Tests and Diagnostic Techniques
Heavy Metal Testing
Human exposure to toxic metals used in industrial processes has increased dramatically during the last 50 years. These toxins can lead to a variety of symptoms including depression, fatigue, insomnia, neurodegenerative diseases, neuralgia, insomnia and multiple chemical sensitivity.
Elemental Analysis shows what elements the body is currently excreting. It provides good qualitative information if a person has been recently exposed to a toxic element (days-weeks), and it gives quantitative information of excreted elements before, during, and after provocative challenge. Urine collected after a provocative challenge with a chelating (binding) agent is the optimal test for heavy metal detection.
Elemental Analysis: is often used to measure heavy metals but the hair follicle does not store heavy metals long term. Therefore hair analysis will reflect the past short-term body exposure to toxic metals.
Elemental Analysis provides information about what the body has recently (hours to days--in some case weeks) absorbed. Blood levels are largely independent of tissue deposition.
Below are some relation-ships that have been made between toxic elements and various types of dysfunction.
A disturbing pattern of aluminum accumulation and interference with normal neurological function appears to be supported in the literature. Dyslexic children were shown to have higher levels of aluminum in their hair compared with controls, and other behavioral difficulties in school also correlated with elevated levels of this element. There are geographical links between Alzheimer's disease and high aluminum in drinking water.
Alzheimer's patients experience stabilization of their symptoms following treatment with the aluminum-chelating agent desferrioxamine. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, another neurodegenerative disease, may also be linked to aluminum content of water supplies.
Aluminum is ubiquitous, being the most prevalent heavy metal in the Earth's crust. Sources of exposure may include drinking water. Local environmental pollution (i.e. via airborne particles from phosphorus fertilizer production and smelting processes) leads to elevated levels. The smaller body mass of children combined with greater accumulations of antimony is perhaps cause for concern regarding potential toxicity in areas of high exposure.
Fatigue, headaches, dermatitis, increased salivation, muscular weakness, loss of hair and nails, hypopigmentation of skin, anemia, skin rashes have been associated with arsenic poisoning.
Loss of sense of smell, anemia, dried scaly skin, hair loss, hypertension, kidney problems have been associated with cadmium toxicity. Shellfish is commonly contaminated with cadmium.
Delayed mental development, hyperactivity, delayed learning, behavioral problems fatigue, anemia, metallic taste, loss of appetite, weight loss and headaches, insomnia, nervousness, decreased nerve conduction, possibly motor neuron disorders have all been associated with lead toxicity.
Reduced sensory abilities (taste, touch, vision and hearing), metallic taste with increased salivation, fatigue, anorexia, irritability and excitability, psychoses, mania, anemia, paresthesias, tremors, incoordination, cardiovascular disease, hypertension with renal dysfunction have all been associated with high mercury levels.
Few studies relate barium levels in the hair to pathologic processes, although one retrospective study indicated that high levels in the hair along with an elevated calcium/magnesium ratio correlated with myocardial infarction.
Nickel accumulates with age and smoking, perhaps explaining why tissue levels are highest in patients who died of cardiovascular disease.
Increased exposure to uranium dust has long been associated with increased incidence of lung cancer.
No metabolic functions are known for which mercury is required. At high concentrations, mercury causes liver and kidney damage and neurological symptoms. There is intriguing research correlating increased hair mercury levels with certain disease conditions. For instance, chronic mercury ingestion may be related to cardiovascular disease. Recent data suggests that a high intake of mercury from non-fatty fresh-water fish and the consequent accumulation of mercury in the body is associated with an increased incidence of acute myocardial infarction, as well as death from cardiovascular disease in general. Other evidence indicates that mercury can induce autoimmune disease both in humans and experimental animals. Mercury from dental fillings may also be a factor in multiple sclerosis, since hair mercury was found to be significantly higher in MS subjects compared to the non-MS controls.
Lead is the best-known example of problems associated with chronic low-level toxic element exposure. Studies show that lead toxicity is associated with deficits in central nervous system functioning that can persist into young adulthood. High levels are correlated with reduced intelligence, scores and lowered school achievement scores. One study on lead noted a seven-fold increase in failure to graduate from high school.
Cadmium is another toxic metal with a long history of detrimental effects. Smoking itself causes significant elevation of toxic element levels, particularly cadmium, lead, and nickel. Cadmium exposure has been associated with hypertension, and studies show that levels in those with hypertension are higher than controls.
Arsenic toxicity has been recognized for centuries, and hair shows significant correlation with intake. Arsenic toxicity manifests with various symptoms including anemia and neuropathy. Data show that cereals are a major source of arsenic during infancy and that changes in hair arsenic levels during infancy correspond to the introduction of cereals into the diet.
Because selenium serves as a cofactor for glutathione peroxidase, an important enzyme in the antioxidant cascade and cellular protection, the low levels of selenium found in some cases of cancer may reflect long-term impairment of cell protection capacity. Low levels of selenium have shown an association with lung and breast cancers.
It has been known for some time that chromium is a key element in glucose utilization, and adult-onset diabetics have significantly lower hair chromium levels.
It may be that certain behavioral defects, depression, and learning disabilities are caused, or aggravated, by low nutritional lithium intake coupled with marginal deficiencies of B12 and folic acid, whose transport is also modulated by lithium.
Hair zinc levels show a number of interesting correlations, such as lower levels reported in lung cancer. Another study involving cancer showed that children with malignancies in remission exhibited the same values for zinc, copper, and zinc/copper ratios, as did controls. In contrast, children with malignancies not in remission showed decreased hair levels of zinc and copper and an increased zinc/copper ratio.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis correlates with significantly higher levels of manganese. High hair manganese has also recently been associated with violent behavior, possibly because of its link to dopamine and serotonin depletion.
The element rubidium has been under scrutiny for its possible use in neuropsychiatric medications, particularly as an anti-depressant in bipolar disorder.
Strontium is under investigation as an agent that influences the osteoporotic process, inhibiting the activity of the 24 and 24, 25 hydroxy forms of Vitamin D3 in animal models.
This nutrient mineral has been studied extensively in the hair. Perhaps the most useful of the hair calcium correlations is its link to cardiovascular disease. In retrospective studies, high calcium in the hair was related to low aortic calcium, and low hair calcium showed correlation with myocardial infarction
In one study of elderly patients, a higher hair magnesium level was associated with higher rates of regional cerebral blood flow. Low levels have been linked with complications of diabetes and in certain circumstances with schizophrenia.
Correlations between hair vanadium levels and bipolar disorder indicate that the elevated vanadium found among patients with active symptoms tends to normalize during recovery.