What if I told you…
That everything you knew about how minerals work in the body was wrong? Okay, so maybe that’s a little extreme, but I do have some information that’s going to blow your mind.
It’s called hair mineral analysis. And boy, you’re gonna want to sit down for this…
I’ve invited Dr. Garrett Smith, aka, my amazing doctor, here to help me explain!
What exactly is Hair Mineral Analysis?
[by Dr. Garrett Smith]
The gist of it is…that blood (aka serum) tests–while very helpful and absolutely necessary in certain situations and for certain purposes–are not actually that helpful in guiding us towards what we need and especially what we DON’T need more of in our daily nutrition.
This is how it goes. When you get your blood tested for the standard “electrolytes,” they are typically looking at calcium, sodium, and potassium levels. The body works VERY hard at keeping these values within a tightly controlled range… because if it wanders too far outside of that range, the heart and brain are affected greatly, and you might die. Yes, die. An example that people have often heard of in this vein (har har) is when people running marathons or doing silly water-drinking contests take in many more fluids than their body is able to compensate for (mainly because they are either not taking in enough salt with the water and/or are actively sweating sodium out!) and they die of hyponatremia (low levels of blood sodium).
Compensating. Let’s talk about that. The body must constantly be compensating the blood levels of minerals to keep you alive and functioning. This is crucial. Imagine if you had a checking account that you had to keep at $500, plus or minus $10, at all times of the day…or the bank closes the account. The checking account balance is a mineral like calcium in the blood, and losing the account would be like you keeling over D-E-A-D dead. If you get a paycheck of $200, when you deposit that into the checking account, you had better be ready to immediately do one of several things to balance it out:
- A. Withdraw/spend some of that money (excreting it out somehow)
- B. Transfer some of that money into another account (ex. savings)
Calcium is heavily misunderstood due to most practitioners only looking at blood tests, which the body is always trying to keep very stable! Taking calcium and/or Vitamin D will provide a push to absorb more calcium from the gut and also to raise calcium levels in the blood, this is what these nutrients do and makes sense. The question becomes, when that calcium goes up higher than desirable in the blood, how does the body compensate for it? I’m going to tell you that it transfers it into “savings accounts” to clear it from the blood that you really won’t like…calcium deposits in the joints (aka osteoarthritis), kidneys (stones), blood vessels (heart disease), and even the brain. Maybe you know someone who has noticed their pain get worse while taking calcium and/or Vitamin D supplements. This is exactly why. The body is desperately trying to move the calcium out of the blood, and depositing it into places that may cause long-term problems or discomforts is much preferable to dying in that moment, so it makes its choice.
How is hair testing different? Put simply, the body has no responsibility to put ANY amount of ANY mineral into the hair. Heck, as some of you may be experiencing, the body has no responsibility to really make any hair at all! Low on potassium? Fine, the body will retain it in the blood and you’ll see very low levels in the hair. Conversely, the body can “dump” any minerals it has an excess of in the blood INTO the hair, like what I see with many people who have histories of taking Vitamin D and/or cod liver oil supplements. It is precisely because the body has NO responsibility to maintain levels of anything in the hair that it becomes such a great view into what is actually going on in the tissues/cells.
Why did I choose Hair Mineral Analysis?
Let me start out by saying that I have pretty good health. I never get sick with the latest cold/flu, I don’t have digestive issues, and I sleep great.
However, I have had a few lingering issues that have stuck with me since day one of my transition from junk food to a real food diet. Geez body, it’d be real nice if you could cooperate here!
My main two lingering health issues are dizziness (a feeling of being in a fog on my best days to a feeling of the room swaying on my worst days), and muscle dysfunction/fatigue in my back/hips. (I have a history of disc bulges and have a couple back surgeries under my belt).
Hair mineral analysis really piqued my interest because I was really curious to find out if my real food diet really WAS giving my body everything it needed. I’ve been focusing on a real food diet for about four years now and I wanted to see if it was paying off.
I met Dr. Garrett Smith, loved his personality and approach to functional medicine and immediately asked him if I could send him my hair in an envelope in the mail. (not in a creepy way or anything)
What I found shocked me.
Low sodium. Very low potassium. High calcium. Mid to low magnesium.
