Nutritional Hair Testing

We recently has a man on the Peak Testosterone Forum that was suffering from low testosterone and classic low testosterone symptoms.  Since he is a young guy, he had many voices (including myself) encouraging him to try to find the root cause of his low testosterone.  In the course of the discussion, he asked the following question:

"Question - should I push for a full micronutrient blood panel? That might shed some light on what I am missing if it's a micronutrient problem. Tim Ferriss wrote extensively about this in The 4-Hour Body but shelling out a ton of money for these tests will be hard for me." [1]

The "ton of money" that he is talking about involves Spectracell nutrient testing, which, as of this writing, runs $390 to $520 per test. Is there any alternative that is less expensive and yet can provide good information that I can suggest to this young guy?

Well, there is one considerably cheaper alternative out there - and I have no affiliation by the way - for a number of the key electrolytes and minerals:  hair testing with Doctor's Data using Direct Labs.  The cost is $120 to $150 depending on the coupons you have, and in my opinion the results are quite accurate and revealing.  I have documented a number of great case studies here:  Pages Showing the Accuracy of Hair Testing. I used hair testing, for example, to verify that I was likely getting high levels of arsenic from rice protein that I was consuming. 

On this same hair test, I found very revealing information about my nutritional status, which I will show below including excerpts from the acoompanying Doctor's Data report:

1. Low Potassium.  "The level of Potassium (K) in hair does not reflect nutritional status or dietary intake. However, hair K levels may provide clinically relevant information pertaining to adrenal function and/or electrolyte balance. K is an electrolyte and a potentiator of enzyme functions in cells, but neither of theses functions takes place in hair. K can be low in the body as the result of gastrointestinal or renal dysfunction, or as a side effect of some diuretics. In adrenocortical hyperactivity, blood levels of K are depressed, while urinary K is increased. Low hair K should be viewed as a screening test. Observations at DDI indicate that hair levels of sodium and K are commonly low in association with emotional stress. The low levels of sodium and K are frequently concomitant with high levels of calcium and magnesium in hair. This apparent emotional stress pattern requires further investigation."

2. Low Manganese.   "Hair Manganese (Mn) levels correlate well with Mn levels in other body tissues. Hair Mn levels are commonly low, in part due to low dietary Mn intake and the interaction of Mn with phosphates in the gut. Intestinal malabsorption also limits Mn uptake."

3. Low Chromium. "Low Hair Chromium (Cr) is a good indicator of tissue levels and may provide a better indication of status than do urine or blood plasma/serum (Nielsen, F.H. In Modern Nutrition on Health and Disease; 8th Edition, 1994. Ed. Shils, Olson and Shike. Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia). Hair Cr is seldom affected by permanent solutions, dyes and bleaches. Marginal or insufficient Cr is common in the U.S., where average tissue levels are low compared to those found in many other countries... Common causes of deficiency are ingestion of highly processed foods, inadequate soil levels of Cr, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and insufficient vitamin B-6."

4. Low Molybdenum.  "Low Molybdenum (Mo) in hair is a possible indication of Mo deficiency. Hair is very rarely contaminated with exogenous Mo...Mo is an essential trace element that is an activator of specific enzymes such as: xanthine oxidase (catalyzes formation of uric acid), sulfite oxidase (catalyzes oxidation of sulfite to sulfate), and aldehyde dehydrogenase (catalyzes oxidation of aldehydes). Possible effects or symptoms consistent with Mo deficiency are: subnormal uric acid in blood and urine, sensitivity or reactivity to sulfites, protein intolerance (specifically to sulfur-bearing amino acids), and sensitivity or reactivity to aldehydes...True Mo deficiency is uncommon but may result from: a poor-quality diet, gastrointestinal dysfunctions, or tungsten , or tungsten exposure."

CAUTION:  I highly encourage you to take your results to a pro that works with nutrition and hair testing data.  Below you will find some of my thinking regarding these results, but obviously getting someone with experience is the way to go.  I am providing the following just to show you the power of hair testing to improve and protect your health:

Putting the above all together, I believe that I have several things to look at and work on (besides ditching the rice protein):

a) Low Stomach Acid.  Atrophic gastritis could cause #2-4.  There is an alternative test for this condition involving Betaine HCL that I may try.  (The report suggested it could be GI issues, but I highly doubt that is the case, because I have no gut irritation and am very regular due to my high fiber, largely plant-based flexitarian diet.)

b) High Stress.  At the time I took this test, I did indeed have high stress, not enough sleep, etc.  Verifying this is the fact that, as the report suggests, I also had pretty high calcium (~85th percentile) and magnesium (~75th percentile) levels.  This would explain #1 and shows me something I should work on.  My sodium levels (~50th percentile) were not that low however.

NOTE:  I eat lots of whole and raw foods every day and have actually calculated the nutrition that I should get.  All of the above nutrients should be more than adequately met with my current diet.  This is why I am looking at other issues than just diet.

Now I hate to admit that their could be a third issue going on that could probably explain ALL of the above results: 

c)  Overhydration.  I had never really thought about it before, but drinking too many fluids - I drink a lot of water, tea and coffee - can also explain all of the results above.  Doing this can also be hard on the kidneys, so there is simply no good argument not to correct this, and it may help out my results.

CONCLUSION:  Hair testing showed me valuable nutritional information that potentially could be health or even life saving, and it included data that would probably never be received from an insurance-based physician.  Furthermore, I was able to come up with some good things to work on over the next few months and good questions for an alternative practitioner that works in this area.  I have also already included some supplementation of chromium and manganese to help as well.