s5 e18: How To Assess Stress On An HTMA

How To Assess Stress On An HTMA

How To Assess Stress On An HTMA

In this episode, I am covering how to use hair tissue mineral analysis or HTMA to assess your stress. This is one of the most valuable parts of the test, in my opinion. You get to understand what stage of stress you are in and why you may or may not be handling stress well. For most people, it is a big eye opener and something that can finally lead to confronting your stress and making lifestyle changes. If you are interested in how you can learn more about your thyroid from an HTMA, please listen to the previous episode where I covered this in detail. 

As always, this episode is for informational purposes only. Please talk with your healthcare provider before making any changes.

This episode covers:

  • The difference between high and low mineral levels
  • Three stages of stress and how to identify them on an HTMA
  • How sodium and magnesium levels are helpful for understanding your stress
  • Two key ratios, and what a high or low ratio means on an HTMA

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Amanda Montalvo [00:00:01]:

Welcome to the Are you Menstrual? Podcast, where we dive deep into all things women’s health to support you on your healing journey. I’m Amanda Montalbo, functional and integrative dietitian, also known as the Hormone Healing RD. If you enjoyed this podcast and you want to keep learning, check out the podcast Patreon, where I share a bonus episode with additional downloadable resources. Each week you can go to patreon.com forward Slash Hormone Healing RD or check out the link in the show notes. In this episode, I am covering how to use hair tissue mineral analysis or HDMA to assess your stress. And I talked about this in the previous episode. If you listen to the thyroid episode, yay. I think it’s so cool to use HDMA to give you a bigger picture of what’s going on with thyroid.

Amanda Montalvo [00:00:50]:

But I talked about stress a lot, and I said, make sure you listen to the stress episode if you have thyroid concerns. It’s important for everyone, but especially that, and I love it for assessing thyroid health. I think one of the most valuable parts of the htama is how we can assess our stress. You can understand what stage of stress you’re in and why you may or may not be handling stress well. For most people, I would say it’s a pretty big eye opener and something that can finally lead to confronting your stress and making lifestyle changes. I know I felt like called out by my hair test, the first one I ever took and many after that. That’s a lot of times why I’ll do it. I like seeing data.

Amanda Montalvo [00:01:34]:

I’m definitely one of those kind of people. As I’ve longer, I’ve gone on my healing journey, I don’t need to see it as much. I think that’s just like a part of trusting your body. But it was really helpful for me in the beginning and seeing like, oh my gosh, your metabolism is super slow. My copper was super high, calcium was super high. I looked incredibly stressed but sluggish, which is exactly how I felt. So it was good to see. I’ve also had tests after that that were like fast forward, super low minerals, very eye opening things.

Amanda Montalvo [00:02:08]:

And not that we need to have a test to make changes, but I do think it can be helpful for a lot of people, especially for those that are like, I don’t feel like I’m stressed because they’re just so used to living in that mode. It can be really helpful. So if you are interested in the thyroid stuff, definitely check out that previous episode. But I think that everyone can benefit from understanding how they can assess their stress on an HDMA. So before we dive right into the stress piece, just want to remind you this episode is for informational purposes only. Please talk with your healthcare provider before you make any changes. I hope you enjoy nerding out, but I don’t know you. I’m not your dietitian, so make sure you chat with someone that knows your health history before you make any changes.

Amanda Montalvo [00:02:54]:

When we dig into stress on a hair test, I think it’s important to know what stress is. So Dr. Han Seli is a pioneer in stress research. I mean, if you do any Googling, it’s well worth your time to learn more about him, the work that he’s done. But he talks about how stress within the body is just this nonspecific response. And that’s what allows the body to adapt to its environment, to maintain that balance. Because our body is always trying to keep us safe and it’s always trying to stay within balance. So basically, stress is what allows our bodies to adapt to our environment, right? Not all stress is bad.

