blood supply, hair analysis provides an alternative means of measuring the body’s nutrition and health status, as well as exposure to toxins and pollutants,” Dr Kempson said.
“Copper and zinc play important roles in the formation, growth and health of organs and skin and hair. Both of these metals are very important for the body’s metabolism, while cell division and protein metabolism rely on zinc,” he said.
Unlike many other metals in hair that are prone to contamination or other internal and external influences, Dr Kempson’s research shows that concentrations of copper and zinc are stable and evenly distributed along the length of the hair above and below the scalp. They are securely bound within the hair and are not lost upon exposure to the external environment.
“Changes in the concentrations of copper and zinc in the hair provide a window into our health, making them potentially reliable indicators for some disease states,” Dr Kempson said.
Dr Kempson has been conducting research using time-of-flight secondary-ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) and synchrotron techniques to look at concentrations of copper and zinc in hair. He points out that in a group of people suffering from breast cancer, it was found that they had reduced levels of zinc along with increased concentrations of copper in the blood because of the cancer.
This research result is confirmed in a 2005 study of a group of people with cancer and a group with a negative diagnosis, where the zinc and copper ratio was particularly important in discriminating between the two groups.
“Breast cancer not only influences the copper and zinc concentrations in the hair, but the structure of the hair changes to an unhealthy state because hair growth is adversely affected by the disease,” Dr Kempson said.
Changes in blood elemental concentrations within hair may explain the alterations in hair structure relating to breast cancer described in a 2005 research paper published in the International Journal of Cancer, which shows a correlation between an altered pattern of the hair structure and the presence of cancer.
“Through our fundamental research we are creating a basis of knowledge for further studies that combine hair analysis with other research techniques for improved diagnosis of conditions such as autism, dementia and mental retardation,” Dr Kempson said.
“The use of hair analysis for diagnostic purposes has many benefits including ease of collection, transport, handling and storage, and enables people in remote areas to get an easy diagnosis without having to travel to city locations.”
Hair analysis interpretation
Hair mineral analysis can be a useful laboratory test although it’s value depends on it’s interpretation. The following are quotes by Dr. William Walsh, Director of Research and Executive Director at The Pfeiffer Treatment Centre, on his view on hair analysis interpretation.
- “Hair analysis ALONE is a very poor way to assess copper status. I say this after (a) evaluating more than 100,000 hair analyses, (b) developing the first high-quality hair standards (loaned to NIH and other researchers), and (c) performing numerous double-blind, controlled experiments involving hair chemistries. Findings of high Cu levels in hair are compromised by the many external sources of Cu which cannot be completely removed by washing. Low levels of Cu in hair and/or blood often are coincident with dangerous overloads of Cu in liver. Hair Cu values can provide information of clinical significance, but by itself is not clinically decisive.”
- “Elevated hair magnesium nearly always means magnesium depletion in the body, presumably because of increased Mg excretion. The same is true of hair Calcium and hair Zinc.”
- “An interesting aspect of Mn is that most persons with elevated Mn in hair have low Mn levels in blood. There are quite a few persons who believe that high Mn in the hair of behavior-disordered persons indicates a Mn overload. The opposite is true, most of the time.”
- “Aluminum levels in hair present a challenging cross-contamination problem, since there is Al everywhere in our environment. I recommend a repeat hair test be done to insure that the Al result is real (unless you’ve already done this). I’ve evaluated more than 30,000 hair analyses and in my experience high aluminum levels usually cannot be replicated with repeat testing.”
- “Uranium is an analysis that I have very little confidence in. I’ve done quality assurance testing of hair analysis labs and find some of the elements assays to be highly reliable and others to be nearly worthless. Uranium is NOT one of the good elements. Despite this, reported uranium levels usually are quite high in mining areas…. so there appears to be some QUALITATIVE significance to the uranium analysis….. but little QUANTITATIVE significance. Overall, I do not find the uranium assay to be of clinical value.”
- “The “good” elements are Ca, Mg, Zn, Cu, Na, K, S, Mn, Fe, Pb, Se, P, and Cd.”
- “Others that are decent (qualitative relevance) are Sb, As, Hg, Cr, Mo, Li, Ba, Ni, Sr, and Co.”
“Terrible assays (according to my tests) are: Al, Be, Bi, Pt, Th, Tl, U, Ag, Sn, Ti, V, B, I, Ge, Rb, and Zr.”
- “We’ve obtained hair Zn and plasma Zn levels (simultaneously) about 40,000 times. Low hair Zn correlates beautifully with low plasma levels. However, very elevated Zn in hair nearly always means Zn deficiency and low plasma Zn levels. Most of the time this involves a pyrrole disorder which results in very high Zn excretion in urine (and hair). In a healthy person without a metal-metabolism problem, only about 4% of excreted Zn leaves through the kidneys.”
- “I’ve done hair analysis proficiency testing for more than 25 years. I’ve never yet found a lab that can reliably assay barium in hair. The same is true of more than 10 other elements routinely reported by the hair analysis labs. Strontium has a history of strange results since typical levels are close to the detection limit for most labs.”
- “Cu/Zn ratios in hair are very helpful in ADHD and behavior disorders….. but far less useful in ASD, depression, and schizophrenia.”
- “I have no idea why the elevated Na & K levels in hair are associated with genius.”
