UNDERSTANDING A HIGH HAIR SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© May 201, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
A normal sodium/potassium ratio on a hair mineral analysis when the hair is not washed at the laboratory is roughly between 2.2:1 and 4:1. Commonly, however, the sodium/potassium ratio is elevated on a hair analysis.
A high ratio is associated with specific symptoms including acute stress, inflammation, and at times symptoms associated with zinc and/or magnesium deficiency. This pattern also may indicate the emotion of anger or an aggressive personality. The elevated ratio may also be due to the presence of toxic metals. Let us discuss each of these in more detail.
In our experience, any type of stress can increase the sodium/potassium ratio. How high the ratio goes and whether it stays elevated depends on the nature of the stress and even the personality of the person. Any type of stress can do this, from financial matters to fatigue to an infection or a toxic metal that is impairing the body functions. Let us examine this aspect of the stress theory of disease, a most useful concept in this regard.
Sodium and potassium are regulated mainly by the adrenal hormones aldosterone and cortisol. The kidneys also play a role, as can other factors including the diet in a few cases. However, in most cases, the levels are regulated by these adrenal hormones.
Aldosterone causes sodium absorption and simultaneous excretion of potassium. This occurs in the kidneys, the intestines, and in the sweat and saliva. (Guyton, P. 945-946).
Cortisol has a somewhat opposite effect, raising potassium and reducing sodium retention in many cases. Dr. Paul Eck believed that a high sodium/potassium ratio on a hair analysis is a rough indicator of a relatively greater secretion of aldosterone in relation to cortisol.
However, it is most likely even more complex than this. Cortisol and cortisone have many effects on the body that could affect the sodium and potassium levels in the cells and extracellular fluid. For example, cortisol stimulates sugar production and release, and tends to raise the blood sugar. This may also affect the electrolytes in the blood and tissues in complex ways. Therefore, I would not say that a high ratio of sodium to potassium is simply a cortisol issue.
AN ALARM REACTION
Sodium retention by aldosterone is part of the alarm reaction or fight-or-flight reaction to stress. This is an aspect of the stress theory of disease. According to Dr. Paul Eck, who was a disciple of Hans Selye, MD, the originator of the stress theory of disease, early in the alarm reaction, the potassium level remains low in relation to sodium. However, both the sodium and the potassium levels in the hair and other tissues tend to be elevated.
This pattern we call fast oxidation. However, once again, the situation is not simple. In fact, it can be quite complex because many times toxic metals or other factors can elevate the sodium level, even if the person is not in an alarm reaction or alarm stage of stress.
PERSONALITY AND THE NA/K RATIO
Those with a more forward-looking and positive outlook tend also to have a greater tendency for an elevated sodium/potassium ratio. This is a complex phenomenon also. It may have to do with particular types of adrenalin and other hormones that are secreted in response to various emotions.
It may also have to do with the fact that if one gives up we know the adrenals tend to fail and the sodium/potassium ratio tends to get much lower.
A tendency of those who are actually more positive in their outlook is they can become more easily angry at times. Those who have given up often do not become angry, but instead are resigned to their fate. They often harbor so-called chronic emotions such as frustration, resentment and hostiliy.
These were words Dr. Eck sought to use to describe the different feelings associated with a high versus a low sodium/potassium ratio. However, they were never intended to be an exact description of the feelings involved in these biochemical patterns, but rather descriptive representations of the reactions within the body to stress in the two situations we are discussing.
In fact, the reaction of anger is one of projection of one’s anger, according to many psychology books. However, this may be more positive than the paralysis that occurs if one remains in fear. Thus, the person with a high Na/K ratio is often angry, but this is not necessarily a bad thing unless it is extreme. In this case, the ratio is often elevated above about 10:1. If the ratio is less than this, often the person is simple responding positively to his or her world.
In contrast, as the Na/K ratio declines lower than about 2:1, the person is no longer able or perhaps not willing to respond. A situation of frustration ensues, and often resentment and hostility. This is my reading of Dr. Eck’s understanding of the psychology of this ratio.
