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Hair Mineral Analysis

Copyright American Society of Safety Engineers Apr 1993 

How toxic are you? 

S. Ed Zakrzewski. EdD 

Professional Safety. Park Ridge:  Apr 1993. Vol. 38, Iss. 4;  pg. 26, 5 pgs

Abstract:  A common practice for testing employees for toxic heavy metals exposure is blood and urine analysis. However, heavy metals tend to bind and store in complex concentrations in areas other than blood and urine. There is a need to move beyond blood and urine testing. A well-documented procedure validates hair mineral analysis as a more reliable measure of metals level. Yet, this test is rarely performed. Many individuals suffering from persistent bodily malfunction may have higher than normal metals levels and may truly benefit from a mineral hair analysis. At a minimum, hair analysis can provide an accurate chart of total body mineral chemistry. Hair analysis has been approved and sanctioned by the EPA as a method for detecting toxic metals. 

Hazardous materials education is a great responsibility in the workplace. OSHA's Hazardous Communication Standard stipulates that workers have "the right to know" and the right to protection from exposure to hazardous materials. Industrial hygienists are responsible for monitoring the workplace. 

When approaching the workplace with the question, "How can employees be tested for heavy metals?", the common response is blood serum analysis for a specific heavy metal that the worker may be exposed to. 

Yet, a greater, hidden potential of heavy metals exposure, which may not be monitored or tested, also exists. For example, the auto industry, steel/alloy and metals manufacturing facilities, electronics, electroplating, machine shops, incinerators, ash landfills, laboratories, welders, hazmat handlers and material handling industries present various potential heavy metals exposures. 

Identifying where exposures exist in the workplace or environment is not an easy process. An extreme case in point: "Lichens have extraordinary power to assimilate Strontium 90 from fallout. Lichens constitute the main source of food of reindeer" (Dubos 223). The metals exposure to humans through the food chain alone justifies concern. While this article cannot explain where metals exposure is found in the workplace, it will describe an inexpensive testing procedure. 

TESTING: RESEARCH FINDINGS 

Global awareness of toxic metals pollutants released into the environment is increasing. Most sources of these releases have been substantially identified: burning of fossil fuels, industrial processes and an increasing array of chemical discharges. Eventually, toxic trace elements, particularly heavy metals, require attention. 

A common practice for heavy metals testing is blood and urine analysis. However, heavy metals tend to bind and store in complex concentrations in areas other than blood and urine. According to some sources, blood aluminum levels "fail to accurately reflect total body burden of aluminum. This is because brain, lung and often bone measurements reveal much higher levels of aluminum than are found in the blood" (Eck and Wilson 2). 

Lead exhibits the same fundamental uncertainty: "We must also recognize that blood lead really reflects recent exposure to lead. Another method of assessing lead status is by giving a chelating agent such as EDTA and then collecting a 24-hour urine for lead. However this test will only detect lead that is in the blood" (Eck and Wilson 39). 
Prasad found absolute mercury levels in the hair were approximately 300 times higher than in the blood (Eck and Wilson 55). 

BEYOND BLOOD AND URINE 

Kazantis noted that the kidney retains more mercury than any other organ in the body "However, in postmortem samples from Yugoslavian mine workers, the highest concentration of mercury was found in the thyroid and pituitary glands, suggesting that retention may be higher in these organs than in the kidneys" (Eck and Wilson 55). 
Differences in blood metals levels in other parts of the body have been extensively researched. Of particular interest is whether specific analysis would closely indicate total body trace element levels; or, at the very least, whether sampling from a specific part of the body would reveal the widest spectrum of trace elements (or mineral levels). 

Tinker and Gordus each addressed this question by sampling and analyzing trace-mineral element content of human blood and human hair (Jenkins 12). Results of their sampling provided average trace-mineral element content in the human body. When comparing mineral levels of blood and hair, a significant difference is evident (Table 1). (Table 1 omitted) 

These average differences in hair and blood trace-mineral levels in humans pose a dilemma. Which is more indicative of actual total trace-mineral element level in the body: the blood or the hair? More importantly, which would be more indicative of the body's overall metals toxicity? 

