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  • Writer's pictureAmy Slater

What is measured can be changed: using HTMA to alter stress

Hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) and mineral testing/balancing is hitting it big on social media. Rightly so! I have utilized HTMA testing with clients, family and myself for the last five years with tremendous success. If you have never heard of this type of lab test, let me give you a quick insight...

We use hair testing over bloodwork because it shows us what is going on inside the cell. Hair testing also tells us what has been happening over the course of three months while bloodwork just gives us a snapshot at the time of testing. You definitely want a trained practitioner to interpret the results as minerals work together as a team. When you see a low level that does not automatically mean that you need to directly replace that mineral with a supplement. Typically only specially trained practitioners with many hours of direct client experience will be able to interpret your labs appropriately.

It is my job to help you better understand how to adjust habits and lifestyle to positively impact the symptoms that are plaguing your day to day. One thing to remember is that HTMA testing and interpretation should be viewed as a guide or a barometer of change! This is not about an overnight quick fix or an expectation of rapid change. As I know you already realize, lasting change comes from consistent, sustainable implementation that leads to habits that no longer take effort, willpower or strain to make happen each day!

Using HTMA to Support My Body Through Nursing School

Symptoms that I have experience since starting nursing school in January 2024:

  • Joint pain

  • Slower to start in the morning

  • Decreased recovery from exercise

  • Increased afternoon fatigue

  • Increased sensitivity to fluid change (more swelling)

  • Increased abdominal and thigh body fat

  • Decreased ability to task switch quickly

None of these symptoms are ALL the time, but they are enough of the time for me to say... the total allostatic load of stress that I have taken on has overridden my body's ability to accommodate meaning...mineral loss and compensation. I FEEL EVERY BIT OF IT! I have been here before, when the girls were 18 months and the boys were 5 1/2. Whew, except then I had food sensitivities and unbeknown to me, H. Pylori.

Now, remember ALL of these symptoms came on WHILE I am also implementing:

  • A nutrient dense diet with sufficient calories

  • A regular exercise program

  • Brief morning and plenty of mid-day light exposure

  • 7-7.5 hours of sleep each night

  • Supplementation with minerals

At first glance this looks pretty solid. Well, no actually because what you don't see is:

  • Almost all of my meals are eaten WHILE doing something else including: driving to/from class, working on the computer, studying, making someone else a meal or snack.

  • Almost all of my meals are eaten in a hurry or when I do take a minute, I have already mentally mapped out the next thing to do.

  • In order to check all of the boxes that I MUST check for the day, I am up by 4AM every morning, WAY before the sun rises.

  • Seven hours of sleep is a solid hour less than what I need

  • I go from one thing to the next all day long every single day.

Now, to be clear, this is by no means complaining but it is really important to point out because these are the things that many of us overlook and end up head scratching and saying..."why am I so flipping tired all the time"! or "why am I snapping at my kids constantly!" The accumulation of stress that we cannot adapt to causes depletion and compensation that leads to a slowing of function in the body overall.

One more big point before we dig into this HTMA!! Stress is HIDDEN and seen, real and PERCEIVED, known and UNKNOWN.

Here is mine since January buy you take this picture and put your own life context...

  • HUGE surges in anticipatory stress before big exams

  • Nursing practicums that are pass/fail

  • Long sedentary classes under fluorescent lighting

  • Studying for huge amounts of time only to get a mediocre grade

  • Keeping pace with the kids' schedules and not slacking on my own workload

  • Maintaining organization in the household

  • Making lunches, preparing meals, etc....

  • Having two teenage boys that need extra eyes and two nine year old girls that need their eyes covered (you know what I mean!)

These stressors, although many of them temporary, have all impacted my overall nervous system. I like to utilize HTMA for two big movers of our hormones directly impacted by stress:

  1. Adrenal health

  2. Thyroid health

Adrenal Health: Stress on the HTMA

When I look at an HTMA, I look at the first 4 minerals: Calcium, Sodium, Magnesium and Potassium and determine if they are in a current high stress state or a more depleted state. Many times you may feel like you are in a high output of stress state (fight or flight) but your minerals are actually very depleted. It is important to differentiate the state of stress because a depleted person in the exhaustion stage will need a much different approach than someone in the initial alarm stage of stress.

Looking at my most recent state below you can see that I am in the resistance stage of stress which is defined as the body continues to adapt to the stressor (see all of the things I listed above) . Cortisol levels are still high so you may continue to feel pretty good. Mineral stores in the body continue to be used. You can see this on the HTMA because in this state my body is trying to resist the stressor and calcium continues to be released from the cell (bones and teeth). My calcium rose from 34 to 113 in three months with the added stress. Calcium builds up and docks on the thyroid receptors which slows down thyroid function. My labs are normal but I FEEL the difference big time! So there are specific behaviors, supplementation and meal strategy that I need to be diligent with to reverse this trajectory. More on the WHAT to do in part 2.

