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Checking Hormonal Imbalances Via Hair Testing

Checking Hormonal Imbalances Via Hair Testing

Did you know that you can peek into what your steroid hormones are doing by simply looking to the Zn:Cu ratio on a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA)?

Both zinc and copper are such vital nutrients for the body, influencing many organ systems, specifically our endocrine system. They play major roles in thyroid function, the ovaries, testes, and many other enzymatic processes which we'll get into below.

First off, let's understand just what do these two minerals symbolize within the ratio. 
Zinc is synonymous to testosterone and progesterone, whereas copper is to estrogen. We actually have an entire blog post on the copper-estrogen connection, so if this interests you, check it out here and a blog on the zinc and testosterone connection here. This isn't to say your zinc or copper levels will be a direct reflection of your steroid hormone levels, but rather how these minerals influence the production and utilization of these hormones.

Zinc is considered a "male mineral" because it is particularly important for men, specifically the prostate and offers "male qualities" personality wise. With adequate levels, it's considered the "gentle strength" mineral which one could connect to a male figure who is strong but not overtly abrupt or physical. Conversely, progesterone plays a part with zinc when we're looking at an HTMA belonging to a woman. Progesterone is also considered a "gentle" and "soothing" hormone that is meant to mitigate some of the effects of estrogen, as it is a hormone of growth, building, and can sometimes be over powering if not contained. In fact, it's been shown that women with low levels of zinc struggle with getting pregnant for the very reason of not being able to maintain adequate levels of progesterone, necessary for gestation.

Copper on the other hand is a finicky mineral, just like the hormone it is associated with- estrogen. In order for copper to be utilized properly in the body, it has to be bound to a specific protein called ceruloplasmin. Ceruloplasmin is predominantly made in the adrenals and the liver. If they are not bound together, it is typically a sign of stress. Now this is the interesting part and why copper and estrogen have such a close association. When the body is stressed, as we understand, copper will then not be bound to ceruloplasmin and then seem elevated on an HTMA. This can be due to emotional, environmental, physical, or chemically induced stress affecting the adrenals or liver as mentioned. As a result, this will also affect how we utilize iron, and if iron isn't being properly mobilized in and out of tissues with the help of copper and ceruloplasmin, we develop inflammation as iron is a reactive metal. Estrogen, or rather I should say symptoms of "estrogen dominance" usually present themselves in two scenarios:

  1. When we are overly stressed and the body downregulates progesterone to production.
  2. We cannot detox estrogen through the liver, thus having it recirculate into us. 

So when copper goes up, estrogen goes up. 

Granted, it won't always show on blood work, and this is important to note and why you should pay attention to your symptoms and run an HTMA in the first place. Blood work is simply a highway for hormones and many other things such as nutrients. It is not a destination on where things may accumulate or reside. Estrogen actually has an affinity for fat tissue, and so if you're someone struggling with weight loss, painful periods, heavy periods, migraines, hypothyroidism, acne, low libido, histamine issues, candida overgrowths or a sense of irritation, you may just have estrogen dominance and copper dysregulation. 

This is particularly important to note for menopausal women who no longer cycle. They are extremely sensitive because once the ovaries shut down, the adrenal glands take on all the work to produce their steroid hormones. Hence, too much stress will lead them to having hormonal issues down the line, struggle with menopausal symptoms, and even copper dysregulation. 

That being said, looking to a Zn:Cu ratio is not as easy as it may seem. 
Remember how I mentioned just now that estrogen can accumulate in tissues, specifically fat cells? Well, copper can do the same, and so if on an HTMA you see low copper or a high Zn:Cu ratio, it doesn't always mean you're deficient but rather there is a possibility that you may have something some people call "hidden copper toxicity". 

That being said, if we were isolate in looking at zinc alone, sometimes even an elevated zinc level could also be a sign of copper dysregulation. It's rare that having a high zinc level is a sign of "too much" testosterone or progesterone. In fact, an elevated zinc level is typically seen as "a loss", meaning the body isn't capable of retaining it and it's coming out in the hair. Almost like a running faucet and the water is going down the drain. 

Ideally we want the ratio to be at an 8, but it can range from a 4-12. Anything over 12 will signal a copper deficiency or a bio unavailability (or as mentioned some people use the term copper toxicity). Depending on the oxidation rate of the client, if they are a fast oxidizer, they're typically copper deficient, and if they're a slow oxidizer, they're usually struggling with copper dysregulation and unbound copper. That being said, it's important to evaluate other markers to make an official conclusion.  A marker less than 4 will signal just that, an overload of copper as well as iron overload and this could mean the same with for both metabolic types. 

Note here that just taking a zinc supplement all willy nilly can also push down one's copper status because both of these minerals are antagonistic to one another. This is why we stand by our mantra: Test, don't guess! If you are someone having hormonal problems, fertility issues, low libido, period irregularities, menopausal symptoms, andropause, or anything in between, don't hesitate to to buy one of our HTMA kits and book a consult with one of our nutritionists today by clicking the link here!

Barbara Madimenos
Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Practitioner
Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
Integrative Health Coach

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