By Ann Melin, Health Coach at Hormone Detox Shop
Do you feel like you’re doing all the right things for your health and still can’t get the results you want?
Have you adjusted your diet in a variety of ways, tried to balance your hormones, and worked extensively on chronic gut infections like Candida or SIBO without getting the relief you hoped for?
If so, it might be time to run a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) test!
In this article, I’m going to talk about the importance of balancing essential minerals for the body, the impact of heavy metals, and the questions around accuracy of HTMA testing.
What Does This Test Evaluate?
Many people think of HTMA testing as a heavy metal toxicity test. While it is true that this test assesses for heavy metals, much of its power resides in its evaluation of nutrient mineral levels.
Why do we care about mineral levels when we’re looking for toxins? Good question! Minerals are like the “spark plugs” of the body and they are involved in almost every biochemical reaction. This includes those that govern metabolism, immune system function, hormone regulation (including adrenal and thyroid hormones), glucose regulation, and digestion.
When nutrient minerals are out of balance, all of the systems mentioned above can become dysregulated. Quite often, people are unable to make desired gains in these areas of their health as long as mineral levels are out of whack.
For example, people with hypothyroidism often have low selenium levels. People with immune system problems often have low zinc. People with adrenal problems often have either high or low levels of sodium. And on and on.
What Throws Minerals out of Balance?
Another good question! Poor nutrition and/or poor absorption of nutrients can lead to mineral imbalances. Stress, poor sleep, chronic infections, and, yes, heavy metal toxicity can also promote mineral imbalances.
It’s important to know that certain minerals are synergistic or antagonistic with other minerals. For example, copper and zinc are antagonists. When copper gets too high, zinc often gets too low in relationship to copper.
Having the right balance of specific nutrient ratios is critical! Proper hair mineral analysis interpretation goes beyond just looking at each individual value as an entity unto itself. Interpretation MUST involve the evaluation of multiple patterns and relationships amongst the detected values across the test results.
Additionally, heavy metals displace minerals. For example, cadmium displaces zinc so it is not uncommon to see elevations in cadmium when there are deficiencies in zinc. People with chronic infections have a higher demand for zinc which can give cadmium an opportunity to take hold. I have actually seen many examples of people with H. Pylori infections having lowered levels of zinc and elevated levels of cadmium.
Is the HTMA Test Accurate?
The longer answer is that the test is ONLY as accurate as the practitioner’s ability to interpret the results. Accurately interpreting an HTMA test requires very specific knowledge, training, and understanding of the lab results, the various patterns, and the relationships between the minerals and their impacts of metabolic function.
Hair testing is actually to be considered to be a soft tissue biopsy. Hair is a rich source of minerals that provides a representation of soft tissue mineral levels over the past several weeks offering a longer-term reading of a person’s average levels within a window of time.
Rather than detecting a value relevant in a particular minute or day, hair testing gives us a broader glimpse into a person’s ongoing nutritional and metal status.
When it can, the body will remove toxic metals from the blood and dump it into tissues like the hair.
For this reason, chronically problematic levels of toxic metals are often detectable in the hair before they are detectable in the blood. Just a note that acutely elevated levels of metals are often more accurately detected in blood but are measurable for a shorter period of time making it more difficult to assess long-term low-level toxicity.
What Are the Effects of Heavy Metals Anyway?
The truth is that heavy metals have absolutely NO physiological function in the human body and ANY level of these metals is toxic. Sure, our bodies are ALWAYS combatting toxins and can maintain fairly well when levels are low.
But given the toxicity of our world and the burden of our daily exposures from multiple sources, it makes sense to rid ourselves of toxins wherever possible so that we have more resilience to those we can’t avoid.
Depending on the level of exposure, heavy metals in the body can lead to acute poisoning, death, tremors, mental health problems, insomnia, headaches, weakness, fatigue, and cognitive decline.
