There are many tests at my disposal, as a Functional Medicine Practitioner. I have tried many of them on myself before ever recommending them to a patient so that I can understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind it, and if the results will change our treatment strategy. One test that I am recommending more and more, especially for my patients who have been diagnosed with cancer, auto-immune disease, or conditions that have not responded to typical treatment, is the Doctor’s Data Hair Collection Test.
When I first started in practice, I would avoid having to do this test because I really didn’t understand it. However, the more I read, the more I realized its importance and decided to sit down and figure it out!
So here goes…
Hair is an excretory tissue, so any results that are “high” in the hair tissue are being excreted. In a way, this is a good thing, however, just because it’s not coming out in the hair, doesn’t mean you’re not being exposed to that toxic element. In our industrial society, and with the very real problem of pollution, I think that we can all agree that you will get exposed to many toxic elements. The hair root is in constant contact with blood vessels, allowing both nutritional and toxic elements to enter the hair shaft continuously as hair grows. In other words, hair analysis reflects long-term exposure to the various elements.
The goal of this information is:
If you are getting exposed to toxic elements, we want to make sure they’re being excreted efficiently. To do that, we want to increase the nutritional density of food intake. Due to the environment, it's very hard get all of your nutritional needs from the diet...supplementation must play a role.
Find ways within your control to try to reduce exposure with the understanding you cannot fully eliminate exposure. For example, when I see very high copper in the hair, I wonder if the patient has copper pipes. A water filter may be necessary, unless you want a very expensive plumbing bill!
Apply nutritional protocols to help reduce the damage the toxic elements can cause. When looking at the symptoms that toxic elements can cause, they often mirror the symptoms that patients are experiencing. The focus will be to support the liver, try to reduce exposure to these toxic elements, and replete nutrient elements. The body needs nutrient elements to displace and rid the body of toxic elements and for healing and repair. From looking at most test findings, there are typically depressed reserves. Many times, because a patient may have several low essential elements, we expect to see higher levels of toxic elements on the retest.
LOW TOXIC ELEMENTS
The results of the hair when there are low/no toxic elements are unusual, in that, there should be higher levels of toxic elements because they are in our environment. If your excretory system is working correctly and your mineral status is adequate, there should be more toxic elements coming out in the hair because of reasons explained above. In a way, their system seems “plugged up”. These will take some time but as the system starts to become “unplugged”, the metabolism will run much more efficiently and healing will occur more quickly.
HIGH NUTRIENT ELEMENTS
When calcium and magnesium levels are high in the hair (as seen in the image above), this doesn't mean you are getting or taking too much. These high levels are associated either with other deficient minerals and vitamins to properly utilize calcium and magnesium, or what is more likely the case, the body is using these minerals to help carry toxic metals and elements out of the body through the hair.
High levels of sodium and potassium in the hair are generally not reflective of excessive consumption. These are commonly high in association with elevated levels of toxic elements or xenobiotics. I also see this when patients are on numerous medications.
With a high level of copper (also seen above in the image), I educate patients on common sources, as this could contribute or cause problems similar to iron overload.
HAIR VERSUS URINE CHALLENGE: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Hair testing shows the excretions for about a 4-6 month period, as well as mineral rates and ratios. This gives us a good idea as to what chronic exposures are happening.
For patients with more complicated conditions, I commonly recommend doing what is called a “Toxic Urine Challenge” either in conjunction with the Hair Test, or I recommend it once I see results, such as you saw above where very few heavy metals were coming out.
A Urine Challenge involves taking a 6-hour urine sample on day one. Then on day two, the patient takes another urine sample after taking a chelating agent, which will help pull the heavy metals out. The Urine Challenge is only checking the toxic elements but it is more of an “acute” daily excretion rate. The day one urine collection determines what the individual is excreting within that 6 hour period (vs the slow 6 months period via hair). The day two urine collection is showing what they’re able to purge (quickly) using the chelating agent.
There are many benefits (and some limitations) to both tests but doing both tests (just as testing more broadly with the blood) gives me a better overall picture of the patient’s excretion abilities (Hair Test and Day 1 Urine Test) as well as our ability to improve excretion rates (Day 2 Urine Test).
