Trace Element Analysis in Hair: Factors Determining Accuracy, Precision, and Reliability

Trace element analysis in biological samples has improved significantly over the last 40 years. Improvements in instrumentation such as inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry and microwave digestion have resulted in improved precision, accuracy, reliability, and detection limits. The analysis of human scalp hair has benefited significantly from these improvements. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found significant inter-laboratory variation amongst several laboratories performing trace metal hair testing. It concluded that standardization was necessary to improve inter-laboratory comparability, and an accompanying commentary described the characteristics of a laboratory that should be used in performing hair analysis. The objective of this study is to demonstrate that good laboratory practices will generate precise, accurate, and reliable results. A method for establishing reference ranges and specific data on an analytical method will also be presented. The use of prescribed clinical quality control, including method validation, proficiency testing, split sampling, and good laboratory practices clearly demonstrates that measuring trace elements in hair can be analytically valid.

Dean A. Bass, PhD, Darrell Hickok, David Quig, PhD, Karen Urek, BS, MT(ASCP) (Alternative Medicine Review, Volume 6, Number 5, 2001)