HTMA Basic Concepts

Your hair contains all the minerals present in your body, including nutritional minerals and toxic heavy metals.  Hair mineral analysis is a laboratory test that measures this mineral content in the hair. In most cases, the test results reflect how much of these elements are in your tissues and provide a vivid picture of your cellular and tissue mineral levels.  With this information, a world of metabolic events can be interpreted. Not only can your nutritional status be viewed, but the test can also reveal how efficiently your body is working on many levels – including adrenal function, thyroid function, metabolic type, stress response, heavy metal toxicity, hormonal function, chemical sensitivity, and more.

Why Use Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis to Heal Migraine?

In my coaching practice I have consistently seen serious damage done to people’s mineral balance through the casual (or, often doctor recommended) use of supplements, especially vitamin D and multivitamins containing copper and zinc.  It is often incorrectly assumed that deficiencies in blood are an accurate reflection of the state of the cell, and that minerals do not interact with one another. This could not be further from the truth. Hair tissue mineral analysis gives a more accurate snapshot of a person’s mineral status on a cellular level, and provides insight into the dynamic relationship that minerals and vitamins have to each other, which in turn makes it possible to tailor a supplement plan to a person’s individual needs.

In my coaching practice, I work with migraineurs to balance all of the major minerals, but I put a special emphasis on copper/zinc balance. In general, many women with migraine and hormonal imbalance have copper dysregulation (either low copper, or latent elevated copper). Much of this copper dysregulation is being caused or exacerbated by hormonal birth control, hormone replacement therapy, or other pharmaceuticals.  Copper is needed to support metabolic function and the synthesis of the DAO enzyme that breaks down histamine. It is also necessary for the formation of elastin in blood vessel’s endothelium, for celular energy as ATP, and for synthesis of estrogen. Estrogen in turn is used by the body to make copper bioavailable.

Migraineurs also tend to have a high heavy metal load due to environmental exposure combined with zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency will lead to excitotoxicity, food sensitivities (glutamate buildup), insomnia, low libido, and depression.  So zinc is crucial for those with migraine, but because it can deplete copper so easily, supplementation with zinc should be done cautiously, and based on an HTMA. The relationship between zinc and copper and of those two minerals to other minerals is sufficiently complex that one-on-one guidance is often necessary, based on actual specific data from an individual’s HTMA lab report.

What is Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA)?

Hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) is an analytical test which measures the mineral content of the hair. The sampled hair, obtained by cutting the first inch and one-half of growth closest to the scalp at the nape of the neck, is prepared in a licensed clinical laboratory through a series of chemical and high temperature digestive procedures. Testing is then performed using highly sophisticated detection equipment and methods to achieve the most accurate and precise results.

Your hair contains all the minerals present in your body, including nutritional minerals as well as toxic heavy metals.  In most cases, the test results reflect how much of these elements are in your tissues and provide a vivid picture of your cellular and tissue mineral levels.  With this information, a world of metabolic events can be interpreted.  Not only can your nutritional status be viewed, but the test can also reveal how efficiently your body is working on many levels – including adrenal function, thyroid function, metabolic type, stress response, heavy metal toxicity, hormonal function, chemical sensitivity, and more.

The body’s tissues contain the cells in which energy is produced.  Energy production is dependent to a large extent on essential nutrient minerals such as magnesium, copper, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, zinc, manganese, and iron.  They are all part of a complex system of minerals that regulates the body’s stress response, immune system, and energy production.

What are the Advantages of Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis?

The balances between these essential nutrient minerals are more easily disrupted in the cells and tissues than they are in the blood.  Deficiencies and excesses of minerals are more readily observed in a hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (TMA) than in a blood analysis or urinalysis.

  • Hair specimens can be collected more quickly and easily than blood, urine, or any other tissue, using a non-invasive method.
  • Hair analysis is more cost-effective than mineral testing through other means.
  • Unlike blood, hair is less susceptible to the homeostatic mechanisms that quickly affect trace element levels.
  • Long-term deviations of mineral retention or losses are more easily detected in hair than blood.
  • Concentrations of most elements in the hair are significantly higher than found in the blood and other tissues.
  • Hair provides a record of past as well as present trace element levels, i.e. biological activity.
  • Hair provides information of substances entering the hair from the blood serum as well as from external sources.
  • Hair is invaluable in the assessment of toxic metal levels.

How Accurate is HTMA Compared to a Blood or Urine Test?