A well-documented procedure--from the realm of testing for copper levels --validates hair mineral analysis as a more reliable measure of metals level. "When copper toxicity is suspected... the levels of body copper load can be estimated by measuring the amount of copper removed from the body through the urine in a 24-hour period, utilizing the oral chelation agent D Penicillamine (D-pen). The 24-hour urine should correlate... clearly validating 'hair mineral analysis' as an accurate monitor of the total body copper load" (Nolan 273; Walshe 3+). 

When considering organ areas for testing, certain trace minerals or toxic metals are known to store and accumulate more readily in specific locations within the body. Table 2 lists some of the known locations of mineral and metals storage. (Table 2 omitted) Jenkins, while conducting extensive research for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), compiled global literature on levels of actual toxic heavy metals found in human beings. Two objectives of this project are relevant in this context: 1) to reveal the extent and effects of toxicity in humans; and 2) the evaluation of testing, analytical method and reliability/validity of data obtained. Jenkins has documented and verified that "human hair (and nails) have been found to be meaningful and representative tissues for biological monitoring for most toxic metals." 

Jenkin's procedure for collecting and analyzing hair was replicated in accordance with approved standardized methods of the International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organization. This study supported earlier work by Schroeder and Nason, which found 14 selected heavy metals that cause specific diseases or deficiency states in humans Jenkins 18). 

Table 3 helps establish some known health effects of metals in the human body. (Table 3 omitted) Table 4 displays a historical comparison of trace elements in humans. (Table 4 omitted) Results show a general decrease in trace elements in parts per million (PPM). Although globally the decrease in trace elements is consistent, the levels in the world population are still medically significant and noteworthy. 

MINERAL LEVELS AND RATIO PAIRS 

The intricacies of mineral level effects is a complex process. Minerals in the body co-exist, raise and lower other mineral levels, and affect each other in pairs or groups of pairs. The ratios of specific pairs of mineral elements significantly affect the body. These ratios are derived by dividing the actual mineral level of one by another. The resulting number is a ratio of the two minerals. 

To more easily understand the importance of mineral ratios in the body, let us examine a typical human mineral problem. For example, a high calcium/magnesium ratio means the calcium level is divided by the magnesium level to obtain the ratio. (The ratio may be higher or lower than the normal ratio for a human mineral level; in this case, consider it higher than normal.) A high calcium/magnesium ratio is indicative of an intolerance to sugar and simple carbohydrate ingestion (high blood sugar). 

If a low potassium level, which is indicative of a low blood sugar level problem (hypoglycemia), is also present, the individual is suffering from steep fluctuations in sugar levels. This cycle becomes readily apparent, since the individual typically craves sugars and carbohydrates, suffers fatigue and cannot metabolize these sugars and carbohydrates into energy, which subsequently converts to storage as fat in tissue. (This, by the way, is not a unique individual.) 

To continue this scenario, a person with these levels/ratios may also have a high calcium/potassium ratio, which is associated with sluggish thyroid activity. This indicates a lower than normal rate of metabolism; therefore, a weight gain problem is a common occurrence for this person. 

As calcium levels increase, potassium levels deplete proportionately. Adequate levels of potassium are required for normal thyroid activity. Elevated calcium levels literally cause chemical depression of the central nervous system. "Individuals with multiple allergies--including foods--often have a malabsorption syndrome. In these people, there is often a deficiency of trace minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese" (Nolan 270). 

According to Eck, "The basic principle is that whenever a deficiency of vital elements occurs, vital metals are always replaced with toxic metals in enzyme binding sites and enzyme systems. For example, lead replaces calcium, cadmium and copper replace zinc, and aluminum can replace magnesium and manganese in the brain" (Eck xiv). This means many mineral imbalances in the human body may indicate a heavy (toxic) metal presence. 

