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fast and slow oxidizers
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Published: 14 years ago

fast and slow oxidizers


by Dr. Lawrence Wilson

© June 2007, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.

Metabolic typing is a central concept in hair analysis interpretation and the Science of nutritional balancing. There are many systems of metabolic typing. These include the ancient Chinese 5-element theory, the yin-yang classification and the triune Ayurvedic and Indian methods of classifying people.

This article focuses on a more modern biochemical classification that is not unlike yin and yang in some ways. It is based on the rate of the major endocrine glands, the thyroid and adrenal glands. This, in turn, is controlled largely by the sympathetic nervous system that is mediated through the pituitary and hypothalamus glands in the brain.

The system referred to here is simple. That is its virtue. It is not complete, nor is it meant to be. There are mixed states, for example. There was, according to Dr. George Watson, a founder of this system, a sub-oxidation state that we call four low electrolytes, as revealed on a hair tissue mineral analysis in which the hair has not been washed at the laboratory. This is a state of disconnect between the pituitary and hypothalmus and the target glands, the thyroid and adrenal glands mainly. It is discussed in detail in another article on this website, Four Low Electrolytes.


The term ‘oxidation types’ was coined by George Watson, PhD, a researcher at UCLA. He wrote a fascinating book entitled, Nutrition and Your Mind, and a second book entitled, Personality Strength and Psychochemical Energy. These are out of print but usually available through used book outlets including They are extremely readable and fascinating.

Dr. Watson discovered two major metabolic types, first by using odor tests and later by using blood tests. He found that the blood pH of fast oxidizers was slightly more acidic than that of slow oxidizers. He also found other differences in standard blood tests, such as the CO2 levels.

He also found that certain foods and nutrients benefited each metabolic type. He was able to correct the oxidation rate using diet and supplementary nutrients. This simple treatment often caused dramatic improvements in both his client’s physical and emotional symptoms. This is as far as Dr. Watson went in his research, to the best of my knowledge.

Dr. Paul C. Eck was a hair analysis researcher who was my mentor. He was a brilliant biochemical genius who read medical texts continuously and used hair mineral analysis as his clinical research tool. He developed the Science of hair mineral analysis interpretation far beyond anyone else I am aware of.

Dr. Eck was thrilled to discover Dr. Watson’s oxidation concepts. It helped him make sense of his own hypoglycemic symptoms, and opened the way for a scientific method of interpretation of a tissue mineral test and much more.

Dr. Eck made another startling correlation, this time between the oxidation types and the stages of stress, as elucidated by Dr. Hans Selye, MD. Selye’s work on stress is monumental, but largely ignored. In part this is because it was very hard to apply clinically, until Dr. Eck found it could be assessed easily and rapidly with a hair tissue mineral analysis.

Dr. Selye, in his classic book, The Stress of Life, and in his other works even more so, defines such concepts as homeostasis and the general adaptation syndrome. He outlines exactly how an animal or human being responds to stress in an orderly way, passing through three stages that he called alarm, resistance and exhaustion. Selye further elaborates, however, the biochemistry of each stage of stress. Dr. Eck was able to see that this is why Dr. Watson got results with particular foods and supplementary nutrients on his clients. It was because Watson was addressing the individual needs of the client in terms of the clients stage of stress and the condition specifically of the adrenal and thyroid glands and the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, also called the HPA axis.


Essentially, fast and slow oxidation are ways that the body responds to stress. The stress may be from within, such as nutrient deficiencies or fatigue. Stress may also arise from a multitude of external sources. Basically, slow oxidation correlates with a resistance or exhaustion stage of stress. Fast oxidation corresponds to an alarm stage of stress.