And those were just the first FOUR! I was taken back a bit, but I was determined to get my levels up to normal levels again. When I was able to do my phone consult with Dr. Smith, I was again blown away at the knowledge he shared with me. Instead of just focusing on raising and lowering levels of minerals, he explained that hair mineral analysis is much more complicated than that.
It’s all about MINERAL RATIOS. You see, calcium and magnesium inversely correlate with one another. If one is up, the other is down and vise versa. Why was my magnesium low if I was eating foods rich in the mineral and even supplementing a bit on my own? It was because my calcium was too high. This is actually more common than you think. Years of calcium-fortified processed foods had raised my levels considerably, and also, magnesium isn’t as high in foods as they used to be.
Our first goal was to get me on magnesium, but more importantly, get me on a form of magnesium that my body could absorb efficiently. It took some trial and error, but eventually I was able to take magnesium orotate, a version that doesn’t irritate the gut (I had previously been taking Magnesium citrate in the form of the magnesium calm drink, and I had loose stools as a result—which was depleting me of minerals even more).
On top of taking magnesium orally, Dr. Smith had me on a magnesium spray (20 sprays a day on my armpits, stomach and back) and magnesium sulfate baths or foot soaks. (20 min per day).
The results were AMAZING.
Many of you don’t know that one of the main problems with my back fatigue is a result of having hyperlordosis, or a hyper extended low back. I’ve always though this was something I was born with. It was the main reason I couldn’t have any more children. My low back is curved so deeply as if I am already 9 months pregnant. Another pregnancy would put me in a wheelchair.
But get this: Since taking these forms of magnesium, my back has totally changed. I don’t have an x-ray to prove it, but my low back feels straighter, looser, and OH SO WONDERFUL! I still have some occasional fatigue in my back muscles, but not nearly as much as I used to and I am hopeful that as I continue to give my body the minerals it needs, I’ll find 100% relief and reversal of this issue.
And that’s exciting!
[by Dr. Garrett Smith]
On the topic of mineral ratios, I look at them somewhat differently than other hair mineral analysis practitioners, so don’t be surprised if you heard something different somewhere else. Here’s what I see in the big picture of the ratios:
- Ca/P (calcium to phosphorus) – reflective of stomach digestive strength along with bone and teeth health
- Ca/Mg (calcium to magnesium) – reflective of blood sugar stability, and calcification tendencies
- Ca/K (calcium to potassium) – reflective of actual thyroid function aka “metabolic rate”
- Na/K (sodium to potassium) – reflective of stress levels and resilience
- Na/Mg (sodium to magnesium) – reflective of adrenal function and “burnout” patterns
- Zn/Cu (zinc to copper) – reflective of sex hormone balance and function
- Fe/Cu (iron to copper) – reflective of infection tendency and anemia patterns
Ratios are very important, but they are not everything. The levels of things are important too! An example I use is this. You are organizing a dance. You want 50 men and 50 women to show up, this will be the best ratio of men/women, maximizing their enjoyment and your income. But what if this happens…
- 99 men, 1 woman = brawls. Amount of women – terrible, ratio – terrible.
- 1 man, 1 woman = those two have fun, but this will not happen again next year due to lack of income on the event. Ratio – great. Amount of men and women – both deficient.
- 100 men, 100 women = not enough bathrooms, fire hazard. Great income, get kicked out, not invited back. Ratio – great. Amount of men and women – excessive.
I hope this example shows that BOTH the mineral levels AND ratios are important!
What other minerals am I supplementing with?
I’m also focusing on improving my potassium and sodium levels, which is actually harder than I thought! Some bodies take some trial and error to find the best forms and we’re still working on that. But what’s interesting is that I’ve been able to tell if my levels are high or low depending on my energy level, and my hypotension (low blood pressure). It’s pretty amazing to work with somebody like Dr. Smith who can notice symptoms of adrenal fatigue and instead of telling you to reduce all sorts of foods in your diet, instead focus on increasing minerals to support the body nutritionally.
How much does a hair mineral analysis cost?
An initial hair test, phone/Skype consult, treatment plan, and 3 months of email support with Dr. Smith currently runs around $349. Most follow-up appointment packages are $160 and they are usually around every 3-4 months. I just heard that their rates are increasing as of June 1st, 2015, so get in touch with them if you are interested.
Sometimes you can find people locally who specialize in hair mineral analysis, but if you can’t find one, I HIGHLY recommend Dr. Garrett Smith!
You can find him at…