I, and Dr. Walsh, recommend that practitioners use Doctors Data Inc. for hair analysis. They invented hair analysis in the 60’s and developed the original laboratory techniques.
Hair analysis is another useful tool to help patients. What is hair analysis? It is a soft tissue mineral biopsy, which also measures levels of both toxic and non-toxic metals. However, as you will see, if interpreted properly, hair analysis reveals much more.
The hair analysis tells us which minerals have been deposited in the cells and interstitial spaces of the hair over the previous eight to twelve weeks.
Mineral levels in the hair are about 10 times those occurring in the blood, making assessment of low level trace minerals easier. Hair is also a better testing medium than blood because it is stable. Blood mineral levels can vary from hour to hour as blood tries to normalize its levels of minerals. Most toxic metals are stored in the hair, as well as in other tissues, while only showing up in the blood soon after exposure.
What is measured in the hair analysis?
In a hair analysis, levels of macronutrients, micronutrients and heavy metals are measured. The macronutrients include calcium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus, sodium and potassium. The micro nutrients include copper, zinc, manganese, iron, chromium, selenium, lithium and others. And lastly, the heavy metals tested include lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, aluminum, and arsenic.
What information can be gleaned from a hair analysis?
Looking at the absolute values gives one type of information. A very high reading of a mineral can mean that the mineral is in excess. However, it may also mean that it is present in a biologically unavailable form. Thus the patient can exhibit symptoms of deficiency or excess.
For example, a high hair calcium usually indicates deficiency of calcium. This can lead to osteoporosis and/or muscle cramping (signs of deficiency).
Another example is a high hair zinc which often indicates a low body level of zinc. Zinc is involved with many key enzymes and thus is essential in many different areas. Some symptoms of zinc deficiency include emotional problems, carbohydrate intolerance, arteriosclerosis, impotence, prostate problems, and lack of taste and smell.
Besides looking strictly at the absolute number, the ratios among the minerals reveal critical information.
Let us look at the calcium to potassium ratio as well as what their individual absolute values may tell us. Calcium is regulated by the thyroid. The thyroid gland tends to lower calcium levels. Thus, a high hair calcium tends to indicate sluggish thyroid and a low calcium tends to indicate excessive thyroid activity. Potassium sensitizes the cells to the thyroid hormone, thyroxine. Therefore a low potassium level suggests that the cells are going to be less responsive to the thyroxine, even with normal blood thyroxine levels. This gives symptoms of low thyroid.
The ideal ratio of calcium to potassium is four to one. A higher ratio suggests a sluggish thyroid, even if the absolute value of calcium is normal. A lower ratio implies hyperactivity at the cellular level. Thus, even if the circulating thyroid hormone levels are normal, the thyroid may not be functioning properly. What’s important is the cellular effect.
The zinc and copper ratio is another very important relationship. Even with numbers in the normal range, a low ratio means copper dominance. High copper can cause alopecia, arthritis, mood swings, acne and much more. A high zinc to copper ratio indicates copper deficiency, a condition characterized by impaired collagen function, anemia, and osteoporosis, etc.
Hair analysis is also good for screening for heavy metals. One note of caution, however; it seems that hair analysis is not particularly good for indicating a mercury problem.
Many patients who have high mercury on urine testing or EAV testing may not have high mercury in the hair test. However, if mercury tests high in the hair, there definitely is a mercury problem and from my experience, it often is related to fish consumption.
A very low hair mercury usually indicates an inability to excrete mercury. Children who are autistic and mercury toxic often exhibit low mercury levels on hair testing.
Another reason mercury may be low on a hair sample is due to displacement by other metals. For instance, arsenic may be high, and when this is brought down, mercury will then show up as high in a future hair sample.
Also, mercury can interfere with mineral transport and thus affect the readings on the hair analysis. There are ways to assess this while looking at the hair analysis.
Unfortunately, I see too many patients that have been told they don’t have a mercury problem based on an erroneous interpretation of a hair analysis.
Hair analysis, if interpreted properly, also gives insight into the dietary realm.
It can identify carbohydrate sensitivity and reveal the status of protein synthesis and digestion. It can also give insight into the inflammatory state, behavioral patterns, and the condition of the immune system.
Of course, there is much more to evaluation of a hair analysis than what I have covered here. I just wanted to make you aware of how helpful a tool hair analysis can be.
© 2008, Mark A. Breiner, DDS
The information presented is for educational purposes only. You should consult a qualified dentist or health practitioner for diagnosis and treatment.
Dr. Mark Breiner’s book, Whole-Body Dentistry, is available on-line at www.wholebodydentistry.com or by phone at 1.800.BOOKLOG (800.266.5564).
About Dr. Mark Breiner:
Whole Body News Update expert, Mark A. Breiner, DDS, FAGD, FIAOMT, is a leading authority and pioneer in the field of holistic dentistry. He is the author of the popular consumer education book, Whole-Body Dentistry, a guide to the “dental connection” to whole-body wellness. With more than 30 years experience, Dr. Breiner has helped patients from across the US and other countries attain a higher overall level of dental health and general well-being. Dr. Breiner is a past President of The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology. He is in private practice in Trumbull, Connecticut.
“Whole-Body Dentistry is more than whether your teeth are healthy; it’s whether you are healthy!” – Dr. Robert C. Atkins, M.D.