The Art and Science of Functional Mineral Balancing Using HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis)
By Adrian Baume, L.Ac, MSTCM
What exactly is hair mineral analysis, and what can it do for me?
Hair tissue mineral analysis (or HTMA for short) is pretty much what it sounds like—you clip a small hair sample from your scalp and then send it to a specialized laboratory, from which a lab report is made showing levels of 33 nutritional and toxic elements found in your hair. This report gives us a window into understanding how minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium relate to your health and symptoms. By studying one’s HTMA patterns, I’m able to then develop a specific nutrition and supplement approach to correct imbalances or toxicities and to reduce the risk for disease.
Minerals are the most fundamental building blocks of our bodies, and when the levels of key minerals are out of range relative to each other, all sorts of symptoms and health problems arise. Because of this, balancing one’s mineral ratios and levels is perhaps the most direct way to treat the actual underlying cause of a patient’s symptoms. When a treatment or therapy provides only short-term relief of symptoms, this indicates to me that the issue isn’t being treated at the root level. Adding the skill set of mineral analysis to my acupuncture practice has provided a powerful method to see all the way down to a patient’s underlying causes of illness.
Why hair analysis rather than blood testing?
While blood tests are very helpful and absolutely necessary in certain situations, they’re not actually very useful for determining what we should include or exclude in our daily nutrition. Unlike in the hair, the body must keep blood mineral levels within very tight ranges in order to keep us alive. However, the body has no responsibility to maintain hair mineral levels within any specific range. Hair, then, gives a more reliable gauge of true mineral status. Hair analysis detects mineral deficiencies as well as toxic loads before blood tests do. Hair analysis also detects trends toward health problems in many cases before they are diagnosed, and it provides a guide to dietary supplements to stop or reverse a trend.
What can cause a mineral imbalance?
The main culprits include diet (high intake of refined foods, alcohol, fad diets, depleted soil), stress levels (physical or emotional stress both deplete and reduce absorption of many nutrients), medications (including oral contraceptives), pollution (including cigarette smoke, hair dyes, and antiperspirants), nutritional supplements (incorrect type or amounts for one’s particular body), and inherited patterns.
Besides fatigue, slow metabolism, and chronically tight muscles, a syndrome I frequently see in patients is copper excess or copper disregulation. The intimate link between estrogen levels and copper means that an increase in one substance yields a rise in the other. The copper IUD, birth control pills, copper water pipes, and hormone therapy often result in excessive levels of the form of copper we call “unbound” copper (not bound to ceruloplasmin, and thus essentially unusable by our bodies) being stored in tissues such as the brain and liver.
While copper is essential for health in moderate amounts, this excess results in mental and physical symptoms, including PMS, exhaustion, allergies, brain fog, mood swings, migraines, cold hands or feet, depression, dry skin, arthritis, constipation, racing heart, problems with concentration and memory, short attention span, eating disorders, panic attacks, yeast infections, and insomnia due to one’s mind racing. Excess estrogen and copper require more zinc and vitamin C in most cases. Excess copper will lower cellular potassium and raise calcium in cells, resulting in a slower thyroid function, even if one’s actual thyroid hormone levels are at an acceptable range.
The information gleaned from an HTMA chart by a skilled practitioner provides key information about how an individual is producing his or her energy (or in the case of those suffering from chronic or adrenal fatigue, the cause of one’s lack of energy). The two major energy-producing systems in the body are the thyroid and the adrenals. If one of these sources is exhausted and not producing enough energy, then the other will be strained with an excessive workload, leading to further problems down the line. For example, we can determine from the mineral levels that the thyroid is in a hypothyroid state (or reduced function compared to normal) when the calcium level is more than 4.2 times higher than one’s potassium level.
The depth of information contained in the ratios and interrelationships among the various minerals that compose our bodies is both fascinating and humbling to me. Diagrams called “mineral wheels” (see graphic to right) provide a graphical representation of the synergistic and antagonistic relationships discovered between minerals (and vitamins).
Viewing the wheel for magnesium, for example, reveals that calcium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, manganese, cadmium, and lead are all antagonistic to magnesium. Also, vitamin D can cause a deficiency of magnesium. So a patient deficient in magnesium would typically do best to supplement magnesium and reduce intake of things such as calcium and vitamin D (depending on the particular details of that patient’s HTMA lab data).
To continue briefly with this example, the balance between calcium and magnesium controls the release of many of the body’s hormones. The pancreas requires calcium to be able to release insulin. Individuals who produce higher than normal amounts of insulin (which causes low blood sugar, AKA hypoglycemia) typically show increased levels of tissue calcium relative to magnesium. A high calcium-to-magnesium ratio also increases one’s risk for muscle spasms—this is because calcium tends to contract muscle while magnesium has a relaxing effect.
Magnesium (Mg) Deficiency
We’re finding that Mg deficiency is reaching epidemic levels worldwide. Typical symptoms of Mg deficiency include tight spastic muscles (often becoming tense again even following a relaxing massage or acupuncture treatment!), unstable blood sugar, cardiac rhythm problems, high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and addictions.
In summary, the proper application of hair mineral analysis is a profoundly useful tool for preventing and treating disease and discovering the proper nutrition/supplementation protocol for each individual’s unique biochemistry. It is precisely because the body has no responsibility to maintain levels of anything in the hair that it becomes such a great view into what is actually going on in the tissues and cells. Finally, this approach is low cost and encourages the patient to take personal responsibility for improving his or health.
As changes in mineral levels take effect, future tests will reveal needed alterations to one’s nutritional program. Severe deficiencies or excesses in levels of particular elements can take time and diligence to fully correct; a typical approach is to retest every few months to monitor progress and fine tune for changes. Combining acupuncture treatments concurrently has proven in my experience to be extremely helpful for speeding up the process of rebalancing a patient’s mineral status. A final component for a winning approach is reducing stress so that one can properly retain minerals such as magnesium, which are easily depleted when stress isn’t kept in its place.
Have a question about any of this? Give me a call and I’ll be happy to chat with you about minerals!
The author practices functional mineral balancing and acupuncture at his office in Chico and can be reached at 3006 Esplanade, Ste. E, Chico, CA 95973, 530-965-2875, firstname.lastname@example.org.