You can also see that my magnesium went from a 5.0 to a soaring 19.7 showing that my rate of magnesium utilization shot through the stress. Now, you can couple the active stress with the low potassium and you have a combined effect that is additionally stressful. Here is how the low potassium and it's impacts showed up in my world...

  • fatigue/low energy (Around 2:30-3PM each day, I experienced way more than the mid-afternoon dip, and not consistently. It lasted about 45 minutes and was a very strong fatigue.)

  • muscle weakness (This coordinated with the natural low in cortisol, I was much less coordinated and strong towards the end of day.)

  • sweet cravings (Gum! I had crazy strong cravings for gum!)

  • high blood sugar/low blood sugar (high fasting for me in the morning, sometimes as high as 115. Now this also could be bc my body is use to the natural spike in cortisol from exercising in the AM for pretty much my whole adult life)

Other signs yo may experience with low potassium may include:

  • heart palpitations

  • high blood pressure

  • increased irritability and mood changes

  • twitches in arms/legs

  • digestive issues (diarrhea, constipation, vomiting)--which furthers detox issues and electrolyte imbalances.

  • dizziness

  • nausea

  • poor mineral absorption (and the cycle continues)

The first step is recognizing the pattern and the root causes of it. For me the root cause was the huge amount of stress that I experienced with nursing school starting. I love class, love learning, love my classmates...BUT, I am TERRIBLE at taking tests and the test anxiety and fear of not succeeding drove much of my stress response. In addition the constant GO is A LOT and concern over wellbeing of my family with me being focused elsewhere is also a constant low level stressor.

Here is what I emphasized and what I am still focusing on to help resolve these patterns!

Increase my light exposure early in the day.

Organize my start to the day so that I am getting light in my eyes as early as possible. How I implement this depends on the day. Some days it is sitting at the picnic bench outside at school for 90 minutes others it is weeding the garden for 15 mintues. It is never perfect as some days I only catch the sun around 930 for 15 minutes if I am at the hospital, but I am consistent.

GOALS--intercept the stress response, set my circadian rhythm, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce leptin resistance, boost dopamine, improve focus.

Use Nutrivore to boost my micronutrient intake EARLY in the day.

You can check out the whole site anytime and you will find articles written by me coming up very soon! But here is your roadmap, your template to ensure that you are hitting your nutrient targets! Nutrivore is a tool, that you can use and explore to guide your nutrition choices. Give it a try, search potassium and you will find a boatload of resources. Starting at breakfast, I made sure to include at least two large sources of potassium in my meal: butternut squash, bamboo shoots, sardines, golden kiwi, black beans, cooked beet greens, heart of palm, artichoke hearts. I carried this trend forward for the whole day.

GOAL--improve my potassium levels which supports the stress response.

Move A LOT throughout the day in ADDITION to my morning workout.

If you follow me on instagram you will find a lot of posts about movement! I have been a personal trainer for 23 years, and a fellow of Applied Funtional Science for 11 years. Coaching movement has been business for a long time. But now I am using my background and passion to support my nervous system which then supports my mineral levels which literally makes everything in my body operate at a higher level. You can find a whole article series in the works at US Wellness Meats all about the power of micro-dosing movement! My goal is to fit in four bouts of ten minutes of movment throughout the day. Sometimes I swap a walk in the woods behind our home.

GOAL--provide an energy boost, support glucose uptake, reduce the compressive stress of sitting and studying/working, spike metabolism throughout the day and extend the benefits of my morning workout.

It is a work in progress.

I can assure you I have been in a place of elevated stress before and had to dig out from some mineral imbalances. Adding these behaviors/inputs (as I am supplementing as well) does NOT guarantee no symptoms from the stress. Instead, the behaviors and inputs protect against the harms of deficiency becoming depletion. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE.

Another tell-tale sign of progress is recognizing the stark difference between how you feel during the stressful time and once the stressor is removed. Do you have a pretty quick resolution? Do the habits that you upheld during the stressful time continue and magnify their effects? From a training perspective...this is how we can acutually use the stressful time to make us more resilient!!!


Ok, when it comes to rebalancing minerals, the heart and root of EVERYTHING is how we live our days.

  1. Are you consuming, absorbing and digesting sufficient nutrients each day?

  2. Is your environment set up to help you succeed? Do you bring foods in the home that are supporting your health goals? Do you consume the right content on social media or through newsletters/blogs that empower your long term health goals?

  3. Do you recognize the stressors in your world and actively work to bolster your health against them?

  4. Are you embracing the "perform well in life" mindset instead of always focusing on the outward aesthetic?

Mineral balancing has been a game changer for myself, my children and my family! If you are serious about making the changes you need to improve your energy, focus, stress response and sure to fill out my application or send me an email and we can get you started!!


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