Amanda Montalvo [00:03:32]:

I want to start this episode with saying that, in fact, I think it’s beneficial for us to experience some stress. It’s just more that when we’re in that chronically stressed state from all angles, mental, emotional, physical, nutritional, environmental, it adds up. And then that’s when it leads to dysfunction in the body. There are a few different markers that we’re going to look at when we’re assessing our stress response. But first, I think it’s helpful just to do like a quick look at your test. So just overall, when we’re looking at a hair tissue mineral analysis, and I’m going to share my screen. So I know if you are not watching this on YouTube, this could be annoying, but I will describe it as well. But basically, you can see this little purple chart here.

Amanda Montalvo [00:04:21]:

And I’ll zoom in a bunch because I know it’s probably small. So this is the main chart on a hair tissue mineral analysis test. So it’s measuring all the main minerals and then it’s got colors. So the darker purple section on the outsides, that means either high or low, depending on where the mineral bar is located. The white boxes are optimal. And that little line in the middle is optimal. So ideally, most of our minerals are within these white boxes for the most part. Sometimes I don’t think we need to strive for a perfect HDMA, because again, it’s showing your stress response.

Amanda Montalvo [00:05:03]:

So if you have a lot of stress going on in your life, you would want your hair test to reflect that. You wouldn’t want to look like you have no stress. You’d want to have a healthy stress response. It’s more just that when we have like this test, for example, has really high calcium, magnesium. That’s a sign of more long term type chronic stress. And if there were the low levels of copper, that could be a sign of an imbalance. But overall, we’re just trying to look at are most of the minerals in line know, okay, if we have high levels, that’s typically going to be telling us that we are more stressed and the body’s using up those minerals. Not always.

Amanda Montalvo [00:05:43]:

Sometimes it’s telling us that we have too much of a mineral. So like, if we’re taking a calcium supplement or a vitamin D supplement, that could drive up calcium, but we could have a calcium loss if we don’t have enough magnesium. So you always want to kind of compare to your other minerals. And I teach all this inside my course. There’s no way to go through this in a podcast episode, but we can just see like, okay, so we have high calcium, magnesium. This person is definitely stressed. Magnesium is burned up and used during that stress response. Their potassium is a little bit high, showing a little bit of loss, but it’s still within that optimal range.

Amanda Montalvo [00:06:21]:

SO not concerning iron is a little high. So I would definitely want to dig into their health history. Are they taking iron, are they low in iron on their blood work? And maybe it’s showing a little bit of a high level on their hair test. Chromium is a little high, which can be a sign of inflammation. Very common when iron is high, things like that. So overall, quick take, we would see this person has two minerals that are way above the optimal line. So we’re like, okay, that person’s definitely stressed. Like currently stressed.

Amanda Montalvo [00:06:50]:

So when we see low mineral levels like this test, we can see almost all of the minerals are below the optimal. And even the mildly depleted light purple, most of them are in that dark purple. And so that’s telling us the cobalt is so low that they couldn’t even read it. That’s the two little arrows mean. So this is telling us that this person is depleted. They’re likely a fast metabolic type. And so it’s like current stress. But pretty soon, if they keep going the way that they’re currently going, as far as like lifestyle, stress, nutrition, whatever is driving these depleted minerals, then eventually they’re going to get so depleted that they will be in that exhaustive stage of stress.

Amanda Montalvo [00:07:33]:

So lower deficient minerals that’s going to be more of a sign that we’re already towards that exhaustive stage of stress. Higher levels of minerals, we’re using them up right now. Depending on the mineral, that’s going to be more of a sign of like this person is actively stressed. So I think that is a helpful, quick, easy way to first start assessing your stress on a hair test is to just do a quick take. Are they really high? Are they pretty balanced or are they very low? We will talk about the stages of stress next, but I think that can just be helpful, especially if you haven’t really looked at many hair tests. Maybe it’s your first time doing it. Then it’s like, okay, I have some idea that I’m definitely pretty stressed right now, or I’m much more depleted than maybe you thought. So definitely do a quick scan.