Dr. Eck spent a number of years attempting to determine the best way to assess these stages or types, using hair mineral analysis. After considerable experimentation, he settled on two mineral ratios for this determination. He also figured out that the hair must not be washed at the laboratory in order to make a more accurate determination of the oxidation type or stage of stress. This is a vital point, since many laboratories in the United States and most around the world wash the hair in powerful detergents, alcohol, water or solvents. Only two laboratories do not wash the hair, Analytical Research Laboratories that Dr. Eck founded, and Trace Elements, Inc., founded by a student of Dr. Eck.


Fast oxidation is defined on a properly performed hair mineral analysis when the calcium/potassium ratio less than about 4 AND when the sodium/magnesium ratio greater than about 4.17. The lower the calcium/potassium ratio or the higher the sodium/magnesium ratio, the faster the oxidation rate.

Slow oxidation is defined as a calcium/potassium ratio greater than about 4 and a sodium/magnesium ratio less than about 4.17. The higher the calcium/potassium ratio or the lower the sodium/magnesium ratio, the slower the oxidation rate.


Hair tissue mineral tests can unfortunately be affected by many factors. These are important in some cases, though not that important in most cases. These factors include the presence of excessive toxic metals, nutritional deficiencies, infections, illnesses or stress from any source. Emotional and lifestyle factors such as lack of rest and sleep, stimulant use and the use of prescription or over-the-counter medications.

For this reason, the first few hair analyses may give only a superficial picture of the condition of body chemistry. After several months to more than a year of nutritional balancing, the hair mineral patterns often change dramatically. This is also why addressing lifestyle issues is most important if one desires to correct body chemistry in the most rapid and complete fashion.

Now we will address the specific changes in body chemistry that occur with each of the major oxidation types or stages of stress.


Fast oxidation or an alarm stage of stress is characterized by excessive activity of the thyroid and adrenal glands. More adrenal activity and thus a higher level of aldosterone raises the hair or soft tissue sodium and potassium levels.

One result of this excessive adrenal and thyroid activity are lower hair tissue levels of calcium and magnesium. Essentially, increased solubility of calcium and magnesium occur when the sodium and potassium levels rise. Sodium and potassium are highly water-soluble and antagonistic to calcium and magnesium.

Serum mineral levels may, but usually do not correspond to the levels of these minerals in the hair. This is because the serum mineral levels are very sensitive to any variations, so the body often keeps them extremely stable. Much greater variation is seen in the hair levels, however. Also, hair is a storage and excretory tissue. Minerals that the body is deficient in are “stolen” or not permitted into the hair. Minerals that are in excess in the blood are often pushed off or stored in non-essential soft tissues such as the hair.


On a hair mineral analysis, the pattern of fast oxidation is one of lowered calcium and magnesium levels, along with elevated levels of sodium and potassium. This is very easy to read on a test from Analytical Research Laboratories, which has calibrated scales and simple vertical graphs. The pattern often looks like two low numbers followed by two high numbers.


Fast oxidizers also have significant sympathetic nervous system tone. This, in part, accounts for their increased adrenal and thyroid glandular activity. Sympathetic nervous activity stimulates the activity of these two sets of glands. Understanding the relationship of the sympathetic nervous system with the glandular system is essential for a correct interpretation of the hair tissue test and for understanding many health conditions.

Fast oxidizers are in an early stage of stress in which their sympathetic nervous system is responding excessively. They are in a fight-or-flight mode too much of the time, which uses up many nutrients and leads to a set of symptoms and illnesses associated with this metabolic type.


In slow oxidation, the activity of the adrenal and thyroid glands decreases. The glands themselves and at times the sympathetic nervous system are both basically depleted of nutrients and do not function well. In part for this reason, slow oxidation is related to a parasympathetic state of body chemistry with less fight-or-flight activity. In almost all cases, the sympathetic nervous system is exhausted and the person moves into a parasympathetic state by default.

There is a common situation, however, which we call sympathetic dominance. In this common condition, the person is still attempting to use the sympathetic nervous system all the time. However, the body is exhausted and can no longer respond strongly. As a result, the person stays tired and often ill, because excessive sympathetic stimulation blocks or inhibits the activity of the immune system, digestive system, elimination system and other vital organs and systems needed for recovery of health.

