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Hair tissue mineral analysis or HTMA is a soft tissue mineral biopsy that uses hair as the sampling tissue.   Hair is considered a soft tissue, and hence hair analysis is a soft tissue biopsy.


The test measures the levels of 20 or more minerals in the hair with an accuracy of ± about 3%.  This is about the same level of accuracy as most blood tests, or a slightly better.


For accurate measurement of the water-soluble elements, the hair sample must not be washed at the hair testing laboratory.  In addition, hair is extremely useful for testing many things besides minerals.  These include drugs, toxic chemicals and DNA.  These, however, are not the focus of this article.


Hair is frequently used in forensic medicine, and in drug testing clinics.  It is also used worldwide for biological monitoring of many animal species for toxic metals.


When performed adequately, hair mineral testing is quite amazing.  It is not just “another test”.  It is a measure of the radiance of the body, and of the brain, in particular.  The mineral deposition in the hair tissue reflects the vitality of a human being or animal.


The hair mineral test’s ability to assess and forecast physical and psychological states of the body is quite unlike blood, urine, faeces and every other method of testing the body.  


Confusion often occurs when doctors or others compare hair testing to other medical tests.  The hair mineral test, provides a window into the whole body system.  It provides a tremendous amount of information about the system, but not so much about “diseases.


For example, the hair mineral test provides indicators of inflammation, but inflammation can manifest as any of 20 or 30 medical diagnoses.  Another example is the hair test can provide information about calcium deposition in the soft tissues.  However, calcium deposition can manifest as any of at least 10 or so medical conditions such as arteriosclerosis, arthritis, spondylitis, bursitis, gallstones and more.


Why measure minerals?    Minerals are sometimes called the ‘sparkplugs’ of the body.  They are needed for millions of enzymes as co-factors, facilitators, inhibitors and as part of the enzymes themselves.  As a result, minerals have a great deal to do with the health of our bodies.  By analysing mineral imbalances in the body, we can learn a lot about the causes and correction of hundreds of common physical and mental health conditions.


A specific class of minerals, the toxic metals, are also extremely important due to a nutritionally depleted food supply and the presence of environmental toxicity almost everywhere on our planet.  Studying toxic metals is therefore very important to monitor their spread and learn about their many damaging effects on human beings, animals, plants and other organisms.

Even more can be learned about human and animal health by studying the ratios of the major minerals in the body.  This is a more complex area, but a very important and fruitful one.  Finally, by studying more complex patterns of minerals in the body, one can learn even more about human health and disease.


Why use hair? Hair makes an excellent testing material for many reasons:


  1. The most important reason is that it works for nutritional balancing assessment.  

  2.  Simple and non-invasive.  

  3. A stable biopsy material.  Hair is a stable biopsy material that remains viable for years, if required.  It also requires no special handling, and can be posted easily.

  4. Easy to measure mineral levels.  Mineral levels in the hair are about ten times that of blood, making them easy to detect and measure accurately in the hair. 

  5. Rapidly growing tissue.   This enables us to obtain a recent biochemical picture of soft tissue metabolism.

  6. A non-essential, excretory tissue.  The body often throws off toxic substances in the hair, since the hair will be cut off and lost to the body.  This is very helpful to identify toxic metals,

  7. Wide variation in the readings.  Mineral levels are kept relatively constant in the blood, even when pathology is present.  This must be done because blood touches all the body tissues, and too much variation is hazardous.  This is the reason many people have normal blood tests results even when they are quite ill.

  8. Hair minerals do not circulate, and pose no threat to the body.  

  9.  Easier detection of toxic metals.  Toxic metals are easier to detect in the hair than in the blood.  The body quickly removes toxic metals from the blood, if it can.

  10. A longer-term reading.  Hair testing provides a long-term reading, while blood tests and urine tests provide a more instantaneous reading of the body.  Both types of readings have value.   At this time, (2015) blood tests do not work for nutritional balancing assessment.

  11. Cost-effective, accurate and reliable.  Advancements in computer-controlled mass spectroscopy and other technologies have rendered the hair mineral biopsy an extremely cost-effective, accurate and reliable test.  


The test only measures minerals.  They are locked into the hair as it grows.  We can assess:


1. Mineral levels. These are the actual numbers or readings of the minerals on the test.

2. Mineral ratios. This adds significant complexity and a great deal more information

3. Simple patterns.  These are combinations of the levels and/or ratios.  I use some 20-30 of these, and there are probably more.