With a properly obtained sample, hair analysis is extremely accurate.  Blood tests give information about your mineral levels at the time of the test only.  If you’ve just eaten a banana, your test can indicate a high potassium level, even though you may actually need potassium supplementation.  On the other hand, hair analysis results indicate your overall level of potassium – your actual tissue and cellular storage levels over a period of time, not just what you ate that day or even that week. So a blood test will only accurately report what is being transported in our blood at the time of the test.

Testing for minerals in urine measures the minerals that are being excreted from your body – not necessarily what has been absorbed as fuel for your body.

So blood and urine tests are like snapshots whereas a hair analysis is the video of your mineral retention.

Understanding Dynamic Relationships Between Minerals

Vitamins and minerals interact with each other in a dynamic rather than static way.  Too much zinc, for example, can antagonize vitamin D.  Therefore, taking zinc indiscriminately may cause an imbalance in vitamin D.  Too little vitamin D, in turn, antagonizes calcium, creating poor conditions for calcium absorption.  So now you have a shortage of calcium.  Too much vitamin C can cause a copper deficiency and allow too much iron to build up in the body.  A domino effect occurs.  While you may be aware that vitamins and minerals are needed, too much of something can be just as bad as too little.

If you’re interested in learning more about dynamic nutritional relationships for self-study, the Trace Elements Lab website is a good starting point.

What can Cause a Mineral Imbalance?

There are many factors to take into consideration, such as:

Diet – Improper diet through high intake of refined and processed foods, alcohol and fad diets can all lead to a chemical imbalance. Even the nutrient content of a “healthy” diet can be inadequate, depending upon the soil in which the food was grown or the method in which it was prepared.

Stress – Physical or emotional stress can deplete the body of many nutrients while also reducing the capability to absorb and utilize many nutrients.

Medications – Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can deplete the body stores of nutrient minerals and/or increase the levels of toxic metals. These medications include diuretics, antacids, aspirin and oral contraceptives.

Pollution – From adolescence through adulthood the average person is continually exposed to a variety of toxic metal sources such as cigarette smoke (cadmium), hair dyes (lead), hydrogenated oils (nickel), anti-perspirants (aluminum), dental amalgams (mercury and cadmium), copper and aluminum cookware and lead-based cosmetics. These are just a few of the hundreds of sources which can contribute to nutrient imbalances and adverse metabolic effects.

Nutritional Supplements – Taking incorrect supplements or improper amounts of supplements can produce many vitamin and mineral excesses and/or deficiencies, contributing to an overall biochemical imbalance.

Inherited Patterns – A predisposition toward certain mineral imbalances, deficiencies and excesses can be inherited from parents.

Is HTMA Controversial?

Hair tissue mineral analysis is supported by an impressive body of literature in a variety of respected national and international scientific publications. Over the past twenty-five years hair mineral testing has been extensive. Each year in the United States alone, federally licensed clinical laboratories perform over 150,000 hair mineral assays for health care professionals interested in an additional screening aid for a comprehensive patient evaluation. This does not take into consideration the thousands of subjects used in numerous continuing research studies conducted by private and government research agencies.

A comprehensive list of scientific research articles using Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis can be found here.

Please read my teacher Dr. Rick Malter, PhD’s article “Quack Busting and ‘Junk Science’” which addresses some of the controversies associated with Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis.

Trace Elements Lab Methodology and Quality Control Standards

I use Trace Elements Incorporated (TEI) for all my hair tissue lab tests.

TEI is a licensed and certified clinical laboratory that undergoes regular inspections with the Clinical Laboratory Division of the Department of Health and Human Services, HCFA. TEI uses ICP-Mass Spectrometry, the most modern and expensive analytical technique to be applied to routine elemental analysis. TEI performs all testing in a trace element laboratory clean room environment, utilizes the latest microwave temperature-controlled digestion technique and has a highly skilled and professional analytical/support staff. Further, each patient result from TEI is based upon an hourly National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) traceable standard curve, a rigorous quality control validation for every 24 specimens and is compared to a representative reference range derived from the like analysis of an international collection of normal and “healthy” subjects. TEI also performs routine spiked sample recoveries, daily split specimen analysis and voluntarily participates in various interlaboratory test comparison (TC) surveys. Additionally, TEI like many laboratories, participates in an on-going Quality Assurance/Quality Control program and adheres to CLIA guidelines for precision, reliability and overall good laboratory practices. Needless to say, you can be assured that we stand behind our analytical data.s

How to Get Your Own HTMA Done

Marya is trained in HTMA and can assist with personalized mineral rebalancing as part of a one-on-one coaching session.