BLOOD TESTS VERSUS HAIR TESTS
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© March 2019, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is solely the opinion of the author and for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
Clients sometimes ask why we use hair tests instead of blood tests. Some of our clients also try to confirm hair mineral readings with other tests such as blood, urine or other methods. To address these issues, one must begin by understanding the differences between hair and blood.
1. Hair is a tissue and hair testing is a biopsy test. In contrast, blood is not a tissue. It is a transport medium and maintains osmotic balance.
The tests measure different body compartments and completely different aspects of physiology. Each body compartment has its own metabolism and qualities. Some chemicals are found more in the blood, while others accumulate in the hair. What is in one compartment is not necessarily, and often not found, in the other.
2. The level of minerals in the blood is kept relatively constant because blood touches all the cells. Hair levels of minerals vary a lot more.
Minerals are moved from the tissues into the blood to maintain blood levels. If the blood has too much of a mineral, it is quickly moved out of the blood and often ends up in the hair tissue, to a degree. This means that deficiencies or excesses often show up earlier in the hair than the blood.
3. Blood tests give an instantaneous reading that may be affected by many factors. Hair analysis gives a long‑term reading that is unaffected by recent meals, activities such as exercise, or emotional states.
4. Hair is a soft tissue of the body, and a connective tissue. It has a special type of metabolism that is characteristic of these types of tissues.
In contrast, blood is a messenger substance, meaning it carries hormones, oxygen, neurotransmitters and many other substances to the tissues.
It is also the body’s main waste removal conduit, carrying away all metabolic end products and poisons from the cells. This is another special function of the blood.
5. Hair is an excretory tissue. This means it is a throw-away tissue of the body. The body uses it to get rid of anything it does not want.
In contrast, blood is one of the most vital substances in the body and it touches all the cells. Anything poisonous, such as toxic metals, is removed quickly from the blood so it does the least damage to the cells.
6. Hair is a non-essential tissue. This means that if a nutrient mineral is deficient, the body will often not allow it to go into the hair because it is not too important. If one’s hair looks terrible or falls out, it does not affect life very much.
In contrast, any problem in the blood is very serious. As a result, the body maintains the mineral levels of the blood in a very tight range, even when the body is ill.
With this basic understanding, let us address some common questions:
IS A HAIR TEST BETTER THAN A BLOOD TEST, OR VICE VERSA?
It all depends on what you wish to measure. They are completely different tests used to measure different things. The same can be said of x-rays versus PET scans. One is not better than the other. It depends what you wish to measure.
For this reason, whenever a doctor or anyone says that blood tests are better than hair tests, I know he does not understand the differences between the tests.
CAN ONE CONFIRM THE READINGS ON A HAIR MINERAL TEST USING BLOOD TESTS?
No, because they are completely different tests that measure different body compartments. You can spend a thousand dollars trying to confirm a hair test with blood tests, and it won’t work.
IS HAIR TESTING ACCURATE?
If it is done by the right lab, it is very accurate. Mineral analysis by mass spectroscopy and atomic absorption has been around for almost 100 years. It is a standard testing method used for all soil testing, in geolology, and for environmental testing, as well.
For hair testing, it is critical that the laboratory does not wash the hair. However, most labs do wash the hair. We only trust Analytical Research Labs for accuracy, and we check their work often.
Hair testing is at least as accurate as most blood tests, within about 3% for most minerals. Hair minerals can be measured down to parts per billion today with little problem. Blood labs use the same test to measure the minerals in blood.
IS HAIR TESTING SIGNIFICANT?
This means, do the reading matter very much or are they just sort of random, even if they are accurate and really reflect the minerals that are in the hair.
The answer is yes, but you have to understand the metabolism of the hair tissue, which is not taught to doctors, in order to understand the significance of the reading. Then, and only then, can you understand if a hair mineral reading is:
- A feature of the intrinsic metabolism of the hair.
- A loss of a mineral into the hair. This can be physiological or pathological.
- An indicator of an excess or overflow from the body.
- A sign of poor elimination. This is a pattern we call the Poor Eliminator Pattern.
- A defender. This is a reading that helps balance other readings in the hair.
