Internet articles say hair tests are a scam. Are they?

We make conclusions based on information we gather, and often on conclusions made by others. If we also gather information about who made those conclusions and their methods, that helps to validate (or invalidate) the information. We can then use it or not. The following is information about studies and exposes done on hair mineral analysis that sway public opinion.  It may also be useful to keep in mind hair analysis tests and nutritional balancing has healed more than 50,000 people who enthusiastically endorse it.

Two widely publicized articles published in the Journal of the American Medical Association claimed hair analysis was inaccurate.  Both were so poorly done that in my view they hardly deserve to be analyzed.  However, in the interest of fairness, let us review them.

The first article appeared in 1985 (JAMA 254(8)1041-1045).  The author is a psychiatrist who admitted he had never used hair analysis in his medical practice and had no experience with it.  He is also a well-known medical “quackbuster” who controls some 30 websites dedicated to discrediting and debunking holistic therapies.

For this study, he cut long pieces of his teenage daughter’s hair.  This is a direct violation of the protocol for hair sampling.  One should never use long hair for hair analysis.  This is specified in the instructions from all commercial laboratories.  Long hair unravels and mineral readings become unreliable.

The author then washed his daughter’s hair samples in kitchen tap water.  This is another direct violation of hair sampling protocol.  One should never wash hair that has been cut for sampling in any kind of water.  Tap water, of course, generally contains a variety of random minerals.  This warning is also mentioned in hair sampling instructions supplied by hair testing laboratories, but was ignored.

Then he cut the hair into small pieces and mixed them by hand.  This is also unacceptable protocol.  Hair is quite electrostatic and sticks together.  It cannot be effectively mixed this way.  The proper way to mix samples would have been to powder the hair and then mix it properly with a mixing machine.

The author then sent samples of the hair to 13 laboratories.  Four of the laboratories showed excellent correlation between the results.  Three others showed moderate correlation between the results, and six others did not correlate as well. Based on this, the author concluded that hair analysis is a fraud.

In the study conclusion, no mention was made of the fact that hair testing laboratories use different hair washing procedures that will yield differing results, and this fact was not taken into account in the discussion of the results of the testing.

Also, the references for the study were wholly inadequate and no mention was made, for example, of the US EPA review of 400 hair analysis studies that had been completed only 6 years before.  This review concluded that hair testing was reliable and meaningful for testing the levels of the toxic metals, which is all the study addressed.

This JAMA study was widely circulated to the mainstream media and has influenced many physicians, even though it was so poorly done that it should never have been published in the first place.

The 2001 JAMA “Study”.  The second study appeared in JAMA #285 (1), Jan. 3, 2001.  For this study, six hair samples were cut from one woman’s head.  The hair sampling procedure was correct, and the hair samples were sent to six different hair testing laboratories to compare the results.

The odd thing about this study was that one of laboratories chosen to test the hair was operating illegally, as it had performed badly on tests and had lost its operating licence.  The authors could have chosen many other labs for their study.

When the results came back, the worst performing lab was the illegal one.  Based on this fact alone, the authors concluded that hair mineral analysis is inaccurate and probably a fraud.

The flaws in this study are obvious:

  1. Why anyone would use an illegally-operating laboratory to study a scientific procedure makes very little sense unless the goal was to discredit hair mineral testing. It is like testing a new operation, but having someone who is not qualified do the operation.
  2. Another flaw in this study is that only one person was involved. I learned in medical school that this is nothing but anecdotal evidence, rather than a study, and one should not draw any conclusions from it.
  3. The references were horribly inadequate. As with the first JAMA study, no mention was made of the hundreds, if not thousands of previous studies of hair mineral testing that show it is a valid, accurate, reliable testing method.
  4. To their credit, the authors mentioned that washing procedures vary among laboratories and this will influence results.  However, they ignored their own statement in their conclusion, where they did not attempt to separate out the results by which labs washed the hair.
  5. In fact, the two laboratories that do not wash the hair showed superb correlation of the readings.  This finding was completely ignored by the authors.

The ‘Nightline’ expose on hair analysis. In this report from the late 1980s, hair from a dog was sent to a commercial hair analysis laboratory.  The Nightline personnel led the laboratory to believe it was a human hair sample.  They did not tell the laboratory it was from a dog.  Identifying the species from which hair is sampled is the standard and an obvious procedure.

When results came back, they were very odd because the normal mineral values for a dog are very different than for humans.  The television host claimed that this was a healthy dog and that such odd results proved that hair analysis is a fraud.

Of course, if one sent a dog’s blood to a blood laboratory and did not tell the laboratory it belonged to a dog, the exact same thing would happen.  This, of course, was not pointed out in the Nightline piece.

The June 12-13, 2001 Centers For Disease Control Report On Hair Analysis. The CDC review of hair analysis was actually just a meeting of a panel of “experts”.  The panel reviewed 10 studies of hair analysis.  Among the 10 were the two poor studies published in JAMA mentioned above.   (Recall that the EPA reviewed 400 studies of hair analysis in 1979.)

No independent research was done by the CDC.  After a short meeting, the panel concluded hair analysis is not reliable.

Read on: the next article is “How long will it take to heal from adrenal fatigue?”



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