4. Complex patterns.  These consist of combinations of levels, ratios and simple patterns

5. Changes over time and the rate of change.  By comparing two or more tests when a person has followed a nutritional balancing program,  it is possible to recognise changes over time of the levels, ratios, simple patterns and complex patterns.  One can also discern the rate of change of all these.


Which minerals are tested?  The hair test provides a measure of the chemical elements deposited in the cells and between the cells of the hair.  It provides a reading of the deposition of the mineral in the hair during the 3-4 months during which the hair grew.  It does not measure the total body load of any mineral.  At least 20 elements are measured, depending on the laboratory.  


Doctors and nutritionists use the hair mineral test in one of the following ways:


  1. Not at all.  Most mainstream doctors and many nutritionists never use hair mineral testing.  

  2. My experience is that many doctors make negative comments about hair mineral testing based upon what they have read.  However, their experience with it is limited or non-existent.

  3. Toxic metal testing only.  Among the doctors and nutritionists who use mineral testing, most only use it for the detection of high levels of toxic metals.  This is one of the least important uses for it, however, from the perspective of nutritional balancing science.  

  4.  Replacement therapy of nutrient minerals.  A small number of doctors use the hair mineral test to detect low levels of nutrient minerals.  Then, most of them suggest replacement therapy.  I’m not keen on this use for reasons which are beyond the scope of this article.


Analysing hair tissue for chemical elements is quite different from testing blood, urine or faeces, although all have great value in the right situation.  Hair mineral analysis can reveal the following:


  • Lifestyle imbalances.  The test can reveal that a problem in a person’s lifestyle - such as drug use, a very unhappy relationship, or a work problem – is impacting the person’s health.  This is extremely useful, in some cases.  In addition, the test often reveals the highly toxic effects of cigarette and marijuana use (cadmium).  It also reveals the toxic effects of body care products such as selenium-containing shampoo, aluminium-containing antiperspirants, and lead-containing hair dyes.  It can also sometimes reveal occupational or other exposure to toxins such as excess exposure to iron, copper, or manganese in those who work in these industries.

  • Dietary problems.  The test contains a number of indicators to help a practitioner detect that a person’s diet is inadequate or imbalanced.  These include indicators for low protein intake (low phosphorus in some cases), excessive carbohydrate intake, some drinking water problems, and problems with vegetarian and vegan diets.  In addition, the test can identify several foods that contain toxins such as Rooibos tea (nickel and lead toxicity) or eating fish (high in mercury).

  • The metabolic type.  This is an important fact of body chemistry.  It is most helpful to understand a great number of symptoms, and to guide the dietary and supplement recommendations.  It also helps to understand many emotional and mental.

  • The energy and vitality level.  Energy is a common denominator of health.  This means that if one’s energy is low, hundreds of symptoms can occur.  Restoring one’s biochemical or adaptive energy is a key to healing.  This is one of the most basic of healing principles.  A properly interpreted hair mineral analysis is an excellent way to evaluate a person’s adaptive energy level, as well as to figure out how to correct it.

  • Gland and organ activity.  Hair mineral testing can provide a number of indicators for the cellular effect of the thyroid and adrenal hormones, and at times the ovarian hormones as well.  It can also be used indirectly to assess the activity of the liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines and perhaps other organs as well.

  • Carbohydrate tolerance.  The test can quickly screen for hypoglycaemia and, at times, diabetes, although a glucose tolerance test (GTT) should be done if one suspects diabetes.  Hair testing can, however, usually guide a practitioner to correct Type 2 diabetes and some Type 1 diabetes without the need for most drugs.  Mineral imbalances and chronic infections are often involved with these conditions.

  • Toxic metal assessment. No method of testing can detect all the toxic metals in the body because most of them are hidden deep in the body organs and glands.  When interpreted properly, however, a hair mineral analysis is often helpful to assess the general level of toxic metals in the body.

  • Reducing guesswork in recommending diets, nutritional supplementation and detoxification methods.  This is very necessary because natural methods can easily be applied incorrectly or a haphazard manner that can make matters much worse.

  • Trends or tendencies for over 60 common health conditions.  This is an amazing benefit.  Research indicates that many health conditions are related to tissue mineral imbalances.  The test may reveal them months or years before they manifest in the body.  This makes possible a powerful preventive medical science.   For example, one can inexpensively and accurately screen for tendencies for diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatigue, cancer, yeast infections, and many other health conditions.

