Limitations of the scalp-hair biologic monitor in assessing selenium status in epidemiological investigations

Morris, J.; Spate, Vickie; Crane, Stacy; Gudino, Alejandra
February 2012
Journal of Radioanalytical & Nuclear Chemistry;Feb2012, Vol. 291 Issue 2, p409
Academic Journal
Scalp hair is routinely used to assess exposure to toxic trace elements and nutritional status of some required trace elements. The advantages and disadvantages of hair as a biologic monitor have been comprehensively discussed in the literature for many years. Among the concerns is distinguishing between exogenous and endogenous contributions. Nested in this issue is the longitudinal distribution of a trace element along the hair strand. The typical observation for many elements of interest is that the element concentration increases from the root end to the distal end; and this is attributed to continuing contamination from exogenous sources. In this study we used neutron activation analysis to measure 14 trace elements in 6 mm segments of full-length scalp hair from three healthy members of the same household having light-urban environmental exposure. To extend the data set for selenium, we included three adult female subjects with longer than average scalp hair. From these trace-element concentrations we calculated the root-to-distal end ratios as a profile diagnostic of trace-element distributions. Ratios fall into three diagnostic categories, >1, ≈1, and <1 corresponding to profiles having decreasing root-to-distal concentrations, unchanging concentrations, and increasing concentrations, respectively. Of the 14 elements measured, only Se has R > 1, Zn and S have R ≈ 1, and the remaining 11 elements all have R < 1 in the order: As > I > Hg ≈ Au ≈ Mg ≈ Mn ≈ Sb ≈ Ca > Cu > Al ≈ Ag. R is greater than 1 and increases with hair length ( P = 0.02) corresponding to a continuous longitudinal loss of Se in stark and puzzling contrast to the other elements measured. An analogous loss of Se in the nail monitor was not observed leading us to conclude that the nail is less prone to misclassification of selenium status in epidemiological studies.


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