Heavy Metals and Your Gut
For those of you with chronic gut challenges, it may be interesting to consider that certain bacteria and fungi have affinities for particular metals. (5)
Candida has an affinity for mercury and Candida can be protective against mercury toxicity due to the fact that it can bind to mercury and prevent it from entering the bloodstream. (6) If you’ve treated candida multiple times yet struggle with recurrent overgrowths, it may be that you have an undetected mercury load that is promoting Candida. And, as mentioned above, there does appear to be some connection between H. Pylori and cadmium. (7)
Heavy Metals and Your Hormones
Toxic metals are also known endocrine disruptors. (8) Several metals drive estrogen dominance, a problem plaguing many women and men in modern society! So if you’ve been struggling with hormonal issues and haven’t been able to balance them out with a targeted hormone protocol, you might have some heavy metal issues to deal with in order to move the needle in a way that supports eventual balance.
Hidden Heavy Metals
Lest I sound like a broken record, getting a proper interpretation of your HTMA is crucial! It is not uncommon for heavy metal levels to appear within the lab’s reference range on an HTMA result. However, when a skilled clinician looks at the result through a knowledgeable lens, lurking toxicity may become apparent.
If a person has a poor eliminator pattern on an HTMA test (as evidenced by mineral status), then they may show low or in range levels of toxic metals like mercury even when they are highly toxic!
Heavy Metal Cleansing
I’m actually not all that fond of offering a list of supplements to remove heavy metals in a blog post as I think it’s extremely important to know what you’re up against and have a customized strategy for dealing with toxins like this. However, I do think that the following suggestions can help support most people in building some resilience that supports the body in preparation for detoxification.
Glutathione – Commonly referred to as the body’s main antioxidant, it has a powerful impact on detoxification in the liver and on a cellular level. It also reduces oxidative stress and cellular damage that can result from toxic exposure.
NAC (N-Acetyl-Cysteine) – This is a powerful glutathione precursor that can help the body replenish its stores of glutathione.
Cilantro – We all know cilantro as an herb commonly used in things like Mexican food. There is some evidence that cilantro can act as a chelator for mercury and lead. (9) I don’t recommend taking extracts of cilantro prior to testing, but I do think that incorporating it as a food into your dietary regimen can be of benefit.
Pectasol C – This is a modified citrus pectin that can bind to toxic metals and chemicals and help draw them out of the body. I find this to be a well-tolerated and gentle addition to a basic protocol.
Brassica veggies – These include things like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and collards. These foods help support metabolic detoxification and liver health.
Water – This is perhaps your best blood and cellular cleanser! Drinking appropriate amounts of clean water helps to flush toxins naturally and maintain proper inter and extracellular health.
HTMA testing can be a valuable tool when used at the right time and evaluated by a knowledgeable practitioner. Heavy metal toxicity is not something to take lightly and it is not something that I recommend handling without proper guidance involving testing and customized protocol development.
Skillful detoxification is critical to recovering from heavy metal toxicity and its associated impacts. If you push the body too quickly or in the wrong direction, you can exacerbate the problem. But when used properly, this can be a game-changer in your health and can start to shift even some of the most stubborn cases!
How to Run a HTMA Test
Our good friend and world’s best heavy metal expert, Wendy Myers, has created an amazing resource for understanding and taking the HTMA test.
This is the test that changed her life, helping her shed 40 pounds, get rid of food allergies, heal from chronic fatigue, fix her thyroid, and more.
Wendy admits that this hair test saved her years and thousands of dollars.
Could it do the same for you?
Have More Questions About HTMA?
Bridgit is hosting Wendy Myers on her weekly expert series this week, Thursday, September 12th, at 1:00pm PDT // 4:00pm EDT. They will be digging into the information around HTMA and answering your questions!
Click here to register! If you already registered for our weekly series, you will automatically receive an email invite one hour before the interview starts.
Ann Melin is a certified Holistic Health Practitioner, Clinical Nutritionist, a Clinical Master Herbalist, and a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, and has been in the field of health since 2001. We are extremely blessed to have her as our Clinical Director and Lead Health Coach for Women’s Wellness Collaborative as she has extensive experience in running labs and creating holistic protocols based on the principles of functional nutrition. She lives in Vermont.