  • Monitoring Progress.  Hair mineral analysis is often helpful to monitor a person’s progress on a healing program of any kind.  Symptomatic changes alone are often not a good way to know if a person is progressing on a healing program.  However, the hair test will often detect subtle changes in body chemistry, another wonderful benefit of this test.

  • Stress patterns.  A properly performed hair mineral analysis is superb to assess the stage of stress, as well as 30 or more stress response patterns of the human body.  Understanding the stages of stress can enable the practitioner to reverse many types of pathology that do not respond well to either traditional medical care or complimentary care.

  • Autonomic nervous system assessment.  A properly performed hair mineral test can assess and guide the correction of the activity of the autonomic nervous system.  These can cause hundreds of symptoms from digestive disturbance and inability to eliminate toxic metals, to sleep disturbances, blood sugar problems and even cancers.  Few in the medical, holistic or naturopathic professions know how to address these issues.

  • Psychological/emotional assessment. One the most exciting uses of the hair mineral analysis is the assessment of causes for conditions such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, attention deficit, brain fog, autism, schizophrenia, dementia, violence, and bipolar disorder.  Hair mineral testing often shows why these conditions occur, and how to correct them at a deep level.

  • Trauma.  Hair mineral testing can also reveal sociological issues such as some traumas, abuse, and criminality.  

  • Other. More is possible with hair mineral testing.  One of the most interesting is identifying movement patterns.  These have to do with a person’s lifestyle and current activities, in relation to the person’s life path or progress through life.  This can be extremely helpful in counselling a person, and to understand illness, both physical and emotional. 


  Accurate results depend on cutting hair samples correctly.  Here are basic rules for sampling the hair:


  1. Cut the sample from anywhere on the head.  If head hair is not available, the next best hair is from the underarms.  On men, beard hair or chest hair will work, as well.

  2. If these are not available, some labs will test the minerals in fingernails, and this is fairly accurate.  Do not use pubic hair.  It is not as accurate, even though some laboratories allow it. 

  3. Cut the hair as close to the scalp as possible for the most recent  and therefore the most accurate readings.

  4. Then measure about two centimetres from where it was cut on the head.  Cut off the rest of the long hair and throw it away.  Using even shorter hair is excellent.  The only problem is with long hair.

  5. The best way is usually to cut several little samples and combine them until the paper scale tips or until you have filled a small spoon or have 125 mg of hair.  (This is not a lot of hair.)

  6. Hair that has been tinted, dyed, highlighted, bleached or permanent-treated may be used.  If it has been bleached or permed, please wash the hair several times after the hair treatments before cutting the sample to remove the chemicals and allow the hair to grow out a little.

  7. Thinning shears or even a razor may be used if the hair is short.  It must be an electric razor, as we do not want the hair mixed with shaving cream or soap.  If thinning shears are used on long hair, it may be hard to tell which end was cut.

  8. Use a clean paper (not plastic) envelope to collect the hair.  Plastic is okay, but the hair tends to stick to it and is harder to remove easily.

  9. The sample must be sent to a licensed clinical laboratory for analysis.   Do not use a lab that washes the hair.  These labs may be okay to measure toxic metals.  However, they are not good at all to get accurate readings of sodium and potassium, which is required for nutritional balancing science.


Some authors criticize hair mineral testing when it is used to recommend nutritional supplements or even foods for improving one’s health.  In particular, vitamins may seem difficult to recommend because the test only detects mineral levels.  Let me explain how this is done, however, with a simple example.  It is known that certain vitamins, such as vitamin C, can be used to help remove toxic metals.  Thus a practitioner may recommend supplementary vitamin C if a hair analysis reveals excessive toxic metals.  There are many other ways the test can be used to recommend herbs, vitamins and other nutritional products.


Do hair mineral values vary with a person’s age? Yes, do a degree.  Most children are fast oxidisers until around age 3 to 10.  Their hair analyses look different, with higher sodium and potassium values and lower calcium and magnesium values.  Someday, perhaps, a separate chart of ideal values will be published for children under age 10.  Otherwise, however, the ideal values do not vary with age.


Are hair test results different for men than for women?  Women tend to have somewhat slower oxidation rates than men.  This means their calcium and magnesium levels tend to be slightly higher than those of men, while their sodium and potassium levels tend to be somewhat lower than those of men.  Copper levels also tend to be somewhat higher in women.


Do hair tests vary with one’s hair colour or race?   No significant differences have been found, although those with red hair may have higher copper levels in the hair.


All information in this article is for educational purposes only.  It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.


*This article is a summary of an article by Dr Lawrence Wilson

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