Amanda Montalvo [00:08:24]:

Very helpful. As far as the stages of stress go on a hair test, that first stage of stress, we can see this is called the alarm stage, and this is known as fight or flight. So this is when our adrenal glands are activating, they’re releasing cortisol and adrenaline. They’re raising our tissue sodium levels because our hormone aldosterone increases and that increases our retention of sodium so that we can respond to the stressors fuels our adrenals. And when we have higher sodium than potassium on a hair test, then that’s typically a sign that you’re in that alarm stage. So you’d want to compare sodium and potassium. And look, is sodium way higher than potassium? Okay, then I’m probably in this alarm stage of stress. The second stage of stress is a resistance stage.

Amanda Montalvo [00:09:13]:

So this is like once we’re past the alarm stage, we’ve had the initial stressor for a little while now. The body is trying to match that high sodium alarm stress response and handle the stressor. Remember that from the beginning, that Hanselgi quote where he’s talking about how stress is that specific response within the body. It’s our body trying to adapt and continue to stay balanced. That’s really what the resistance stage of stress is. Our body is trying to maintain homeostasis, trying to keep us alive, healthy, and that’s what we’re going to see. When potassium is now higher than the sodium or getting pretty matching, it could be the same or higher. Oftentimes I’ll see it a little bit higher than sodium.

Amanda Montalvo [00:10:04]:

So if sodium is high and then potassium is also high or even higher, then that shows that, hey, you’ve been in this alarm stage for a while. Your body’s actually trying to resist and maintain that stress. And sometimes people might be symptomatic in this stage, but oftentimes they just feel fine or they don’t know that they’re stressed because they’ve been hanging out here for so long. And then finally from here, that third stage of stress is exhaustion. So basically, when we are hanging on in that resistance stage, we can only handle that stage of stress for so long, right? Our bodies can’t continue to pump out cortisol. Eventually things are going to get depleted. Cortisol is also part of a feedback loop of hormones and systems in the body with our hypothalamus, our pituitary, our adrenal glands, and even impacts our thyroid. Thyroid can impact the adrenals and cortisol production.

Amanda Montalvo [00:11:06]:

So it all works together. And that’s when eventually, when we’ve been in that stage for too long, something’s going to break. I often feel like thyroid is one of the first things to really go, because if you don’t have adequate thyroid function, then you’re going to stop clearing that cortisol out, and then you’re going to just have really high levels of cortisol. Your brain’s going to think, oh, I have plenty of cortisol, so I don’t need to continue to make more because it’s a feedback loop. And basically that feedback loop gets disrupted. Hey, it’s Amanda here. Just wanted to pop in really quickly and let you know about my Black Friday deal. So starting at November 19 until November 24, you can get $80 off the master your minerals course using the code Black Friday 23.

Amanda Montalvo [00:11:54]:

And I will put the link below in the description of this video. Just wanted to give you a heads up. I know a lot of people are thinking about what they’re going to focus on for Black Friday, and this is the biggest sale that we do all year. So again, that is November 24. I hope that you can take advantage. So then we start to make less and less cortisol, and then eventually our cortisol levels drop. And what’s happening all the while with this? Minerals are initially really high, right? You’ve got that high sodium and potassium. Your body’s hanging on.

Amanda Montalvo [00:12:25]:

It’s using up these minerals. It’s trying to fight and maintain balance with whatever the different stressors that are causing this change are. And then eventually it’s going to get depleted. And this is typically going to show up as a very low ratio of sodium to potassium on your hair test. And it’s when potassium is much higher than sodium. So if they’re both really high, potassium is just a little higher. I wouldn’t consider that exhaustive. But if sodium is lower, potassium is much higher, then that tells us that your body’s moving towards that exhaustive stage of stress.