Another way to view this is that the high Na/K ratio, provided it is within a normal range between about 2 and 10, is indicative of a person who is responding well to their environment. A lower or higher ratio indicates abnormal responses that are less healthful. The exception is if the circumstances demand a different response. This could either be one of extreme fight-or-flight (a very high Na/K ratio) or one of paralysis or fright that demands that one just stop and rest, which could cause a low Na/K ratio.
A HIGH NA/K RATIO AND SLOW OXIDATION
We have discussed a high ratio of sodium to potassium is a quality of a healthy fast oxidizer. However, we often see the pattern in slow oxidizers as well.
As the body becomes exhausted, adrenal and thyroid glandular activity decrease. The body then goes into what is called slow oxidation. At this time, both the sodium and the potassium levels on the hair mineral analysis will tend to decrease. However, the sodium may still be elevated in relation to the potassium level. How is this possible?
The answer is that within the exhaustion pattern one can have an acute stress response indicated by a high sodium/potassium ratio. In fact, this is a very common occurrence.
In this respect, a slow oxidizer with a low sodium/potassium ratio means a double exhaustion stage pattern, which is definitely less desirable than an elevated sodium/potassium ratio.
Aldosterone is called a pro-inflammatory hormone because it tends to increase inflammation in the body. This, again, is a complex process involving hormones, insulin production and more. We have said above it is involved heavily in sodium regulation.
In contrast, cortisol and cortisone are known as anti-inflammatory hormones because they diminish inflammation. They are more concerned with the potassium level. If one goes to the doctor with a painful shoulder or knee, the doctor may inject cortisone to reduce the inflammation. He would never consider injecting aldosterone, as it might have an opposite effect.
The sodium/potassium ratio therefore can be viewed as the balance between the pro-inflammatory state and the anti-inflammatory state of the body. This balance is critical for optimum health.
Otherwise, we get the extremes of an inflammatory condition, which is far more common today, or one in which the body cannot mount an inflammatory response to stress. This leads directly to death, since the body must be able to respond to danger and stressors at all times. This is why a low sodium/potassium ratio is considered worse or more severe than an elevated sodium/potassium ratio.
To state this differently, a high sodium/potassium ratio is associated with greater secretion of aldosterone in relation to cortisol. Because there is a greater amount of pro-inflammatory hormone, a tendency for inflammation exists in the body. This is particularly true when the sodium/potassium ratio is greater than 10:1.
HOW DOES INFLAMMATION MANIFEST IN THE BODY?
Inflammation today is the subject of much medical research. Indeed, some physicians now believe that inflammation is the major mechanism in heart disease, cancer and even diabetes. They measure C-reactive protein levels in the blood to determine the level of inflammation and recommend anti-inflammatory products to correct the imbalance.
This is a move in the right direction without a doubt. Instead of always looking for a microorganism as a cause for disease, at times inflammation is indeed the culprit. However, it is a normal response of the body that is simply out of control or exaggerated.
Hair mineral analysis thus can help identify this important cause of disease in a simple, inexpensive manner. The next issue is how this manifests and then what we can do about it.
Inflammation as a word means in-flamed or hot, irritated, red-orange in color and often feels like a burning sensation. In our bodies, inflammation can take the form of any 'itis', for example. These include hundreds such as arthritis, bursitis, colitis, tendonitis, iritis, laryngitis and many others. The “itis” just means inflamed.
In practical terms, inflammation often causes irritation, pain, redness, friction, excessive heat or warmth and eventually tissue destruction. It is a tendency for aches and pains, hardened arteries, red eyes, many allergies, upset stomach, and more.
It can also indicate a tendency for mental excitation or irritation that we sometimes call anger, as discussed above. In extreme cases, it can cause seizures, epilepsy, headache, rage and destructive behaviors associated with these qualities.
HIDDEN TOXIC METALS
Copper. In some cases, a high sodium/potassium ratio may reflect hidden copper toxicity, especially in a slow oxidizer. This is because copper elevates sodium and depresses potassium readings. The copper may be present even if the hair copper level is low or normal.
