Seafood, in particular fish are a good source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. As well these beneficial nutrients, seafood can contain trace amounts of different metals. Heavy metals present in water both naturally and introduced to the water system are absorbed by animals living in that environment. While trace elements are found in most seafood, much higher levels are found in predatory sea animals, due to the cumulative effect of their consumption. Analysis of trace metals is important to remain compliant with different countries food laws.
Green leafy vegetables are good for you. They are an easy go to for a range of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, E and K, folate, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. While once a less desirable vegetable that needed cartoon sailors to promote it, spinach has gained popularity due to its versatility as an ingredient and nutrient density, even among other green leafy vegetables.
Wheat is a versatile crop. A range of products can be produce from wheat, such as flour, cereals, pasta, beer, starches and glucose syrups. The range of products place it in high demand and as such also put it in the eyes of regulators. In the case of wheat, trace metals have been identified as a risk and levels have been regulated.
The analysis of hair may seem more like something you would see on dramatic police forensics TV show, but it’s become an accessible form of mineral analysis. If you or your doctor have concerns it can be a pain free first step to diagnosing potential issues.
What is it?
Hair analysis takes a sample of hair, usually from the back of the neck, and measures the levels of various minerals present in the hair and therefore the body. The analysis use Mass Spectrometry to compare the minerals in the hair to reference samples which can then provide a quantity of the mineral found in the sample.
Why Would I need analysis?
If you or a health professional have concerns about your health, that you think have may be due to toxicities or deficiencies, you could have your hair analysed to confirm this. The advantage of hair analysis is that it’s an opportunity to quantify minerals in your body without the need for any invasive procedures like blood tests at the beginning. If the hair testing yields concerning results, further testing can be pursued.
It’s important to understand what toxicity is and not to panic at results that may show that you have toxic minerals in your body. Many substances can be toxic when they are at certain levels in the body. Vitamin A and D are important substances that the body needs to function, however at high enough levels they can be toxic. Hair analysis can identify minerals that can be toxic and provide analysis of what levels are in the body. These are usually heavy metals like arsenic or lead that can have negative impacts on the body at toxic levels. Lead toxicity can produce symptoms such as fatigue, nausea or joint pain. Hair mineral analysis can be a first step in diagnosis of potential toxic minerals.
In the human body minerals play a number of roles. If a person doesn’t have the required amount they are considered deficient in that mineral. Minerals can play a part in some metabolic pathways in the body, the transport of other nutrients or elements throughout the body, or the growth of bone and muscle. A person with mineral deficiencies can display a range of symptoms. For example, Magnesium deficiency can lead to mild symptoms such as muscle cramps or lethargy or have long term effects such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Hair mineral testing can isolate and quantify levels of these important minerals. Hair analysis can also provide the ratios of different minerals to each other, which also plays an important role in nutrition.
Importance of reference samples (reference material)
To determine the amount of a given mineral in the hair sample, testing laboratories need to use reference samples. A reference sample is a known concentration of a specified mineral. When this is measured it can then be used as a comparison to the mineral in your hair and assess the quality of the analysis. If a reference sample isn’t used, then it is difficult to perform quality control of the analysis. Most reputable laboratories conform to an accredited method for hair analysis and will include the level of the reference sample in their reports.
Importance of interpretation
As with any analysis, the results need to be interpreted. Most testing laboratories will provide results only. Analysis provides a list of the minerals identified and the levels that they are present at (hopefully compared to reference levels). To the average person these results won’t mean a lot. This is why it is important to have a qualified health professional interpret the results and suggest a course of action. In the case of nutritional mineral deficiencies, a nutritionist or dietician may be able to interpret results and recommend any dietary changes that you may need. A doctor, however is the best person to consult with regarding your results. Once a doctor has seen the mineral levels, they can propose additional analysis (such as blood tests), possible therapies, or investigation as to the source of toxic minerals or nutritional deficiencies. It is not advisable to attempt to remedy deficiencies or toxic levels by yourself. Always seek professional advice.
Hair mineral testing is an easy, non-invasive option for mineral testing in the body, that may offer some explanation of symptoms you may be displaying. It is, however, important to remember that this test is usually just a first step in any diagnosis of possible toxic or nutritional issues.
Modern research studies these days focus a lot on analysis of balance of trace metals in humans. Investigations have shown that many trace elements can influence human health. For example, the excess of some toxic metals or deficiency of some essential metals can be the significant factor in many physical or psychological conditions such autism.
Most of the analytical techniques used for the determination of heavy metals in solid samples require sample digestion. This way, the sample in the liquid state can be introduced into an analytical instrument. However, sample digestion can lead to loss of volatile compounds. This also leads to having partly soluble compounds present in the analysed material.
On the other hand, methods such as X-ray fluorescence that directly work with solid samples have limits of detection that are unsatisfactory. That’s why scientists have developed an analytical technique that doesn not require sample digestion while still producing satisfactory detection limits. This method is based on inductively coupled plasma – mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).
In the ICP-MS method, the sample is introduced undigested into an analytical instrument. It starts with pumping sample (mostly liquid) into nebulizer where it is turned into a fine aerosol with argon gas. From there it goes to spray chamber, after which fine particles are injected to the plasma torch. In plasma torch, ionisation of the sample occurs. The ions are then directed to mass analyser and detector.
For slurry sampling by ICP-MS, the sample should be ground and dispersed in a suitable chemical. Studies showed that sample particle size of 8 µm would act the same as liquid droplets in the nebulizer. They will undergo the same ionisation process in the plasma torch.
Slurry nebulisation ICP-MS is useful for multi-element analysis in many types of rock samples. It can also be used for sediment and soil testing. It is also an alternative technique for the determination of volatile elements such as arsenic, antimony, and tin. For the determination of low levels of uranium, thorium, niobium, and tantalum, slurry nebulisation ICP-MS is also useful. The limits of detection using this technique are less than 1 ng/g for many elements such as chromium, selenium, silver, cadmium, tin, and antimony.
Shu-feng Chen and Shiuh-jen Jiang J. Anal. At. Spectrom., 1998. 13, 1113-1117 Determination of cadmium, mercury and lead in soil samples by slurry sampling electrothermal vaporization inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry
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