Hair Analysis

By Jack Norris, RD (Reprinted from the March/April 2004 Issue of VegNews.)

My friends told me to get a hair analysis to see if I have any mineral deficiencies. Does this work?

The ease and painlessness of obtaining a hair sample, along with recent techniques for determining the mineral content of tissue samples, have made hair analysis a popular way to assess mineral status. Many alternative health practitioners use hair analysis.

An article in the journal Child: Care, Health & Development (2002;28 suppl 1:31-34) addressed hair element analysis. Hair analysis has been used with some success in determining zinc deficiency; in general, it has two main problems: Normal values have not yet been determined and environmental factors can possibly effect hair mineral content.

According to the authors, little is known about how the hair follicle metabolizes minerals and how that relates to the rest of the body’s mineral status. Hair growth varies with time and locations on the scalp and such factors could critically affect how minerals are taken up by hair. For example, mineral content varies between pubic and head hair. Studies have shown that there is variation in hair elements according to age, gender, hair color, and smoking status. Environmental factors such as shampoos and other treatments can effect mineral content.

Several commercial labs were sent hair from the same person and the labs reported different minerals values and advice. Values are often so small they can barely be detected, creating a high margin of error.

So, for all the above reasons, at this time, hair analysis is too unreliable to be used as the basis for nutritional advice.