This is a very important distinction that I have added to Dr. Eck’s wealth of knowledge regarding hair analysis interpretation. It is displayed on a properly performed hair tissue mineral test that has not been washed at the laboratory as a potassium levels greater than 1 and less than about 5 mg%. When the potassium is 1 mg% (10 parts per million) or below, the situation is quite critical. Sympathetic dominance is discussed more in an article on this website, Autonomic Balance.

Slow oxidation, especially when the rate is very slow, is an exhaustion stage of stress, according to Dr. Selye’s stress theory of disease.

Tissue sodium, you will recall, correlates well with the activity of aldosterone, an adrenal hormone. Thus, on a hair mineral analysis, slow oxidizers have low levels of sodium and potassium. Calcium and magnesium rise in the hair as the tissue sodium level decreases. This occurs, in part, due to reduced solubility of calcium that results when the tissue sodium level is low.


Mixed oxidation is said to be present when the calcium/potassium ratio is greater than 4 and the sodium/magnesium ratio is greater than 4.17. Alternatively, the calcium/potassium ratio may be less than 4 and the sodium/magnesium ratio less than 4.17.

We use the terms fast-mixed oxidation when the key ratios tend more toward fast oxidation. When they tend more toward slow oxidation, we call it slow-mixed oxidation. Mixed oxidation is a temporary state that will change to fast or slow oxidation when one follows a nutritional balancing program.


1. Frequency of Bowel Movements. Increased metabolic activity is associated with increased peristaltic activity and hence more frequent bowel movements in the fast oxidizer. Fast oxidizers may have more than one bowel movement per day. One or fewer movements per day is commonly associated with slow oxidation.

2. Dry or Oily Skin and Hair. Increased metabolic activity is associated with increased activity of the sebaceous and oil glands of the skin and scalp. This tends to cause more a greater tendency for oily skin and hair in the fast oxidizer. Slow oxidizers are more prone to dry skin and dry hair.

Also fast oxidizers tend to have a more watery appearance of their skin, and poorer muscle definition for this reason. Slow oxidizers may have better muscle definition and dryer appearance to their skin.

Also, fast oxidizers often have a more ruddy complexion. This may be due to higher blood pressure, use of alcohol or better circulation in the skin. This is true even though the sympathetic nervous system tends to move blood inward, away from the periphery of the body. However, many slow oxidizers are still in a sympathetic dominant condition described elsewhere, in which their sympathetic system is in fact even more active than in many fast oxidizers. This causes poor circulation to the extremities.

3. Blood Circulation. An increased rate of metabolism in the fast oxidizer is associated with enhanced blood circulation, and correlates with a tendency to warmer hands and feet, even in cold weather. Slow oxidation is commonly associated with impaired circulation and a tendency for cold hands and feet.

4. Food Cravings. Food cravings can express the body's desire to balance chemistry. Fast oxidizers tend to crave fats, butter and red meat, foods which slow the metabolic rate. They may also crave sweets or carbohydrates if they do not eat enough fats and oils. Slow oxidation is associated with chronic low blood sugar. There is a tendency for sweet cravings and at times salt cravings, as the body does not retain sodium and potassium as well in slow oxidation, due to impaired adrenal glandular activity. (low aldosterone).

5. Blood Pressure. Fast oxidation is associated with increased vascular (sympathetic) tone, and sodium retention due to elevated aldosterone levels. These frequently result in a blood pressure of 120/80 or greater. Fast oxidizers are also more prone to labile or changing high blood pressure. This is because greater sympathetic nervous system activity will cause momentary constriction of the arteries due to fatigue, emotional upset or other stressors. Healthy slow oxidizers tend to have blood pressures of 120/80 or lower. This is due to weaker vascular tone, and/or low sodium levels which cause a reduced blood volume and blood pressure. However, slow oxidzers are prone to hardening of the arteries, as are fast oxidizers. This can cause high blood pressure later in life, in particular.

