Your Hair Tells a Story {Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis}

by lydia on January 15, 2014

I am so excited to bring you this guest post today from my fellow Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Carrie Thienes.

This post today will introduce you to Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, which is an excellent test to use in helping practitioners like me learn more of the underlying issues going on in our clients health. Hear more about hair analysis from Carrie who has been working with this test and has the expertise to teach further on the subject.

Blond long-haired young lady woman watching the surfers at Morro

Your Hair Tells a Story

by Carrie Thienes, BS, MA, NTP

Our hair. We dye it, shave it, curl it, and fuss over it—but did you know that your hair tells your metabolic story?  A sample of unadulterated hair biopsied from the nape of your neck can tell any experienced interpreter of HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis) more than you ever thought possible.  Properly prepared at certain laboratories such as Analytical Research Labs and Trace Elements, Inc, a hair sample is an actual tissue sample that reflects your stress physiology. About 1” worth of newly grown hair is a virtual printout of the last 3 months’ metabolic activity and stress physiology.

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (hereafter HTMA) is considered the gold standard for detecting heavy metal exposure, and in most conventional Naturopathic or Holistic medical practices, that is the extent of its use.  However, the late Dr. Paul Eck (considered the “Father” of Nutritional Balancing Science) and his successor, Dr. Larry Wilson have poured over 50 years of clinical research into Hair Tissue Mineral Patterns and have had astounding results, resulting in a program known as “Nutritional Balancing Science”.  Dr. Wilson, an MD who worked as a Nutritional Consultant in private practice for 30 years, now trains and mentors practitioners who offer this science all over the world.

In their years of research, Drs. Eck (who founded Analytical Research Labs) and Wilson discovered a multitude of patterns that appear on a hair test, and their associated symptoms, tendencies, and stress response in the patients they were testing.  Through their study of over 100,000 patient hair charts over the years, their method of interpretation can predict (and more importantly, correct) with relative fluency the following:

  • A patient’s adrenal status and state of adrenal burnout (based on assessment of the Sodium to Magnesium ratio)
  • Thyroid hormone uptake at the cellular level (from examination of the Calcium to Potassium ratio)
  • Protein catabolism and protein assimilation (as indicated by the Phosphorus level)
  • Cortisol production (by evaluating the Sodium and Potassium levels)
  • Carbohydrate tolerance (a function of the Calcium to Magnesium ratios)
  • Kidney health, diabetic tendencies, cardiovascular health, and immune status (all reflected by the sodium to potassium ratio).
  • Toxic metal exposure, and scores of underlying causes contributing to unexplained mental symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety, anger, and depression.
  • Female and Male hormone issues (The Zinc to Copper ratios and levels give us insight here).
  • Nervous system health, and whether one is Sympathetic Dominant or not.
  • Liver health and overall detoxification pathway health (with some general insights into methylation patterns based on poor elimination of toxic metals).

A properly prepared and interpreted hair test can also tell one’s metabolic type and can help us fine-tune the diet appropriate to them. A fast oxidizer thrives on a high fat, low-carbohydrate diet while a slow oxidizer may not be as ready to fully transition into a high-fat “paleo-type” diet.  Addressing the oxidation rate first will allow the client to then move into a more balanced state of oxidation.

A properly prepared hair sample (which involves NOT washing the hair in any kind of chemical solution prior to analyzing the sample) provides critical information in how to properly supplement an individual who is looking to heal their adrenals, for example. Adrenal healing does NOT have “one size fits all” approach as some natural health experts would have you believe.  Taking Licorice or Ashwaganda or even simple Pantothenic Acid can be detrimental to an individual whose mineral test shows adrenal burnout.  Giving high dosages of Vitamin C, another oft-recommended remedy for “sluggish adrenals” is a very bad idea for someone in Fast Oxidation.

As a Nutritional Therapist, I find that I simply cannot truly target a client’s underlying condition without seeing a properly prepared hair analysis.  The method of assessment, along with a thorough health history and often accompanying blood work allows me to get a comprehensive picture of not only what is going on with the client, but the underlying mechanisms that are in need of repair and balancing.

As for heavy metal detoxification, which is the most common use for HTMA in most holistic practices, the best antidote to decreasing the heavy metal burden that Drs. Eck and Wilson found  is NOT chelation therapy but rather what is known as “displacement therapy”.  Instead of pulling out metals indiscriminately (as chelation therapy does), displacement therapy offers the needed minerals in sufficient dosages to allow the body to displace the toxic mineral at the enzyme binding site with the mineral that is preferred by that enzyme. This process takes a lot more time and patience, but in the end removes toxic metals more deeply and completely than chelation.

The interpretation of a properly prepared HTMA is crucial. One first glance at an HTMA, it’s easy to get caught up in the high or low individual values. Drs. Eck and Wilson learned early on that the overall patterns and ratios between the minerals were much more important than the individual minerals themselves. Therefore, proper HTMA interpretation does not simply rely on “replacement therapy” if a mineral is low.

