Sunday, September 20, 2009

By the hair on my chinny chin chingg

One of the problems in wellness is the lack of hard data to make personal decisions on. To say a person needs 50mg of Vitamin X (or whatever) is like saying the average shoe size of people liking in NZ is 9. Therefore we are only going to make size 9 shoes. Clearly this is absurd, so why do we stick to a particular does of vitamin when we are all so different.

Part of the reason is because determining vitamin/mineral levels in the body is very challenging. The most common tool is a blood test. There are two problems with this. Firstly blood levels may not give an accurate representation of your nutrient levels and secondly people don't like having blood extracted !

However there are a number of non intrusive things that could be tested, including:
  • Urine
  • Feces
  • Hair on head, body hair, underarm and pubic hair
  • Saliva
  • Finger and toe nails
  • Tears, iris and retina analysis
  • Another test that is non invasive is shining light through fingers or other tissue such as cheeks or ear lobes.
Most of these are in use to some degree. Take a urine test for kidney problems and get your blood oxygen level monitored with a gadget that clips on your finger and measures how red your blood is. Blood carotene levels can also be measured using modified form of this method.

I was reading an article about sheep's wool and the impact that nutrition has on wool. This reminded me of a student I new at university. He had a long term sickness that took quite some time to get to the bottom of. He had extremely white hair that hardly grew at all, and was quite wirery. Once they got onto of his health problems his hair started to grow again and it changed from extreme white to a more natural blond color.

Clearly this is an extreme example but it got me wondering if hair could be used as a indicator of internal health. Hair can be used to indicate various metal levels although there is debate about repeatable the tests are. Hair can be used as a test for alcohol consumption. The body produces a specific fat only when alcohol is consumed. This fat is then Incorporated into hair and can be measured.

Back to the wool article, in making hair the hair cells are rapidly dividing. In cell division you use the following vitamins:
  • Folic acid - B9
  • Cyanocobalamin - B12
  • Pyridoxine - B6
So one could hypothesis that lack of these B vitamins would cause hair growth to slow.

Vitamin A is used in production of keratin which is a tough protein that helps give hair its strength. Therefore thin and breakable hair might be an indication of sub optimal vitamin A levels. It would also appear that feeding more vitamin A to sheep increases speed of hair growth.

Vitamin D and E have also been implicated in wool quality. Vitamin D3 is Incorporated into the hair. Therefore it could lead to a marker for vitamin D status.

Reference: Masters DG, Hynd PI. Nutrition and wool quality. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society of Australia 2000; 24:66-74.

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