Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis
Updated: May 15, 2022
Minerals are the basis of our "solid bits" (bones and teeth), but they are also crucial to maintaining blood pH, metabolism, hydration, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and enzyme functions. They even affect our mental state. We need some in larger quantities (macrominerals - calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium), and others in trace amounts. But just as important as getting them into the body (we cannot produce them, they must come from food or supplements) is making sure that they can be properly absorbed and used.
The Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) test is a very cool tool. Most of us are more familiar with blood tests - these are a powerful and useful assessment of what is happening in the blood at that moment. But we have to remember that much of what happens in the body happens within cells and tissue. HTMA gives us much more useful insight into this as it looks directly at what is deposited within the cells and in the spaces around the cells. When it comes to minerals specifically, blood tests can be less informative because the body often works to maintain specific blood levels by taking what it needs from other locations, even when there is a relevant imbalance within the tissue.
There are several benefits of the HTMA over other mineral measurements:
Hair is stable - it can easily be cut and shipped without worrying about degeneration
Hair cutting is non-invasive and can be done at home without needing a trained lab tech
1" of hair gives you a 3-4 month look at how your body is handling minerals (hair grows at least 1/4" per month on average), rather than a quick snapshot that can be affected by what you ate yesterday (like blood tests can be)
Hair accumulates all minerals, both essential and toxic - and the toxic metals are more easily measured through a hair test (although no test gives a full picture of our toxic metal load)
It allows us to look at the tissue levels of both individual minerals and at their ratios
While the HTMA is not a diagnostic test, it is great information on how our body is currently handling minerals and allows us to take action to correct imbalances. The ratios of minerals give insight into how effective thyroid and adrenal hormones are. We can even get an idea of vitamin deficiencies, knowing how nutrients interact.
An important piece of this, however, is interpreting the results. It's not as simple as "calcium is low, so supplement calcium" or "potassium is high, stop eating bananas." Our goal is to figure out WHY - for example, proper calcium usage depends on several cofactors that you may not be getting. This is why the HTMA test is best when used in conjunction with other information (health status and history, diet and lifestyle factors, even blood tests).
The initial test gives us a great starting point. At the beginning, we would focus on the macrominerals and their primary ratios. Using this information, we would come up with an initial diet and supplement plan that should start to bring these back into balance. For many people, just this first step can positively affect their energy and mood, among other things. For others, it might take a bit longer, depending on how mineral depleted you are and how many other factors need attention up front. Ideally, we would retest after you have been on your initial protocol for 3-4 months, and be able to tweak things based on the updated results.
If you have mysterious symptoms that have not been explained, or if you have made diet and lifestyle changes but want better results, it is possible that an HTMA could help shed some light.