Hair Analysis: – Unique Technique to Analyze Tissue Mineral Levels
By Ward Dean, MD
Hair analysis is a unique screening method which is still somewhat controversial and not yet widely accepted among many clinicians and clinical chemists. Although the effectiveness of hair analysis in diagnosis may be over-rated by some practitioners, it can provide valuable information, and in many cases has distinct advantages over other, more traditional and more commonly accepted diagnostic tests, such as blood and urine analysis. Few screening or diagnostic tests should be relied upon alone, and hair analysis is no exception. However, for tissue trace mineral assessment, hair analysis is the most convenient and cost-effective screening method, and reflects body mineral and trace element stores more accurately for many elements than blood or urine.
How Hair Reflects Tissue Mineral Balance
Hair grows slowly, and is a very stable protein. Consequently, it tends to accumulate minerals. The average level of these elements over a period of time may be accurately determined (Laker, 1982). Blood, on the other hand, shows only what is present at the moment it is drawn. Blood levels of many substances depend on the level of hydration, composition of recent meals, activity level, and even the time of day. Urine shows only what is excreted from the body by the kidneys. Other distinct advantages of hair analysis are that it is non-invasive and painless, the sample keeps without spoiling, and can be easily mailed to a lab.
Validation of Hair Analysis
Over 1,500 scientific articles in the world medical literature attest to the reliability and effectiveness of hair analysis as a means of evaluating tissue mineral levels. The value of hair analysis was even upheld in a Federal Court in Alexandria, Virginia (Civil Action No. 84-803-A). Acting on a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against a hair analysis laboratory charged with engaging in deceptive acts or practices, the Judge held that the defendants presented evidence that there is a substantial body of authoritative medical literature supporting the view that hair analysis is useful in determining the element whole body content. He also declared that multi-elemental spectral hair analysis is a useful guide in the hands of a health care professional. Used along with other relevant information in the treatment, the results of this procedure can help in prescribing nutritional supplements and in the caring for a specific patient where a chemical imbalance in the body is suspected. Hair analysis has been found to be particularly effective and accurate in determining levels of toxic substances such as aluminum (a powerful cross-linker which has been implicated in Alzheimers disease), lead, cadmium mercury and arsenic. It also provides clinical guidelines for calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, chromium, nickel and selenium. Other minerals, about which clinical correlation has not been so accurately established, but which may be clinically significant, are sodium, potassium and antimony (Passwater and Cranton, 1983).
Hair Analysis in Aging Research
Of particular interest are the theoretical benefits of using hair analysis as a tool in aging intervention. Dr. William H. Strain (1982), of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, reported that up to 60 elements may be readily determined in hair by atomic absorption spectroscopy, or by a more elaborate technique known as ICP arc spectroscopy. He stated that Hair analysis offers potential for the study and control of the aging process. Scientists have found correlation in levels of various minerals with age (Eltayeb, and Van Grieken, 1990; Gordon, 1985; Meng, 1998; Smith; Thimaya, 1982; and Zakrgynska-Fontaine, 1998) and with a number of diseases, including diabetes (Kieselstein, 1984), learning disorders (Rimland and Larson, 1983), and cardiovascular conditions (Smith, 1987; Huang, et al, 1991). Strain noted that data from several thousand analyses have indicated that many trace element deficiencies develop with aging, and that many of these deficiencies may be corrected by dietary modifications and supplementation. He believes that improved analytical capabilities offer dramatic potential to identify trace mineral deficiencies or toxicities, restore tissue mineral levels to optimum, and possibly eventually slow the aging process.
Hair Analysis not without Detractors
Despite its growing acceptance, a scathing attack on the reliability of hair analysis was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1985. The author, Stephen Barrett, MD, is a psychiatrist notorious for his frequent vicious attacks on alternative medicine. Barrett included in the study commercial laboratories that were already under fire from ethical hair analysis laboratories. Another of his criticisms was the variance in reference levels between laboratories. Barrett admitted that different analytical techniques were used, resulting in the variances, like comparing apples to oranges. Although this travesty of an article was accepted and widely cited by the medical establishment as a valid criticism of hair analysis, Barretts study was vigorously and soundly disputed and discredited by other physicians and scientists (Blaurock-Busch, et al, 1985; Hickok, 1985; Cranton, 1986).
Collection of the Sample
Hair used for analysis should be free from dirt, oil, hair preparations, and other contaminants. Hair should be obtained from the nape of the neck, where the most recent growth (Fig. 2), provides the most recent information. At least 0.5 gram of hair is required (one gram is best) or about a packed tablespoon. Less hair will reduce the accuracy of the test.
Properly collected, accurately measured and scientifically interpreted, hair analysis for metallic elements can be an important adjunct to preventing disease and optimizing health. Nevertheless, hair analysis should not be performed as an isolated screening or diagnostic test. The results should be correlated with other tests, and with clinical signs and symptoms, and should be interpreted by a health professional with experience in hair analysis.
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