As with any test, it pays to be your own advocate. If you go into this blind, then you are simply hoping that the person doing the testing knows what they are doing. Rest assured, by the time you have finished this post you will have a clear understanding of what each test involves.
Okay, if you have been paying close attention, you may have noticed that heavy metals are an insidious, omnipresent part of everyday life. They are inside our homes and they are inside us. So if we already know this, then you might be asking what’s the point of testing?
That’s a great question and I like the way you think. Here’s the short answer …
When the body is unable to filter out toxins it stores them away for another time. This build-up is reflected in our hair, blood, and stool. A sample allows us to see just how well your body is (or isn’t) detoxifying itself.
Knowing just how many heavy metals are in our body can be quite revealing. Having this information moving forward also makes treatment protocols more effective. For anyone with an ongoing health issue (but without a firm diagnosis), this could be your lightbulb moment!
There are several test options available. The most common being hair, blood, and urine. Each offers a snapshot in time. Hair tends to reflect a period of months. Blood and urine tend to be weeks and hours respectively.
The most accurate result comes from combining tests which are sometimes known as “tri-testing.” In this post. I’ll walk you through the pros and cons of each. But first, it’s important to note that toxicity, mineral depletion, and sickness all go hand in hand.
If we know that to be true, we would expect to see higher levels of heavy metals in our test results but that’s not always the case. There are other factors to take into consideration. For example, when the body becomes too ill or too weak to detoxify it can hold onto metals by storing them in fat tissue. This is important information to have under your belt as the person reading your results may jump to the wrong conclusions. Looking at the data subjectively leads us to first ask — is this person’s detoxification pathway overtaxed?”
Don’t panic if you aren’t sure what detoxification pathways are, you can find a whole chapter dedicated to the subject here. For now, let’s not go off on too many tangents because I’d really like for us to stay focused on testing. Without further ado, let’s dive into the world of heavy metals testing!
THE HAIR ANALYSIS TEST
The hair analysis test is noninvasive and relatively inexpensive. At the time of writing it can be purchased for around $125. Some states may require a physician to order the test for you, others do not and you can simply order the test online.
As the name suggests, a hair analysis test requires a hair sample. This is usually done from home and full instructions come with the kit. Once a hair sample is collected it is then sent to a lab in a prepaid envelope.
The hair analysis test can detect a wide range of metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. It’s very effective at picking up on mercury found in fish but not so accurate at showing dental mercury. For this reason, it can be helpful to have someone interpret the test results for you. Overall the hair analysis test is a great go-to test but it’s by no means a definitive test.
The hair analysis test can also provide valuable data regarding your trace mineral levels. Without wanting to sound like a broken record, minerals are important for maintaining health. Without sufficient minerals, the body’s detoxification process will run below par. As a side note, when minerals are in short supply vitamins are poorly absorbed.
CHALLENGE TEST (URINE)
A challenge test is sometimes touted as the gold standard by the medical profession but that’s not to say its problem-free. In fact, in the wrong hands, it can do a great deal of harm. Here’s why…
The challenge test is looking for heavy metals that pass in the urine. Prior to the test, a baseline sample is taken.
Next, a pharmaceutical-grade chelator is given (such as EDTA, DMSA, or DMPS). A chelating agent is any substance whose molecules can form several bonds to a single metal ion. In plain English, a chelating agent sticks to certain heavy metals in the hope of flushing them out as you pee.
Once the chelating agent flushes out heavy metals the pee is again collected and measured. These results are then compared to the previous baseline numbers. So far, so good but there a problem, can you see it?
If a patient’s kidneys aren’t functioning optimally a challenge test may produce a false negative. Put simply, heavy metals are moving around the body but not necessarily out of the body. This can also leave a patient feeling pretty crappy after the test.
The added downside of this test is anyone with impaired kidney function will not be able to fully excrete metals. In this case, a significant risk of kidney damage should be taken into account (particularly in older individuals). If the situation allows, it’s always prudent to allow an unwell patient to stabilize before making ANY attempts to flush out heavy metals. Sadly, there are some in the medical field who seem to overlook this simple principle. Or as my old mom used to say, “common sense isn’t that common.”
Depending on the type of exposure, heavy metals can remain at levels high in the blood for about a week. After that, they tend to gravitate to other areas of the body. Standard testing for mercury looks at total amounts of mercury in the blood. The problem with this can be twofold. First, the type of mercury found in fish will almost certainly dominate the test causing a series of skewed results. Second, when results are overwhelmed by fish mercury, it’s difficult to estimate how much mercury is leaching into the body from dental fillings. Here’s the workaround:
Separating blood samples into two separate reference ranges gives a much clear picture. This allows us to see how much mercury is being accumulated from each form of mercury, be it fish mercury (AKA methylmercury) or dental mercury (AKA elemental mercury).
The importance of tri-testing.
Dental mercury is predominantly excreted through the kidneys. When the two blood samples are cross-referenced with urine results it can show just how well (or poorly) the kidneys are working. And when blood samples from the fish-based mercury are compared to a hair sample it reveals how well the person is detoxifying fish mercury.
To simplify, the blood is able to capture both forms of mercury (be it from fish or dental). When each blood sample is cross-referenced with urine tests it’s an indication of how much dental mercury is being excreted. When the blood tests are cross-referenced with the hair sample it shows how well fish mercury is being excreted. Now, can you see why is tri-testing so important?
With these pieces of the puzzle in place, a detoxification program can now be tailored to suit your individual needs.
Those who aren’t mobilizing metals optimally via the liver and kidneys are the ones who will be the most difficult to treat. In this case, readings of metals may be lower as the body attempts to hold onto them by sending them into fat storage.
It’s worth mentioning that some metals are excreted in the stool, but again, this is limited to the person’s ability to detoxify. In this case, supporting the detoxification pathways becomes key (more on this in the coming chapter).
DON’T BE GREEDY
As you continue to read my posts, I’d like you to be thinking about the golden rule of detoxification which is this. Whenever an attempt is made to remove toxins from the body don’t be greedy. This simply means that chelation (removal of metals) has to be done slowly. Detoxification isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon race. Any attempt to do this too quickly will cause you to crash and burn. Trust me, I’ve been there and you don’t want that!