Dr. David L. Watts, is a pioneer in the field of hTMA, and Director of Research for Trace Elements, Inc. laboratory. We are grateful for his contributions to the science of mineral balancing, to human (and animal) performance, health and wellness.
Update: 28 June 2017
Author: David L. Watts, Ph.D.
The scientific use of vitamins and minerals is far advanced over what it was just a few years ago. This is due to extensive research that has resulted in a better understanding of biochemistry, and how it is affected by nutrition. With this wealth of information available to us today, we can no longer take lightly the role of nutrition in health and disease. Nutritional recommendations should not be based simply upon external symptoms, the latest fad or a mere shotgun approach. In fact, the nutritional treatment of an individual or the correction of metabolic disturbances should be directed toward bringing the entire metabolic milieu into a proper balance.
Hair tissue mineral analysis (hTMA) is an analytical test that assays the mineral composition of the hair. As a screening test in the preventive health care field, hTMA is proving invaluable as clinical results continue to validate its increasing use.
Interpreted correctly, hTMA may provide indications of mineral imbalances, deficiencies, and excesses of many essential and toxic elements. Despite certain limitations discussed later, hTMA can greatly assist the clinician in assessing a patient's health and nutritional status. Used in conjunction with other familiar diagnostic tests, hTMA can provide a more wholistic and comprehensive picture upon which to base the most effective nutritional therapy.
Hair is formed in the dermis from a cluster of matrix cells that make up the follicle. During the growth phase, metabolic activity is greatly increased, exposing the hair to the internal metabolic environment. This includes the extracellular fluids, circulating blood, and lymph. As the hair reaches the surface of the skin, its outer layers harden, locking in the metabolic products accumulated during this period of hair formation.
Perhaps the most convincing argument that your hair reflects your overall health is the fact that healthy people have healthy hair. On the other hand, people who are ill often have dull, lifeless, brittle hair. If your body is healthy, all of your body is healthy. If your body is ill, all of your body is ill. Everything reflects everything else. Dr. Paul Eck
Hair is the second most metabolically active tissue and by the very nature of its formation as a biological sample, may provide a permanent record of metabolic activity occurring within the body during its period of growth. The first inch and one-half of hair closest to the scalp can give a good indication of the nutritional and toxic metal exposure over the previous six to eight weeks. A mineral deficiency or excess revealed in the hair test can indicate a possible deficiency, excess, or bio-unavailability of that mineral within the body.
Hair tissue mineral analysis is a good indicator of the metabolic processes occurring within the cells (intracellular).
Hair is used as the tissue of choice by the Environmental Protection Agency in determining toxic metal exposure. A 1980 report from the E.P.A. stated that human hair can be effectively used for biological monitoring of the highest priority toxic metals. This report confirmed the findings of other studies that concluded that human hair may be a more appropriate tissue than blood or urine for studying community exposure to some trace metals.
Investigators in Japan, Germany, Sweden, Canada, and the United States have shown that concentrations of elements in the hair provide an accurate and permanent record of exposure. A close correlation was noted between trace element levels in the hair and internal organs.
The blood and serum do contain minerals, but they may not be completely representative of the body's mineral storage. In many cases, the serum level of minerals is maintained at the expense of tissue concentration (homeostatic mechanisms). Serum concentrations may fluctuate with emotional changes, the time of day the blood is drawn, or foods eaten prior to taking a sample. For example, serum magnesium can fluctuate depending upon the blood drawing technique. The longer the tourniquet is applied, the higher the magnesium rises as a result of tissue hypoxia. Also symptoms of iron deficiency can be present long before low serum levels can be detected, as iron deficiency symptoms before anemia is very common.
Blood analysis for minerals is a good indicator of the transport of minerals to and from the storage areas of the body (extracellular).
Excess accumulation of minerals in the body are often undetected in the serum due to their removal from the blood for deposition into the tissues. When this occurs, the mineral may fail to be excreted through the urine or intestinal tract. Thirty to forty days following an acute exposure to the toxic metal lead, for instance, elevated serum levels may be undetectable as a result of the body's removing the lead from the serum as a protective measure and depositing the metal into such tissues as the liver, bones, teeth, and hair.
Minerals may fluctuate between the serum and tissues in acute or chronic conditions. This is seen with copper and iron during infections, inflammatory disorders, and certain malignancies. Also, calcium loss from the body can become so advanced that severe osteoporosis develops without any appreciable changes noted in the blood levels of calcium.
Dr. Emanual Cheraskin states in his book, Diet and Disease, "Minerals have interrelationships with every other nutrient. Without optimum mineral levels within the body, the other nutrients are not effectively utilized."
Minerals are also necessary in the production of hormones. For example, manganese and copper are necessary for catecholamine synthesis; zinc is involved in the production, storage, and secretion of insulin and is also necessary for growth hormones.
Trace elements (minerals) are more important than are the vitamins, in that they cannot be synthesized by living matter. Thus they are the spark-plugs in the chemistry of life, on which the exchanges of energy in the combustion of foods and the building of living tissues depend. Dr. Henry Schroeder
Another important function of the essential minerals is their necessity for enzyme activity and their content in RNA. Minerals are involved with enzymes in two ways:
Many factors can contribute to mineral imbalances. As Dr. Ashmead stated in his book, Chelated Mineral Nutrition in Plants, Animals, and Man, "There are at least eighteen barriers to mineral absorption, which means that the minerals we consume do not necessarily wind up in our bodies."
Continuing research is showing that many health conditions can be contributed to, or be aggravated by, various mineral imbalances and toxic metal excesses.
Through proper interpretation, there exists a unique ability to recognize abnormal processes from trace mineral patterns found in the hair and other tissues. With specific dietary modifications, restoration of a more normal biochemical balance can be achieved, thereby eliminating many nutritionally related endocrine, neurological and even emotional disturbances. David L. Watts, Ph.D.
Hair tissue mineral analysis is a screening tool that can be applied in any phase of therapy and any area of the health care field. If a patient is suffering from an illness or syndrome and the cause cannot be identified through ordinary testing procedures, or if therapy is not completely effective, hair analysis can be very helpful. An hTMA reveals a unique metabolic world - cellular metabolic activity - which is unattainable through most other tests. The hTMA can help pinpoint metabolic disturbances as well as indicate the appropriate corrective clinical approach. At the very least, a hair mineral analysis should be performed once a year to evaluate toxic metal exposure and accumulation.
The hTMA laboratory report helps the clinician in determining mineral imbalances that are present as well as assisting in identifying the factors contributing to the patient's condition. This, in conjunction with highly specific dietary and supplement recommendations, can provide a highly effective therapeutic program to decrease toxic metal burdens and restore a more normal biochemical balance in the patient.
After starting the rebalancing program, the patient may experience symptomatic changes very quickly, usually within 10 to 20 days. If an excess body burden of toxic metals exists, the patient may develop temporary discomfort during this period of elimination. Such discomfort can usually be alleviated by temporarily reducing the supplement program. This is suggested, particularly if the patient becomes too uncomfortable during a toxic metal elimination.
To better understand and managing unpleasant symptomatic changes, see: Symptoms of Healing. There is no need to suffer with unpleasant symptoms, a qualified practitioner can help you adjust your protocol to reduce symprtoms and maximize benefit.
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