- An artifact or contamination. For example, bathing in softened water will raise the hair sodium or potassium because the water is loaded with these minerals. This is a contamination problem. The same problem can occur with blood tests, at times.
- Something else. For example, an elevated zinc usually indicates that zinc is accompanying a toxic metal that the body is eliminating in order to protect the person from the damage of the toxic metal.
WHAT ABOUT MEASURING MINERAL TRANSPORTERS OR CARRIER PROTEINS IN THE BLOOD?
Some doctors know that measuring minerals in the blood is inaccurate to assess the body load of a mineral. As a result, they measure special proteins that transport minerals around the body. They include ferritin, ceruloplasmin, metallothionine or others.
The problem is that measuring a mineral transporter is not the same as measuring the level of the mineral. For example, the ferritin level is not the same as the iron level.
DO THE MINERAL READINGS IN THE HAIR AND BLOOD MEAN THE SAME THING?
No. A toxic metal in the blood means you have metal floating in the blood. A toxic metal in the hair means you have metal lodged deep in a body tissue. They are different. Here is a little more detail about this subject.
Toxic metals. Toxic metals are kept out of the blood, if at all possible. The reason is they are highly poisonous and do a lot of damage when in the blood. Therefore, one is not likely to find them in the blood serum in large concentrations.
Doctors sometimes measure toxic metals in the red or white blood cells. However, toxic metals do not accumulate in these locations too much, either. A few doctors know this, and don’t bother measuring toxic metals here because these are not very accurate tests.
The only time toxic metals are usually elevated in the blood is if one has an acute poisoning, such as recently swallowing a poison metal. In this case, the body has not had time to remove the toxic metal from the blood, so it will be elevated. However, this does not last more than a few hours or a few days, in most instances. Then the level will decline as the body moves the metal out of the blood and into a tissue storage site.
In contrast, hair is one of the sites the body uses to store and get rid of toxic metals. For this reason, hair is quite excellent to detect the presence of most, if not all the toxic metals. This was confirmed in the 1979 EPA Report On Toxic Metals. This was a review of over 400 studies of hair mineral testing for toxic metals.
Nutrient minerals. The levels of these minerals are tightly regulated in the blood. The reason is that the blood touches all or almost all of the cells and nourishes them. For example, if calcium is deficient in the diet, the body will steal some calcium from the bones where it is stored, and put it into the blood. (This is how people develop osteoporosis.)
Conversely, if there is too much calcium around due to the diet, the body will remove the extra from the blood and move it to tissue storage sites so as not to upset body metabolism.
For this reason, measuring calcium in the blood is not too helpful to assess the calcium status of the body. Doctors know this, which is why they must use x-rays, for example, to check bone density instead of using blood tests. The same principle applies to ALL of the nutrient minerals. Blood tests are not an accurate way to assess them.
Hair is non-essential tissue. If there is a calcium deficiency, for example, the body will not put much calcium into the hair. Instead, most calcium will be kept in the blood, bones or elsewhere. As a result, the hair reading will be low. The reading in the hair will thus be more accurate to reveal calcium status than the blood, at least in some cases.
However, we tell clients that the hair level of minerals is not a measure of the total body load of that mineral. Some people claim that a hair test does reveal the total body load of a mineral, but this is not always true. The reason is that the level of a mineral in the hair is also influenced by the intrinsic metabolism of the hair tissue itself, as well as other factors.
For example, if the body is in a fight-or-flight reaction, a condition we call fast oxidation, the body lowers calcium, magnesium and zinc in the tissues, including the hair. This prepares the body to fight or run.
If the body is in an exhaustion stage of stress, which we call slow oxidation, the level of calcium and magnesium rise in the body tissues, including the hair. This has little to do with the total body load of these minerals.
If the body moves into a metabolic pattern we call four lows, the tissue levels of calcium and magnesium drop very low. This is not strictly a measure of the total body load of these minerals.
Even the idea of “total body load” is not too meaningful. The reason is that some compounds of minerals are usable or bioavailable, while others are not. One needs enough of the bioavailable compounds of minerals. The total amount of calcium or iron is not as important.
These and other differences make blood and tissue testing very different, with each providing valuable information.