6. Sweating. Enhanced metabolic activity increases the generation of heat in body tissues. This is associated with increased sweating in the fast oxidizer. Slow oxidizers generally sweat less, and many hardly sweat at all.

7. Mood. In fast oxidation, all metabolic processes speed up, including mental functioning. This can result in a tendency to anxiety, irritability, nervousness, or jitteriness. Slower mental activity in the slow oxidizer, on the other hand, causes a tendency for sluggishness, lethargy, apathy, and depression. Very slow oxidation is associated with despair, brain fog and confusion.

8. Energy level. A fast metabolic rate, within certain limits, is associated with higher energy levels than is a slow oxidation rate. Fatigue and lethargy can be experienced by both types, but is more common with slow oxidation.

9. Animal Protein Preference. Fast oxidizers require more fat, and tend to prefer red meats to other meats, as they contain a higher percentage of fat. Fast oxidizers may also prefer the high-purine proteins such as sardines, anchovies and organ meats. Slow oxidizers tend to prefer chicken, fish, or vegetarian proteins because these low-fat sources of protein speed up and normalize the slow oxidizers' metabolic rate. They are also easier to digest as they contain less fat. They also contain somewhat less etheric energy and thus have a lower dynamic action than the red meats.

10. Body Shape. Classically, the fast oxidizer corresponds to a more Cushing’s disease or ‘Cushinoid’ body shape. The person is not as tall, and is broad in the middle. This is sometimes called the “apple-shaped body”. The legs and arms are thinner. There may be a “buffalo hump” in the back if the case is extreme, though most of the time this is not present. There is often a bulge in the belly. This is due to high cortisol, which in turn causes high insulin, which deposits fat in the belly area.

The classic slow oxidizer has a more “pear-shaped body”, especially later in life. This is due to sluggish thyroid gland activity, which is more associated with fat deposition on the hips and legs. The upper body is often thinner.

However, combinations of these two are very common, because people pass through various stages of stress at different times of their lives, when we view their bodies. Also, one can be a mixed type, which also gives rise to combinations of body shapes.

One final note regarding body shapes is in order. The sympathetic dominant person often has a very angular body. That is, there is little fat deposition. This is basically good, though if the sympathetic dominance persists, serious health problems including heart disease, cancer and others develop in these individuals as well. This is seen in women, particularly, who are what is called progesterone dominant. Estrogen is responsible for fat deposition, especially in the hips and breast areas. Women with low estrogen tend to be more angular. Women with higher estrogen levels tend to be more curvy, fleshy and at times one calls them more voluptuous shaped.

This section in particular, and all the symptomatic section is included because one can often save a lot of time and perhaps cost by identifying a body type by simple visual examination. However, beware of using this to prescribe a nutrition program. Many times you are viewing a person as they were some years ago, in terms of their body chemistry. I tried doing this for several years and found the hair mineral analysis did not correlate all that well, just with body shape. In fact, it gave much better information than just using any of the symptoms or signs described above. Eventually, I decided to trust the hair tissue mineral analysis and began to get better results with the clients.


True fast oxidizers tend to be anxious, irritable and aggressive if their oxidation rate is very fast. Their blood Sugar and blood pressure tend to be on the high side of normal. They are often warm and sweat easily. They usually have oily skin, and a tendency for frequent or loose bowel movements. They may gain weight in the area of the abdomen due to high levels of cortisol and cortisone.

Most people whose hair analysis indicates fast oxidation, however, are not true fast oxidizers. Instead, they are what we call tired or temporary fast oxidizers, or slow oxidizers under stress. Hair analysis indicators for this condition are:

* A sodium/potassium ratio less than about 2, OR at times when the ratio is greater than about 10.

* A hair calcium level greater than about 40 mg%, OR a magnesium level greater than about 6 mg%.

