Stress Overwhelm: What We Can Learn from a HTMA and the Mineral System

A hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) is an excellent lab tool for assessing how a person is being impacted by stress. The mind/body stress response reflects both psychological and physical reactions that can have a profound effect on a person’s health. There are reciprocal relationships between the mind/body stress response and a person’s nutrient mineral system.

The parts of a hair nutrient mineral pattern that are most significant in regard to behavior and emotional control are (1) a very high stress ratio – sodium to potassium (Na/K) and (2) a high copper level with a very low zinc level resulting in a very low zinc/copper ratio.  Individuals with this type of mineral pattern often are susceptible to what I call “stress overwhelm”. Since the stress response is a survival mechanism operating at a sub-cortical level as a strong reflex response, no matter how intelligent or well educated such an individual is, the person can still experience sudden explosive outbursts in reaction to frustration or irritation.  The person usually has a very low frustration tolerance until such time as the nutrient mineral system is brought into a healthier balance. In the case of a woman with a very high copper level and very low zinc level, she would have the very intense emotional and behavioral reactions that are more commonly observed in teen girls who have severe PMS reactions. The intense explosive reactions are episodic and subside very quickly. As the woman’s stress reaction is reduced in intensity, these episodic explosive reactions are likely to become much less frequent as her stress related nutrient mineral system becomes much better balanced. The prognosis is usually good when these issues are reflected in a HTMA, but it will take time to correct the severe nutrient mineral imbalances affecting the intensity of her stress response.  There is often a vicious cycle operating with these conditions.  

Stress accelerates the magnesium “burn rate”, i.e. how quickly magnesium becomes depleted and deficient in a person’s cells and tissues.  As magnesium becomes more and more depleted, there is less magnesium available to regulate the intensity of a person’s stress response.  This process often accelerates the magnesium burn rate, resulting in a more severe magnesium deficiency.  Anything that accelerates the magnesium burn rate — alcohol, stimulant drugs, stress itself — is likely to undermine a person’s ability to deal with stress and increase the risk for “stress overwhelm.”

Stress also depletes zinc which is needed to control and regulate copper metabolism.  As copper levels build up to excess or toxic levels, especially in the brain, the person is more likely to experience “stress overwhelm.”  This is because copper tends to lower the potassium level in cells and tissues, raising the sodium /potassium stress ratio.  The more that potassium is depleted and becomes deficient in the presence of excess or toxic copper levels, the more intense the person’s reaction to stress is likely to become, resulting in “stress overwhelm.”  Ironically, too much vitamin D and/or calcium supplementation may have a similar effect as copper on the potassium level and the sodium/potassium stress ratio.  A HTMA often indicates how stressed a  person is and how susceptible they would be “stress overwhelm.”

Magnesium, vitamin B6, potassium, and vitamin A are often very effective in quickly reducing the magnitude of the elevated sodium/potassium stress ratio, thus helping the person better manage “stress overwhelm.”   Zinc and vitamin C can help to reduce the excess copper level so that more potassium and magnesium can be retained in cells and tissues.

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