Amanda Montalvo [00:13:03]:

And then eventually, of course, you’ll have depleted minerals across the board, and you’ll typically feel that most people, when they get their hair test back and they have very low mineral levels, they’re not shocked. They’re kind of like, okay, this is kind of what I was expecting because this really reflects how I feel. So those are the different stages of stress. So we got the alarm first stage. It’s, again, not bad to be stressed, but it’s when we don’t come back down, right then your potassium increases to match sodium. That’s the second stage of stress resistance. Your body’s trying to resist this stressor and stay in balance. And then we start to see that adrenal activity decrease, normalize.

Amanda Montalvo [00:13:46]:

That would be the healthy response. If the stressors then go away and then go back down, your minerals will be balanced again. If it does not happen and you continue to try to resist, then eventually you’re going to move to that exhaustive stage. And you can see all those very clearly on a hair test, which is really cool and something that I think is helpful to know where you’re at, especially when you’re kind of starting this healing journey. And even just for expectations of like, okay, I’m really in that exhaustive stage. I’m much more stressed. I’ve probably been stressed longer than I thought, or this is taking a larger toll on my body than I anticipated. So I’m going to give myself more time and space to heal.

Amanda Montalvo [00:14:25]:

I think it can be really helpful. So outside of those alarm, the different stages of stress, alarm, resistance, exhaustion, you can look at sodium levels alone, magnesium. And then there are two ratios that I like to look at. So let’s talk about stress and sodium first. I talked about this a little bit with the alarm stage of stress. But we do see our nervous system, especially that sympathetic fight or flight nervous system, plays a huge role in how we regulate our sodium levels. So when we’re experiencing that stressor, we’re in that alarm stage, we increase retention of sodium. And it’s interesting because when sodium levels are low, our sympathetic nervous system will that alarm stage, it’ll turn on in order to increase our sodium levels.

Amanda Montalvo [00:15:08]:

So low sodium can actually be a stressor to the body and keep you in that fight or flight state. But over time, those low levels of sodium are going to weaken our adrenal glands and they can lead to fatigue. So especially if we low sodium, remember, it leads to less cell permeability. So it makes it harder for nutrients to get inside the cell. I feel like I mentioned this every episode somehow. Sodium is very important. Basically, low sodium makes it harder to get nutrients, hormones inside the cell, which then slows down essentially our metabolism. It can lead to insulin resistance, all those very not fun things.

Amanda Montalvo [00:15:46]:

So when we see low levels of sodium on a hair test, then that’s a sign that the body’s not only currently stressed, because that low sodium will lead to a stress response, but it’s typically that it’s just depleted of important minerals that are going to support a healthy stress response. So low sodium, I would think that you probably had a lot of stress for a while. Again, that stress could be nutritional, it could be that you’re not getting enough from your diet. It could be supplements that you’re taking that are causing sodium depletion, like too much magnesium. It could be that you are in this chronic fight or flight state because of chronic mental, emotional or other physical stressors. It could be your environment. So many things can drive down that sodium. But if sodium levels are low, you’ve been stressed for a while, but also know that they are a current stressor to your body.

Amanda Montalvo [00:16:34]:

So we definitely want to replenish. And heavy metals are also definitely a stressor. Then when sodium is high in a hair test, that’s more like, okay, I’m currently stressed. Currently I’m making aldosterone and leading to more sodium retention, using up more sodium. So sodium very important for the stress response, adrenal gland function. But also if we don’t have enough, it can lead to adrenal gland depletion because it keeps us in that fight or flight. Magnesium is the other really important one and one that’s easy to look at in your hair test as well. When we experience a stressor, our brain gets alerted, sends those signals to our adrenal glands, again releases those stress hormones, and then that activation of that fight or flight nervous system, it actually leads to us excreting magnesium.