* A four-low-electrolyte pattern with calcium less than about 40 mg%, magnesium less than about 6 mg%, sodium less than about 25 mg% and potassium less than about 10 mg%.

* Higher levels of toxic metals. These can push someone into a faster oxidation than they would ordinarily be displaying on the test.


Slow oxidizers often suffer from fatigue, sweet cravings and low blood sugar. As their oxidation rate slows further, they often become apathetic and depressed. Their blood pressure and blood Sugar may be low unless arteriosclerosis or diabetes have set in. Their skin and hair are often dry, and their hair may become brittle or thin. Many experience constipation and other symptoms associated with reduced adrenal and thyroid glandular activity. Slow oxidizers may gain weight on the hips and the legs due to their metabolic imbalances.

Mixed oxidizers often display a mixture of symptoms of both fast and slow oxidation. One may need to wait until the mixed oxidation pattern resolves into slow or fast oxidation to gain a clear picture of underlying metabolic patterns.


Dr. Watson found that fast oxidizers require more fats and oils in their diet in order to feel their best. They burn their food quickly and their caloric needs are greater. Fats provide more calories and longer-lasting energy. In contrast, sugars burn too fast, provide fewer calories and often further enhance the oxidation rate. For this reason, fast oxidizers should avoid all sugars, including most fruit and all juices. Even complex carbohydrates are recommended only in small amounts.

True fast oxidizers require heavier, fattier foods such as steak and a potato covered with sour cream. To lose weight, they may do well on an Atkins diet, at least for a limited period of time. We suggest, however, that one eat only the highest quality animal fats, olive oil and coconut oil.

Slow oxidizers require more protein and less fat in their diets. Protein with every meal is most important to maintain their blood Sugar level and support adequate adrenal and thyroid gland activity. Animal protein is important to eat every day, as the bodies are depleted of many nutrients found in meats. These include zinc, alpha lipoic acid, sulfur-containing amino acids and L-carnitine. Meats also provide other less-known nutrients the slow oxidizer requires.

Protein digestion is weak in slow oxidizers. As a result, many tend toward vegetarian diets. However, this slows or prevents their complete healing. Instead, they require digestive enzymes to obtain all the nutrition from their food.


Dr. Watson and Dr. Eck found that fast oxidizers need more of nutrients such as copper, zinc, choline, inositol, calcium and magnesium. They also do well on more of vitamins A and D. Vitamins B-complex and C are less beneficial and tend make fast oxidation worse in many cases.

Slow oxidizers need more of the B-complex and vitamins C and E. They usually do not need much copper. They do, however, need zinc and most often calcium and magnesium.

Both types benefit from a digestive aid. We find that they both also need extra chromium, selenium and perhaps even a general mineral supplement.

When one combines the extensive research of Dr. Hans Selye, Dr. George Watson and Dr. Paul Eck, one begins to develop a very clear picture of the physiology and biochemistry of fast and slow oxidation.

By identifying these states quickly with a hair mineral analysis, one knows at a glance how a person is responding to stress biochemically. Then one can recommend the correct foods, nutrients, lifestyle changes and detoxification protocol to bring the body to balance and harmony. Balancing body chemistry in this manner results in a significant increase in cellular energy production. This allows healing to occur at a greatly increased rate.

We always seek to move a person from a lower energy and less optimum homeostatic state to a healthier state with higher energy. Slow oxidation, for example, is a lower energy state than fast oxidation. A balanced state, neither too fast nor too slow, is considered optimum. It is a condition in which the metabolism can speed up when needed, and yet at other times remain peacefully at rest.

The specific chemistry of the oxidation types is discussed in more detail on the Six-CD Series on Nutritional Balancing offered on this website and in articles by Dr. Paul Eck and myself. Another source of information is Nutritional Balancing And Hair Mineral Analysis by Lawrence Wilson, MD. These materials are available from Analytical Research Laboratories or by calling 1-928-776-8288.

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