With hair, you typically see lighter weight elements being excreted because they are easier to excrete, such as aluminum. Rarely will I see lead and mercury being excreted unless the person is a generally health conscious person who has a good ability to excrete those toxic element BECAUSE they supplement already OR if the person is getting exposed to a lot of lead/mercury, it will spill over into the hair.
A RECENT CASE: 64 YEAR OLD FEMALE DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER
Some of you have heard me talking about a recent case I have been working on. This wonderful and amazing woman presented to my office in May 2019 wanting to “get healthier” after battling breast cancer with chemo, radiation, a bilateral mastectomy, and ongoing estrogen suppression therapy. The breast cancer was diagnosed in 2011 and metastasized to her right tibia in 2014. After going through treatment for cancer, she still felt unwell. Her goal of seeking treatment with me was to “help body heal itself”.
I ordered my Comprehensive Blood Panel as well as a Hair Test and Toxic Urine Challenge.
Mostly notably on her blood work was that she was on the verge of type 2 diabetes with a Hemoglobin A1c of 6.1. She had started a vegan diet (couldn’t give up cheese, though), but was over-consuming carbohydrates in the form of fruit, juice, and other carbohydrate-rich foods. Her monocyte level was also a bit high, which indicates food sensitivities, so we did talk about reducing her cheese intake*.
I added a Female Cancer Blood Panel as well, just to see where we were starting. She has brought in a Ca 15-3 test from 4/10/19 which was at a 29 U/mL. Her baseline blood testing with me showed a Ca 15-3 of 21 and a Ca 27.29 of 41. The Ca 15-3 was in a good range, but I wanted to see the Ca 27.29 come down to below 20 and would be checking it frequently. It is also important to note, that the patient talked to her oncologist about pursuing Functional Medicine as a strategy and he was supportive and continued to follow up with the patient as we were working together.
One reason I wanted to order the toxic element challenge is because the patient had worked in an engraving factory for 30 years. I can only imagine how much she was exposed to during that time. She also said this had been a concern of hers when she got her cancer diagnosis. Sure enough, her hair results were important.
After seeing her hair results, I was excited to get her on a chelation protocol and remeasure her cancer markers after 2 weeks and then see what all was coming out after 6 weeks on the protocol.
As you can see, we made a HUGE improvement after just 2 weeks. I reminded the patient that we are NOT treating cancer with this protocol. We are achieving her goal, which is to allow her body to heal itself when given the right materials to do so!
So that takes us to present day. I just met with the patient again to review her test results after the chelation protocol. As expected, her body released more lead and antimony (a metal similar to lead) as also was able to release Mercury which we did not see on the hair or the original urine test.
Much of her blood work improved, as you saw with her Hemoglobin A1c above. She lost 15# as well! Her cancer markers also improved, but the Ca 27.29 had gone up slightly from 26. That patient had said that during her first 2 weeks, she was extremely diligent with her nutrition, but hadn’t maintained it as well all the way through. We know that it is hard to stay disciplined, but when she saw that her Ca 27.29 went up a bit again, she had a renewed sense of dedication to her health! Also, her Ca 15-3 did drop even lower which was great to see as well.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The patient is going to continue on a low sugar vegan diet minus cheese! I am going to have her continue the chelation protocol and we will be rechecking her Ca 27.29 in 1 month again to keep a close eye on things. I will also be retesting the comprehensive blood panel in 3 months, noting hemoglobin A1c and her monocytes.
Her oncologist is planning to do an MRI of her right tibia to visualize the cancer in the bone to make sure she is on the right track with pursuing Functional Medicine. Again, he is incredibly supportive and we are making sure to keep him in the loop with her treatment progress.
This is a tough case and I would be lying if I said the day to day aspects of low sugar nutrition and a chelation protocol were easy. This is definitely not easy! However, this patient survived breast cancer and said that going through chemo and radiation as well as recovery from a bilateral mastectomy were way worse than being mindful of what she is putting into and on her body. This is easy compared to that! It really is all about perspective. Each case teaches me so many things, and this case had really showed me how powerful perseverance is!
*Side note: Her retesting showed that her monocytes went up. I asked if she had reduced her cheese intake because that seemed odd. She admitted that she hadn’t, but was going to start after reading this article! She said the cheese just isn’t worth it!
Medical Disclaimer: This patient is under the supervision of her oncologist as well as myself. Please do not try any of these therapies unless working with a qualified medical professional to understand your individualized needs!