APPLICATIONS FOR HAIR ANALYSIS 

Not only is hair analysis an inexpensive screening test for heavy metals, it correlates with and benefits other sciences. For example, "In forensic medicine science, hair and nails are used extensively to attempt to demonstrate, prove and date poisoning and exposure to various toxic metals, especially arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel.... The concentration along the length of hair can be used to reveal the history of the poisoning" (Jenkins 24). 

Is this body of knowledge being used? "One prime reason for ignorance of toxic metals as a primary factor in the causation of disease is that the hair mineral test is not routinely performed by physicians" (Eck xiv). Nolan adds, "Indeed, only physicians with an interest in nutrition would be likely to show an interest in the method. Hair analysis is not usually eligible for medical insurance refunding and is, therefore, less likely to be utilized" (Nolan 278). 

Many individuals suffering from persistent bodily malfunction symptoms may have higher than normal metals levels and may truly benefit from a mineral hair analysis. At a minimum, hair analysis can provide an accurate chart of total body mineral chemistry. The analysis may also be helpful for the treating physician. By treating the chemical imbalance with accurate amounts of minerals, natural body functions may begin to operate. 

By examining chemical imbalances and treating them with necessary minerals, toxic metals locked deep in tissues and bone will eventually move. This chelating process takes time--time for the body chemistry to balance and function at normal levels, and time for mineral reserves to sufficiently accumulate, allowing bodily functions to draw out the toxic metals. 

Each individual will have specific mineral ratio needs at specific intervals in healing. While taking supplements is better than nothing, it seems a tremendous waste of money. Instead, imagine investing in specialized mineral programs that systematically bring body mineral ratios back into balance, eliminating many psychological and organ maladies. In addition, these programs may eventually chelate (remove) and discover a prominent cause--toxic metals--with a dividend of improving the body's own immune system. 

Certainly, sound, medically prescribed programs should not be discontinued nor ignored by patients under physicians' care. Yet, hair analysis has been approved and sanctioned by EPA as a method for detecting toxic metals. Therefore, how toxic are you? 

References 

Al-Shahristani, H. and I.K. Al-Haddad. "Mercury Content of Hair from Normal and Poisoned Persons." In Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Forensic Activation Analysis. Glasgow, Scotland, 1972. Reference to pp. 2-15. 

Bate, L.C. "Adsorption and Elution of Trace Elements on Human Hair." International Journal of Applied Rad. and Isotopes. 17(1966): 417-423. 

Chisolm, J.J. and D.M. O'Hara. Lead Absorption in Children. Baltimore-Munich: Urban and Schwarzenberg, 1982. 

Dubos, Rene. Man Adapting. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967. 

Eck, P.C. and L. Wilson. Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease. Phoenix, AZ: Eck Institute of Applied Nutrition and Bioenergetics Ltd., 1989. 

Gordus, A.A., C.C. Maher and G.C. Bird. "Human Hair as Indicator of Trace Metal Environmental Exposure." In Proceedings of the First Annual NSF Trace Contaminants Conference. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Aug. 1973. 

Jenkins, D. "Toxic Trace Metals in Mammalian Hair and Nails." NTIS Pub #PB80-103997 National Institute of Scientific Research, U.S. Dept. of Commerce. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979. 

Nolan, K.R. "Copper Toxicity Syndrome." Journal of Orthamolecular Psychiatry. Vol. 12, No. 4: 270. 

Pfeiffer, C.C. "Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Niacin and Pyridoxine in Schizophrenias." Journal of Applied Nutrition. 27(1975): 9-39. 

Prasad, A., ed. Trace Elements in Human Health and Disease. New York: Academic Press, 1976, Vol. 2. 

Schroeder, H.A. and A.P. Nelson. "Trace-element Analysis in Clinical Chemistry." Clinical Chemistry. 17(1972): 461. 

Summary Report. Research Coordination Meeting for International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organization Joint Research Programme of Trace Elements in Cardiovascular Diseases. Sept. 1975. 

Tinker, J. Item in New Scientific and Science Journal. Sept. 30, 1971. 
Walshe, T.M. "Discovery of D-Penicillamine Therapy." Journal of Rheumarology. 7(1981): 3-10.