This may all sound very simplistic compared to what is going around the Natural Health world today.  As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner with over 200 hours of post-certification training to date in all of the latest research on the conditions that plague modern man, I understand why the simple HTMA gets little attention in most circles.  Talk of epigenetic variants, the drastic increase of autoimmunity and expensive tests to assess them can leave us forgetting about what lies at the foundation of our health: Minerals!!!

We cannot produce minerals on our own—we must get them from either our diet or the environment.  Given the toxic and mineral-depleted and imbalanced world we live in, it’s no wonder we’ve experienced a surge in epigenetic mutation-related disorders and autoimmune conditions!  A simple HTMA can uncover SO much information on what mechanisms in the body must be corrected in order for deep healing and correction to occur.  In my years of private practice overseeing hundreds of client hair charts from all over the world, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a hair chart that gave us NO indicators of what was at the heart of the patient’s condition.

You are reading this blog because you believe in the power of healing and restoring Divine Health from the Inside Out.  I can’t think of a better way to describe the Nutritional Balancing approach to healing. I encourage anyone who has not found satisfying answers as to the underlying issues affecting their health to get an HTMA and find out what story your hair has to tell!

Wishing you all Divine Health from the Inside Out,

Carrie Thienes

NW Holistic Nutrition

Carrie Thienes is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who has a private practice in carrie Portland, Oregon. Trained and mentored directly by Dr. Larry Wilson in the science of Nutritional Balancing, she works with clients all over the world and also trains and mentors doctors, naturopaths, and nutritionists in the science of proper hair analysis interpretation.  She lives with her husband and three vibrantly healthy children, and blogged for many years at Organic and Thrifty, where her archives on healthy eating and frugal living can still be read. When not nerding out over minerals and hair charts, Carrie can be found puttering in her garden or making kale chips in the kitchen! If you would like more information about Carrie’s Nutrition Practice, please visit:


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heather cruz January 15, 2014 at 6:31 pm

This article couldn’t come at a better time! I’m dealing with lyme, metals and serious fatigue. I just got my hair element test back and this explains a lot. Now I’m looking for someone to help me interpret which direction to go. Thanks for taking the time to share this wonderful info for those of us on “that” journey to find our health and well being again.

Ilse January 16, 2014 at 1:33 pm

What a top notch interesting article! Never heard of it before. Is it better / more accurate than iriscopy? Some of my friends swear to iriscopy as revealing instrument. What are your reflections on that matter? Love to hear more from you.
Good luck & may people be guided well to this wonderful information!

lydia January 16, 2014 at 2:52 pm


Yes, I’ve heard amazing things about iriscopy too. I cannot speak to the differences in the tests, all I know is that Dr. Wilson uses ASI and HTMA in his practice and that is enough to get a pretty good picture of one’s overall health. I will ask Carrie to comment with her thoughts as well.

Glad you enjoyed the post!

Carrie Russo Thienes, NTP January 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm

First of all, Lydia, thanks for allowing me to share info about HTMA on your site!


All modalities for assessment offer information and insight into a person’s condition. They all explain what is going on from different angles. I am not trained in iriscopy, so I cannot speak to that modality specifically or compare.

What I can tell you is that I’ve never seen a hair test that did not offer deep insight into a person’s ailments. Oftentimes I will run a hair test along side a blood test or a salivary adrenal test and the results are fairly consistent (if interpreted correctly). At face value, hair testing does not always look consistent to blood work. For example, one can have a sky-high Calcium on a hair test and a rather low or normal reading in the serum. This has to do with the physiology of Calcium utilization in the body, and knowing that the blood will remain fairly homeostatic even in the midst of a deficiency.

I wish I knew more about iriscopy. Perhaps someone can write that guest post and title it “Your eyes tell a story!”

Thanks for the great question, I’d be excited to learn more!

Carrie Thienes, NTP

Anne LaBelle March 22, 2016 at 1:22 pm

On the heavy metal toxicity, would this test show only exposure from the past three months or would it show past exposure? Thanks for the great article!

lydia March 22, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Hi Anne,

That’s a great question!

The test shows metals based on the body’s ability to actually release them. Sometimes we see elevations that are current exposures. For example: Most (not all) people with mercury amalgams have elevated mercury. Often people in certain areas of the country with higher uranium levels will show elevated uranium. Another example is my first hair test when nickel was quite elevated and it was due to me drinking rooibos tea every day for the past 2 months. Almost always we will see aluminum elevated if someone is using an anti-perspirant deodorant.

Sometimes we do not see metals showing elevated at all -therefore they would look low as if the person has no heavy metal toxicity. However, a low hair toxic metal reading means that, at the time the hair grew, the amount of the toxic metal deposited in the hair was low. That is all it means! It should be assumed that toxic metals are present – however, most are hidden deep in the body organs and tissues. Some people are very poor detoxifiers and their body is not able to excrete their heavy metal body burden and this too is important information to have and evaluate. The HTMA is not a linear, black & white test we have to look at the whole mineral system and ask a lot of questions to understand the implications of the information we see. It’s amazing what we can learn about the health of an individual.

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