Amanda Montalvo [00:17:23]:

So stress equals magnesium loss. And this is why on a hair test you can see very high magnesium. And that signifies that this person is very stressed. If when magnesium levels are depleted, similar to sodium, that’s a sign that you’ve probably been stressed for a while and you’re moving towards that exhaustive stage of stress. Obviously there can be many root causes of that. And I can’t go through all this in the podcast episode because it’d be extremely long. I do cover all this in the course, but basically, low sodium, low magnesium, you’ve probably been stressed for a while. You’d be missing those nutrients from your diet.

Amanda Montalvo [00:17:59]:

But there’s many other factors as well. And then higher levels are like, you’re actively experiencing a stressor, or at least on a hair test. It’s looking at the last few months. So the two ratios that I like to use, the sodium potassium ratio, this is also known as the vitality ratio. Sodium potassium are very important electrolytes that they’re not only representing our adrenals, but also our kidneys, because that’s really how we’re controlling the sodium and potassium. And our kidneys are so important. Especially, I feel like everyone cares about their adrenal glands when it comes to stress. And I’m like, but if you’re chronically stressed, your kidneys haven’t working hard, too.

Amanda Montalvo [00:18:39]:

So we should care about our kidneys, too. But both of these minerals are very sensitive to the stress response. And you can have a high sodium potassium ratio or a low sodium potassium ratio, and they’re both signs of stress within the body. But typically, that high ratio, that’s a sign of more current stress, whereas that low ratio is more of a sign of that chronic long term stress. And then for the other ratio that I really like is the sodium magnesium ratio. Because remember, we just talked about how if high levels of sodium magnesium are a sign of current stress, low levels are more depleted. This is also known as the adrenal ratio. So if sodium, that’s regulated by our adrenal hormones, kidneys, this is why if we have an elevated sodium magnesium ratio, it’s a sign of increased adrenal output.

Amanda Montalvo [00:19:29]:

So a high sodium magnesium means that your adrenals are currently working hard. And typically that means that your sodium is going to be higher than your magnesium. And then magnesium, we’re definitely going to use that up during the stress response. So that high ratio is fast adrenal activity. It’s going to show the body’s under stress, leading to energy loss. The low ratio is showing that adrenal activity is much slower, typically due to low mineral resources, like high is current stress, low is this person’s very depleted, and they’ve probably been stressed for a while, and it’s more of like a chronic stress situation. So sodium magnesium ratio, very helpful. Sodium potassium ratio, very helpful.

Amanda Montalvo [00:20:17]:

And just looking at those minerals in general on your hair test and the levels, but I think going through the stages of stress is the really fun part of a hair test. And understanding where am I at? Am I currently stressed? Am I resisting? Or am I really in that exhaustive stage? So, hair tissue, mineral analysis, HDMA. I think it’s great for assessing your stress response. Remember, it does look at the last few months, so it is going to be showing you the last three months. So it’s not like when you do a urine test for cortisol levels or saliva or blood. That’s like a moment in tiMe. Or if you’re doing a urine test, usually it’s looking at about 12 hours, depending on the test that you’re doing. This is more showing us a broader picture, which is another reason why I love hair testing, the other important part of the picture.

Amanda Montalvo [00:21:07]:

So we don’t just want to know, okay, I’m super duper stressed, or I’ve been stressed for a long time. I’m depleted. You have to understand, where is this coming from? Right? That’s like, the next step you want to take. I feel like people are always like, okay, my adrenals are exhausted. How do I support my adrenals? We want to understand, where has the stress come from? So I really like to have people go through their stress journey. I walk you through that in my master minerals course. But we talked about in the case study episodes, too. It’s basically, they’re just going from birth until now and writing down any big stressful events.

Amanda Montalvo [00:21:49]:

Sometimes it’s a positive stress. It’s not always a negative thing. Like your birth. Maybe it was a vaginal, maybe it was C section. Maybe your mom had, like, a super traumatic birth and you had trauma the minute you entered this world. Maybe you had high stress your whole childhood. Maybe there could have been, like, drug use, alcohol abuse, whatever. Or maybe you could have had a really happy childhood.

