Dr. Mohammad W. Ashraf, [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2010-11-24 16:42

Scientists consider hair as a metabolic end product: The element composition of which reflects the medium from which it is formed. In other words, hair serves as a minor excretory organ for the toxic elements. Hence, the study of trace metal contents of scalp hair can reveal fascinating stories. It is well known that the analysis of Nepoleon's hair showed elevated levels of arsenic as a result of repeated exposure. Thus, it was logically concluded that he was murdered by arsenic slow poisoning.
The Roman Empire became the first civilized society to use lead — they lined their wine casks with this metal. It is believed that the high intake of lead contributed to the decline of the great Empire. High levels of lead in scalp hair seem to be related to mental dysfunction. Scientists at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, found that children with learning disabilities had much higher lead than control children. They suggested routine screening by hair analysis. A similar study was carried out in an Iraqi village where the hairs were found to contain elevated levels of mercury. The cause, which was traced later, was from eating bread made from a grain contaminated with mercurial fungicide. So, the measurements of arsenic, mercury and other toxic metals in hair have been useful in identifying heavy metal poisoning.
It has been established that hair reflects the total body pool of elements better than blood and urine. Blood analysis indicates what is happening, while urine indicates what has happened. Hair analysis, on the other hand, reflects what has happened in the body for a period of about three months prior to the sampling. Like the bones and other organs, hair may be the repository of essential minerals and toxic elements, which tend to leave the blood within a few hours of exposure. This is why hair analysis is an excellent biological biopsy material. The absence of essential trace elements from the diet usually results in specific signs of nutritional deficiency, and the ingestion of a toxic element produces characteristic symptoms of heavy metal poisoning. Both situations can be detected with certainty by employing standard hair analysis procedures.
The exact role of trace elements in human illness/wellness, however, is much more complex than their essentiality or toxicity. The trace elements are often involved in the activity of enzyme systems. Abnormal metabolism results in a disturbance of these element concentrations in the body. In this respect, specific changes in the trace element composition of scalp hair may reflect deviations from the norm. It is frequently not possible to speculate on whether an imbalance of trace element concentrations is the cause or result of a disease. For example, elevated concentrations of chromium has been found in the hair of people suffering from diabetes mellitus while Kashin-Beck disease has been attributed to a selenium deficiency. Similarly, it has been discovered that low blood pressure is related to increased levels of cadmium, calcium and zinc in the hair. Furthermore, epilepsy fits have been found to be proportional to the ratio of magnesium to zinc in scalp hair, whereas aluminum has been implicated in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
Long-term occupational exposure to trace elements can be read from metal distribution patterns in scalp hair. For example, mercury concentrations in scalp hair of dentists and their clinical assistants are two to three times higher than the corresponding values from office staff at other clinics. This is attributed to the extensive use of amalgam fillings.  Welders are also exposed to airborne heavy metal hazards. Manual arc welding of steel produces a fume that contains chromium, manganese and nickel. Chromium compounds in these fumes are believed to be carcinogenic. Significantly higher concentrations of these elements are found in the hair and urine of these workers. The occupational hazard to workers in mining and refining industries is always airborne. It appears that exposure to such workplace atmosphere is reflected by elevated concentrations of heavy metals in the workers’ hair.
Hair color is another variable that may be responsible for variations in trace element levels in subgroups of the population. Hair color is determined by the amount of melanin pigments. Dark hair has higher amounts of these pigments than does blond or white hair. Red hair, on the other hand, contains siderin pigments, which contain iron and melanin require copper as cofactor. Hence, there is a relationship between hair color and trace element content. By knowing that a person had been using a hair darkening product containing lead acetate or a shampoo containing selenium and zinc, allowances can be made in interpreting the results.
Unfortunately, the status of studies in Saudi Arabia related to hair analysis and its application in various fields of diagnostic research still remains dormant. In fact, only humble attention has been given to problems related to hair analysis. Additionally, hair analysis is mainly used as a measure of environmental pollution index, but not as diagnostic tool.
Recently, in many parts of the world, medical institutions are giving due weightage to hair analysis as a routine test criterion along with urine and blood analysis to treat patients suffering from hereditary and non-hereditary diseases.
Regulatory bodies like the Hair Analysis Standardization Board (HASB), which is based in the US, governs the procedures regarding sample collection, pre-treatment and analysis of hair used for diagnostic purposes. HASB suggests that hair analysis is cost-effective and could be used in the following ways: as a screening tool for individuals and populations at risk due to possible toxic metal exposure such as occupational exposure and children with learning disabilities, and it could be used in conjunction with other tests such as blood and urine to discover metabolic disorders before the onset of disease so that remedial action can be taken. Examples include: hypoglycemia, diabetes, schizophrenia, dementia, epilepsy, arthritis and many more.
Such an excellent tool should be encouraged not only by holistic practitioners, but throughout the medical community.

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