Hidden copper toxicity is quite certain if the potassium level is less than 4 mg%, or if the calcium level is over about 80 mg%. Other indicators include, oddly enough, a low sodium/potassium ratio. Others are a mercury level above about 0.03 mg%, or an elevated zinc level above about 18 mg%. This subject is discussed in far more detail in an article entitled Copper Toxicity Syndrome.
Other Toxic Metals And Inflammation. Cadmium, mercury, nickel and at times aluminum, manganese and iron toxicity can also elevate sodium levels and can cause a high sodium/potassium ratio.
One cause of this is the absolute toxicity of these metals in the body. While manganese and iron are needed in the body, the ones that cause inflammation are generally forms of these metals that are harmful such as oxides. For instance, the iron in hemoglobin does not, of itself, cause inflammation when its amount is proper.
Another reason these metals may elevate the sodium/potassium ratio is their effects at the level of the kidneys and perhaps other glands such as the pituitary gland. In other words, their effects are multiple and complex.
Note that the levels of these metals may or may not be elevated on the same hair tissue mineral analysis as one notes the high ratio of sodium to potassium. This is because the toxic metals may be hidden deep within body storage sites and is not measurable in the hair or, for that matter, by any other simple method of testing such as a urine challenge or a stool test.
Often, however, as the metals are eliminated, a retest mineral analysis will reveal an improved sodium/potassium ratio as well. An interesting exception is if a retest is performed during a toxic metal elimination. The sodium/potassium ratio may temporarily rise as cadmium, for example, is being eliminated. This occurs because cadmium passes out of the body through the kidneys. As cadmium is eliminated, it may stress the kidneys slightly. This causes the sodium/potassium ratio to rise further. The ratio may normalize when the elimination is complete.
ZINC AND MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY
A high sodium/potassium ratio often indicates a zinc and/or magnesium deficiency. Zinc lowers sodium and raises the potassium level. Zinc deficiency is very common today. Magnesium also has a lowering effect upon sodium, and is deficient in many diets today.
The zinc or magnesium levels on the hair analysis may appear normal or even elevated. However, we recommend supplementing with zinc, or a product containing zinc, when the sodium/potassium ratio is elevated. More zinc is needed if the ratio is very high. Magnesium or Paramin may also be very helpful to correct the ratio.
SALT-EATING AND THE SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
Many people assume that a high sodium/potassium ratio indicates an excessive salt intake. While possibly true, in many instances salt eating has little impact upon the sodium/potassium ratio. A high ratio frequently occurs in people who consume no salt whatsoever! In most cases, unless the kidneys or other organs are compromised, salt-eating plays a secondary role.
However, we recommend avoiding table salt completely, as it is missing its trace minerals and often has aluminum or other toxic metals added to it. Unrefined sea salt, in contrast, is an excellent food and is acceptable, even if the sodium/potassium ratio is somewhat high. The only time we recommend some salt restriction is when the sodium/potassium ratio is very high – above 20:1. In these cases, often the kidneys are somewhat compromised or a possibility exists that a person is eating excessive sea salt.
We are well
aware that some health authorities recommend avoiding all salt. We do not agree with this, as the body
needs the alkaline minerals found in good quality sea salt, such as Celtic Salt
(trademark) and others.
OTHER MEANINGS FOR A HIGH SODIUM/POTASSIUM RATIO
A directional change indicator for the oxidation rate. A high Na/K ratio can indicate a person’s oxidation rate is speeding up.
Movement toward a more effective stress response and toward greater health. A higher ratio, within limits, indicates a more effective stress response and perhaps improved health and a more positive mental outlook.
This article may be more usable when combined with a second article about the Low Sodium/Potassium Ratio.
Guyton, A.C., Textbook of Medical Physiology, sixth edition, W. B. Saunders Company,1981.
Selye, H., The Stress of Life, McGraw Hill, 1978.
Selye, H., Stress Without Distress, Signet Books, 1991.