Is Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Accurate?
Updated: Apr 5
I've been in the business of health, fulltime since 1976. I have learned a lot in that time and learning more and more by the day. I'm still trying to make sense of the Tsunami of confusion of health information that bombards us by the hour. One thing I have learned and am reminded about almost daily is the more I learn the more I realise how little I know.
My partner, Alofa Kosena and I are responsible for the New Zealand operation of Interclinical Laboratories. My main job these days is to support and mentor NZ health professionals who use Interclinical's services. This essay is my personal opinion and does not represent the views of the company.
The following video from out of India is an easy to comprehend explanation of the HTMA that we use. We send our hair samples to the same USA laboratory.
Being an expert in everything and a master of none
I realised about 15 years ago that I was at risk of knowing a lot about many things to do with health but failing to properly master anything. I needed to change. I needed to decide what I should be really good at. What should I master? I liken this to a good all-round athlete choosing to specialise in one event as maturity nears.
The more I learn the more I realise how little I know.
I decided 10 years ago to master the Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Test (HTMA). I knew I could not do so for all of the HTMA out there because that would mean I remain an expert only (there must be hundreds of different HTMA on offer!). That would be like an all-round athlete choosing to specialise as a cyclist but still trying to be the best in every form of cycling. I chose just one HTMA test, the one I that I considered was the best of the lot - the Gold Standard of HTMA- the Interclinical Laboratories HTMA.
When an expert stands before an adoring audience and announces that hair tissue mineral analysis is not an accurate test and of no use for determining the nutritional status of a patient is he right? Probably not.
What training has he in the interpretation and application of HTMA?
Can he demonstrate experience and competency at applying HTMA within the Clinic?
Of the countless different HTMA available worldwide, which one is he referring to? Or is he lumping the lot together?
First, define what you are talking about
HTMA can involve someone looking at a photo of the patient while holding a pendulum over a lock of their hair, or it can be a million-dollar facility that burns the hair sample by a plasma flame in a vacuum, measuring the mineral content of the hair cells down to the atom. Or it can be any number of variants in between, all of them being of varying accuracy.
The first rule is that the test must be accurate and highly reproducible. If it is not accurate then it should be discarded. In my experience, the Interclinical HTMA is extremely accurate and when the test is repeated it is always obvious that the sample came from the same head, even if the samples were years apart (individual mineral patterns are distinct and highly resistant to change).
Over 15 years and thousands of HTMA later, I have never had to question the accuracy of an Interclinical HTMA.
Is the health professional able to make sense of the data?
While the data supplied may extremely accurate and the report may come with some generalised commentary and recommendations, the data is next to useless and possibly misleading if the health professional has not had extensive training in how to interpret the data and how to apply it in the clinical setting.
How does the mineral content of hair relate to organs deep in the body? How do the minerals in hair relate to various states of health and disease?
Does high in the hair mean high in an organ? It be could very well be the opposite?
What do patterns tell us about health and organ function such as the liver or the kidney?
How does the data correlate with the patient sitting in front of you?
Without a detailed understanding of how to answer and respond to these questions, the Practioner will get usually things very wrong.
The test is probably accurate but the health professional may be inaccurate.
The repeat HTMA is always the most important one to do
This is a big one.
The first HTMA usually raises more questions than it may answer. The experienced Practitioner knows this and is guided by their detailed understanding of nutrient inter-relationships along with a good dollop of experience and intuition to devise an effective intervention. The test is then repeated, usually 6 months later, and subtle changes in patterns are noted. Detecting these subtle changes gives the big breakthroughs. Appropriate adjustments are then made to the intervention and the process is repeated, usually waiting 12 months before repeating the HTMA for the 3rd time.
If this systematic testing, intervening and retesting is not done then the HTMA may be mostly a waste of everyone's time and effort.
A special mention about Quackwatch
When attending medical and nutrition conferences it is not uncommon to be questioned about Quackwatch's report about HTMA being quackery. Read his report then come back here.
This report is a classic example of an expert in everything and a master of none. Actually, he has stepped right out of his areas of expertise. The writer, Stephen Barrett, a long-retired psychiatrist, has no apparent training at all in HTMA and no indication of any clinical experience.
Please read this riposte to Quackwatch by Dr David Watts:
What does the research say about the accuracy and use of HTMA for use in the clinic?
Read for yourself and make up your mind one way or another:
Just how useful is HTMA in the Clinic?
Have a read of these examples and judge for yourself:
If you have any questions about HTMA, please post your query in the Comments Section below, and I will answer as best I can thank you, or else drop me an email.