In the first part of this series, I went over the basic physiology of the stress response and how it is regulated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. You can read part 1 here for context.

The primary focus in my coaching practice is on mineral balancing. So inquiring about the relationship between a person’s mineral status and their stress response is core to this approach.

Do certain mineral imbalances affect how well we deal with stress? How does stress in turn affect our body’s ability to properly utilize minerals? These are questions that are at the heart of discovering the root cause of migraine and healing a hypervigilant stress response.

The primary way that I look to understand a person’s stress response in HTMA methodology is to look at the:

  • Calcium/Phosphorous (Ca/P) Oxidation Type ratio
  • Sodium/Potassium (Na/K) Stress ratio
  • Zinc/Copper (Zn/Cu) Emotional/hormonal ratio


Calcium, Phosphorous, and Stress

The Ca/P (Calcium/Phosphorus) ratio represents a snapshot of the dynamic relationship between two minerals involved in regulating the autonomic response.

Those with a high phosphorous to calcium ratio are considered fast oxidizers, and their nervous system response is more characterized by anterior pituitary dominance or sympathetic dominance (alarm), reflected by a faster metabolism and adrenal and thyroid activity.

Conversely, those who have a high calcium to phosphorus ratio generally have a slower metabolism characterized by parasympathetic (rest and digest) dominance. Their stress response may be one of exhaustion more than alarm. These slow oxidizers have a slower adrenal and thyroid activity.

In an exhaustion stage of stress, the body becomes parasympathetic because the sympathetic system is depleted. Digestion, absorption and utilization of protein are impaired due to zinc deficiency, copper toxicity, improper gut flora and other problems. This produces a low hair phosphorus, especially in relation to calcium. This is more serious than a high hair phosphorus. (Source)

However, when people deal with the stress of migraine for years, their metabolism is usually not functioning optimally – meaning that despite their natural metabolic tendency, their major endocrine glands (thyroid and adrenals) may go out of synch with one another.

Most people that I see in my practice have an out-of-synch metabolism.  The fast oxidizers with a higher phosphorous to calcium ratio (and I am one of them) have moved into the exhaustion stage of stress. Their natural fast metabolism is slowing down under the strain of chronic illness.

Because minerals are in dynamic relationship, any mineral excess or deficiency can affect the calcium or phosphorus ratio.

For example: if a woman with a fast metabolism who is already deficient in copper is told by her doctor to take zinc, it will lower both her copper and her already low calcium levels, exacerbating her fast metabolism. 

Conversely, if a woman who is a slow oxidizer with high calcium levels and a history of hormonal birth control is told by her doctor to take vitamin D, it will further raise her calcium levels leading her to be more sluggish and tired, slowing her metabolism even further, and leading to cell impermeability and other problems.  If she is then put on estrogen replacement therapy following menopause, it may add to a buildup of copper in her tissues and deplete the zinc that she needs to detox heavy metals, produce serotonin for good mood, and regulate testosterone for sexual function.

If you would like more information on metabolic typing in HTMA, read my blog post “Understanding Your Metabolic Type.”


Sodium, Potassium, and Stress

It is commonly believed that most people’s stress response to modern life is a form of overactivated fight or flight stress response (FFSR). But David L. Watts, Ph.D., Director of Research at Trace Elements Inc., believes that the differing stress response of individuals may be based upon their particular metabolic characteristics rather than the stressors themselves.

In Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, the Na/K (Sodium/Potassium) ratio and the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) are used to determine the stage of stress a person is in.  The GAS system was developed by Dr. Hans Selye and adapted by Eck and Watts to apply to Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis.

Selye [identified] three distinct stages of general adaptation syndrome — the initial alarm reaction stage which occurs shortly after the stressful event, followed by a resistance stage, during which body’s Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) resists the impact of the stressful stimulus, and finally, if the stress continues, the exhaustion stage, when the body fails to cope with the distressing stimulus. (Source)

The primary neurotransmitter considered here is aldosterone, which is secreted by the adrenal glands under stress, and which in turn allows the body to retain and mobilize sodium and raise blood pressure in order to adapt to the stress trigger.

While a person’s stress response can be determined by the sodium/potassium ratio, it is almost universally true that whether they are a fast or a slow metabolic type, migraineurs will have low sodium in relation to potassium, expressing the exhaustion stage of stress. (I have only had one coaching client who had high sodium levels, and her headaches were more characteristic of medication overuse headache and tension headaches than migraine.)

Perhaps one reason I have seen such a consistent pattern of low sodium for most of my clients is because people usually come to me after literally decades of suffering from migraines, when they have long ago entered the exhaustion stage of stress.  

It is the slowed and compromised adrenal function from the prolonged stress of migraine that leads to low sodium in relationship to potassium on the GAS scale. Low blood pressure goes hand in hand with this low sodium and deep-seated exhaustion.

Migraineurs usually need potassium as well.  It IS possible (and common) to have low absolute levels of both sodium and potassium, with a relative imbalance between the two.  In this case, sodium should always be taken with potassium so as not to further deplete sodium.


Copper, Zinc, and Stress

For those with migraine it’s also important to look at the emotional/hormonal ratio – the Zn/Cu (Zinc/Copper) ratio. Understanding this ratio is one of the key leverage points in healing migraine and getting insight into a person’s stress response.

This is called the emotional/hormonal ratio because zinc is needed for serotonin and good mood.  Copper in excess is associated with agitation and aggression (due to the way copper converts dopamine to noradrenaline). Too much noradrenaline will lead a person to feel alternately jittery and anxious followed by depleted and tired.

Both copper and zinc play a direct role in the synthesis of the oestrogens and testosterone, while zinc is also needed for progesterone. And because adrenaline, a stress hormone, is made from progesterone, stress depletes progesterone.

So the Zinc/Copper ratio is very insightful when considering a person’s stress response.  The two patterns I see most often in migraineurs are copper “toxicity” (ie, biounavailable copper) and zinc deficiency in slow oxidizers, usually accompanied by heavy metal toxicity; and copper and zinc deficiency in fast oxidizers. 

Since both fast and slow oxidizers tend to be deficient in zinc, some use of zinc is usually indicated.  However, since zinc lowers copper this must be done very cautiously with fast oxidizers; and because zinc will often cause a copper dump in a copper toxic person, zinc supplementation must be done cautiously and with great attention to symptoms. 


So yes, mineral dynamics play a crucial role in regulating your stress response!

Stress is a normal part of life.  However, migraineurs in general have a hypervigilant stress response, may experience depletion of key minerals because of the long-term effects that the stress of chronic pain adds to their lives, and many migraineurs also have a pattern of excess minerals such as copper from a history of birth control, hormone replacement therapy, or other medications.  Heavy metal toxicity also plays a picture in how minerals are metabolized by the body (generally heavy metals lead to huge inefficiencies in enzymatic function of hormones and neurotransmitters).

A Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis is an excellent tool for gaining insight into a person’s unique metabolic type, their mineral deficiencies and excesses, the dynamic relationships the minerals have with one another, and the role that heavy metals may be playing in their migraine pattern.