How to use hair testing to get a better picture of your health

Ever heard of an HTMA?

This stands for Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, and it is a safe, non-invasive way to measure the levels and ratios of minerals and toxins in our hair. It is a great way to assess how our body is responding to stressors, specifically how it is using energy and substances in our bodies like minerals to respond to these stressors.

Why is the way our body responds to stressors important?

Our body uses energy to respond to stressors. Stress can come in many forms in our lives, not just physical stress. Stress at work, in relationships, from internalized trauma, or emotional stress can cause imbalances. Hair mineral tests can point out where these energy imbalances are occurring as our bodies may be overusing resources like minerals as a result of stress. 

Stress can negatively affect many of our bodies’ processes, and stress often causes our bodies to dump minerals too. For example, cortisol, a stress hormone, dumps potassium, aldosterone, which is produced by our adrenals, helps to control our blood pressure by dumping sodium, and magnesium burn rate increases with stress.

But wait, I’ve gotten a blood test before for certain mineral levels…how is a hair test any different?

Hair testing actually can show us things that our blood can’t, especially when it comes to certain minerals. 

Hair is actually a sample of tissue. As our hair grows, our hair can reflect the levels of certain minerals and metals that are being released by our bodies. We can study these levels in the hair and follow these patterns over time in order to get more insights about our health than we could from other tests, like serum blood tests.

HTMA involves looking at what is going on inside our cells, rather than what is going on outside, when it comes to mineral balance and cellular function.

Minerals are constantly in action and many are primarily contained in our body’s cells. Why is this a problem when we are relying on blood work to determine mineral imbalances? Because blood work is measuring serum mineral levels, which reflect mineral levels outside of the cell. Hair testing is looking at hair tissue, which will reflect mineral and toxin levels inside of our cells, which tells us a very important story about our cellular function.

Can HTMA be useful for understanding my thyroid health?

Have you ever felt on the verge of burnout? Like you struggle to have the energy to make it throughout the day but no amount of sleep helps? Like your metabolism is “off” but all of your blood work is coming back normal? Hair tissue testing can be a great test to try next in order to find some answers, especially when it comes to thyroid and hormone health, which has a lot to do with our energy levels and metabolism.

HTMA is a tool to look at your health at the cellular level, rather than just levels of substances in your blood. This is very beneficial and can help us really get to the bottom of health problems. For example, you can be producing sufficient thyroid hormone and your blood tests will look within normal ranges, but your cells might not be properly utilizing it, which leads to your symptoms. An example of a mineral we could look at is potassium. It plays a role in our hormonal health as it sensitizes our cells to thyroid hormone. If we start to lose potassium, then our cells may not be as receptive to thyroid hormone in the blood, leading to feelings of hormonal imbalance. 

The same goes with calcium. If we store too much of it in our body’s tissues, this can lead to suppression of our thyroid function. High levels of calcium in our tissues can be detected by a HTMA and can also be a sign of other mineral imbalances in our tissues such as copper, iron, and heavy metal detoxification. These all play a role in impacting our thyroid health.

There is a ratio in the HTMA called the Calcium/Potassium ratio. This helps us understand whether our thyroid tends to either overfunction or underfunction. This is a helpful tool to indicate what is going on and in which direction and which minerals we need to work on balancing in order to improve our thyroid function at a cellular level.

Can we always trust ‘within the normal range’ lab values?

This is an important one. I see this often – a client has a bunch of blood work done to try to get to the bottom of her symptoms, but her mineral levels come back within normal limits. So, her symptoms are brushed off because everything is ‘fine’. But maybe the value that the minerals are at, even within normal limits, are not optimal for what your body needs to function at its best? We all have different genetics, environmental factors at play, and stressors in our lives. Our bodies respond differently to these things as well. 

How far back do the results go?

Hair tissue results typically provide us a snapshot of your mineral status for an average of the past three months. This can be really helpful in contrast with blood work where levels of minerals are constantly changing.

HTMA provides us with a snapshot of a variety of minerals and toxic substances, rather than a single lab value often measured in traditional blood work. Why is this important?

Minerals all work together in our bodies to function. For example, sodium works together with potassium to open cell gates, vitamin D cannot be utilized by our cells without magnesium and copper, and calcium cannot be released from bone without magnesium. So we really need to understand levels of many of these minerals to get a better sense of why certain cellular processes may not be functioning optimally. Looking at one singular mineral for a high or low result is not going to give us an accurate picture of what’s going on metabolically; instead, we need to look at the ratios of minerals together to identify imbalances, trends, and make improvements in our cellular function and the way we feel.

How do I get started? 

The good news is that this type of testing is relatively inexpensive. You will need to order one through a healthcare provider, as you can’t order it on your own. Luckily, I can do this for you! The test I use with my clients is from Trace Elements and costs about $80. I will send you an envelope in the mail with instructions on how to collect your sample and a smaller envelope pre-addressed for where to send the sample off to. 

It typically takes a few weeks to get the results back. Once the results are in, we can set up time to go through them together. We will review the results, discuss imbalances and what they mean, and put together an individualized plan for you to start improving them. 

Once you get started on the protocol, we will monitor how you are feeling each week as time goes on. I typically recommend retesting every 6-12 months, since it provides a 3-month snapshot of your mineral status, and this will give us a good picture of how our protocol is working.

Any questions? As always, do not be afraid to send me a DM on instagram or an email at!

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