Updated: Jan 4
Minerals are fundamental to life.
Minerals levels can tell us a bit more about ourselves than we'd expect!
Mineral deficiencies can be caused by many factors and will cause disturbing symptoms.
There are ways to find out what minerals are imbalanced in our bodies.
Want to learn more? Read on.
Let's take a look at nutritional minerals first, then we'll review minerals (or metals) that are considered toxic to our bodies. Lastly, we'll touch on testing.
Nutritional minerals are obtained from our diet and water. Here are few familiars: selenium, calcium, sodium, iron, sulfur, magnesium. Minerals are responsible for varied and essential functions of the body including fluid balance, nerve & muscle contraction, blood & bone formation, enzymes, growth and healing, energy production... the list goes on. Deficiency of minerals or imbalances can cause fatigue, physical stress, decreased resistance to illness, neuropathies, decreased thyroid and adrenal function, osteopenia, muscle cramps, weakness, etc. Since minerals are part of everyday functioning of every part of our body, imbalances can cause a host of different problems.
Some minerals are considered poisonous, regarded as "toxic heavy metals." Examples include: mercury, arsenic, and lead. Our government has created regulations to limit exposure of these metals as there is evidence these metals cause harm to our bodies. For example, older homes may have lead in the paint. The paint cracks off forming what we call "paint chips" that are quite sweet and therefore tasty to children.
Children are eating these paint chips (even today!) resulting in high levels of lead in their bodies and thus are at risk for developmental problems, learning disabilities, and more. Lead can also be found in pipes, ceramics, cosmetics, and toys.
Regarding other minerals, we are unsure as to the benefit or toxicity. Some of these metals are found as implants in human bodies commonly used in orthopedics to hold bones in place or as new joints. Because of this, people may have high levels of that metal in their body. Common metals used as implants include titanium and stainless steel. Stainless steel is composed of various metals often containing chromium.
Personal Lesson on Minerals
When I was in medical school, I remember my cardiology teacher who I respected telling us students he often recommends vitamin D w/K and minerals. He talked about the poor soil quality in the United States which translated to poor mineral quality of our vegetables. His lectures were heavily evidence-based and I believed him. Later, I was in another lecture about Naturopathic therapeutics which did not have citations like cardiology class. Instead, he spoke from experience based on a lineage of what worked historically. One day, he quickly mentioned humic-fulvic acid for detoxification purposes, but also for minerals. I'm still wrapping my head around humic and fulvic acid, but I've concluded it's akin to really old mineral-rich organic soil. I concluded minerals supplementation may be necessary for most people considering how depleted our soil is today, especially for those eating the standard american diet (SAD) and not drinking enough water.
What we eat (or don't eat) can cause mineral deficiencies.
The standard american diet, also called SAD, although fortified to prevent disease; such as, goiters and anemia, is lacking the rich mineral content from the pre-agricultural boom. Processed and packaged foods are no substitute for whole foods straight from the garden. Moreover, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, food additives and colorings are toxic to our health. When healthy foods are fried or over-cooked, we lose nutrients. Food intolerances and sensitivities cause gut dysfunction and immune system reactions that decrease the assimilation of nutrients. And regular consumption of alcohol will cause an imbalance of minerals.
Other causes of mineral deficiency include low water quality, physical and emotional stress, surgery, trauma, medications (PPI's such as Prilosec, antacids such as Tum's, laxatives such as Dulcolax, H2 blockers such as Zantac in particular), chronic diarrhea, pollution, and supplements.
A blood test is a good way to screen for high levels of toxic metal exposure and will give us a snapshot. This is especially useful for those children eating paint chips. Urine will also give us a snapshot of what is being excreted by the body, but this is only useful for heavy metals. Urine testing often uses a chelator and can be a bit stressful on the body as it releases metals from storage. So how do we test for mineral imbalances that have been going on for a long time? And how do we test for those nutritional minerals?
We use hair.
Hair tissue mineral analysis will give us an idea of the minerals stored in the body for the past 3-5 months. Hair minerals can tell us mineral deficiencies and excesses, toxic levels of heavy metals, metabolism rate, stress level, adrenal and thyroid function, and blood sugar resistance/sensitivity.
Overall, this gives us a picture of how your body responds to life's changes.
Examples of how hair testing can help:
Low sodium and potassium: as these two minerals are mainly regulated by the adrenal glands, this can be a sign of adrenal dysfunction and point us towards additional testing and treatment.
Low calcium and magnesium: This is common in patients with insufficient stomach acid, and sometimes these patients even suffer from chronic teeth problems, osteoporosis or osteopenia. Seeing these results may help us determine if low stomach acid (or chronic antacid use) is the cause of the bone and teeth mineralization problems. Blood calcium levels are often elevated in these patients, because the body is wasting calcium into the blood and urine instead of storing it in the bones and teeth.
Low zinc: Is often seen in patients with skin diseases, such as chronic eczema, psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.
An interesting case of psoriatic arthritis:
Several years ago we treated a young woman with chronic psoriatic arthritis. It was mostly in her fingers and toes, but caused debilitating pain. She was also an avid runner, so the condition greatly hindered her and her love of running. She saw improvement in several joints with avoidance of her food intolerances and correction of adrenal dysfunction from years of work stressors, but one joint in her fingers just wouldn't improve 100%. So we did a hair mineral analysis and which showed she was low in copper. As soon as we started supplementing the copper, her joint pain resolved! This is because bone abnormalities, even osteoporosis and increased inflammatory response can all be symptoms of copper deficiency. This patient is now living free from chronic pain relievers for her joint pain.
Interested in testing? We require a small sample of hair about 1.5 inches from the scalp at the back of head near the base of the neck. Instructions are provided. (Free haircuts in office, haha!). Telemedicine visits available.
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