Amanda Montalvo [00:22:11]:

Who knows? But I would definitely document, try to put the big things in. I think the transition, sometimes the transition to high school is horrible. Sometimes if you go to college, that transition can be difficult. Transition from college to the real world difficult. Like your first job, getting married. Awesome. Oftentimes stressful. Not for everyone, but for a lot of people, it can be.

Amanda Montalvo [00:22:37]:

We got married in Vegas. Very not stressful. So I wouldn’t put that on mine, but I have a ton of friends that had. They had amazing weddings, but it was like, so much stress leading up. So that’s something. Divorce, moving, could be really positive, but also very difficult. Right. Birth pregnancy, postpartum pregnancy, loss, infertility, health stRuggles, relationships, family big things that have happened, like major losses that you’ve had, pets, stuff like that.

Amanda Montalvo [00:23:11]:

Just writing that, putting that on a little timeline and just understanding. A lot of times when people do that, they’re like, wow, I didn’t realize that I had this and this happened. And then a few months later, all my symptoms started to pop up. So it can be very helpful in healing to get some perspective. It can also just answer some questions as to like, oh, okay. So maybe I did have a bit more going on in that time frame. And then exactly a year later, all this stuff started happening for me. Just something I think can be helpful.

Amanda Montalvo [00:23:42]:

The other one is, I like to have people do that day in the life, exercise inside the course where it’s like, I have you walk through what your typical day looks like again, typically very confronting for people. They may notice I have no routines, or I never go outside, or I’m always distracted while I’m eating. Or hopefully the goal is that they notice all the things are doing really well, and they’re like, okay, I’m going to keep doing this. And then here are the things I’m going to work on. But I think that can be really helpful, too, because our past is important for stress. It really is everything. Even though the hair test is looking at the last few months, everything that’s happened in your life is going to affect your nutrient status and your stress response and your nervous system now. So I think that’s really important to reiterate.

Amanda Montalvo [00:24:25]:

But our day to day is something that we have control over right now, which is so important to kind of take a hold of and better understand how we can optimize that. Are you always on the go? Are you always attached to a screen? Do you spend any time outside? Do you get sunlight in your eyes? How we live every day, we have so much more control over that. So even if I’ve had clients that have had incredibly stressful lives, like fight or flight, whole childhood, they come to me, they’re frozen and depleted, and they have a million symptoms. They heal. Your past absolutely does not define you, but it does contribute. So I think it’s important to understand both. And testing is definitely helpful. Obviously, I highlighted a bunch of cool stuff on the hair test in the last couple of episodes, but I think what you do with that information is what matters most.

Amanda Montalvo [00:25:16]:

So, same thing I talked about the thyroid episode. I said, make sure you listen to the stress one, because a lot of times, stress is a huge factor for thyroid dysfunction. And so, again, you can look at all your markers for the thyroid health. You can go through the bonus episode in Patreon and understand how the hair test versus blood work versus basal body Temperature versus symptoms is affecting you and giving you a picture of your thyroid health. But then you have to address the stress piece because that is such a big part of thyroid function and just our health in general. So I hope that you enjoyed this episode and learning about assessing stress on your hair test. If you want to listen to that thyroid bonus or any other bonus episodes I have, you can go to patreon.com hormonehealingrd. If you’re like I am ready to do a hair test, then you can check out the link below that has my mastery of minerals course linked.

Amanda Montalvo [00:26:11]:

That is always in the show notes. It’s just hormonehealing.com masteryourmineralscourse but all that stuff will be linked below. I hope you enjoyed this one and I will see you in the next episode. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Are you menstrual podcast. If you want to support my work, please leave a review and let me know how you like the episode. This lets me know what you guys want more of less of. I read every single one and I appreciate them more than you know. If you want to keep learning, you can get access to the bonus episode and additional resources on Patreon.com hormonehealingrd.

Amanda Montalvo [00:26:47]:

I’d love to have you in there. Thanks again and I will see you in the next episode.

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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