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Does biotin work or is it a scam?

I’m sure that you’ll have noticed that biotin is rife within products that purport to support hair growth, but does biotin work? It’s also known as Vitamin B7 and is a water soluble vitamin that isn’t stored in the body. It’s main role is the activation of enzymes called carboxylases. The majority of people obtain enough biotin from their diet, plus your gut microbiota also makes it. The RDA for biotin is 30 mcg daily. Most people in developed countries consume 35 mcg to 75 mcg per day plus an additional amount is manufactured in the gut.

How does biotin work?

Biotin is associated with hair growth as it’s fundamental to producing keratin which is the protein that comprises the majority of the hair shaft.

Good food sources of biotin include: beef liver, cooked whole egg, salmon, pork chop, roasted sunflower seeds, sweet potato, roasted almonds.

Supplement for hair growth

So why is biotin always included in hair supplements? The unlikely but not unsurprising answer is Marketing. It’s as if supplement companies are adding 2+2 and reaching 5 rather than 4. However they don’t let that stop them as that would have a negative impact on sales.

While there are a small minority of people who have a deficiency of biotinidase (that’s the enzyme that helps to recycle biotin to enable it to be reused by the body). The deficiency occurs when this enzyme isn’t working properly. Biotinidase deficiency (BTD) is caused by genetic mutations in the BTD gene. Other health problems caused by BTD include: seizures, developmental delays, problems controlling movement and with vision and hearing. It can also have an impact on skin (eczema) and  hair (alopecia).

Rare Disease

While BTD is a rare disease it can be treated with supplemental biotin. Interestingly there are two categories of BTD: profound and partial. Those in the profound group tend to have more severe symptoms earlier in life. It’s estimated that 1 in 60,000 people are impacted by BTD. This small group of people are the ones who would benefit from a biotin supplement and will need that supplement for life.

In the US newborns are screened for BTD, although it’s always worth double-checking the exact procedure in your state. For example my children were born in New York and Connecticut and were tested at birth for this and many other genetic disorders. The UK elects not to screen for BTD due to cost and the low incidence rate. Here’s a link for some more information:  https://bimdg.org.uk/site/about.asp

You might be thinking that this woman’s just a Functional Health Coach what does she know? Fair point! Clearly I’m not a medical professional or scientist. I help people to change their daily behaviours to improve their health. However I’m incredibly passionate about regrowing hair as I know the impact that this can have on all of the other areas of your life. I find that people suffering from hair loss can easily fall victim to sales scams for shampoos or supplements.

Medical literature

Let’s take a look at the medical studies. A 2017 review of eighteen biotin studies showed that biotin supplementation did improve hair growth! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5582478/ Wait, what? Let’s take a deeper look… Fourteen of those studies were on patients with an underlying genetic condition (like BTD), so yes given what we already know we’d expect their hair growth to improve. The remaining four studies were focused on low biotin levels and brittle nails, i.e these subjects were not presenting with hair loss. All eighteen studies were on babies and young children.

More recently in 2020 a study on biotin deficiency and telogen effluvium found that biotin levels were optimal for all 80 subjects (20 of whom were the control group with no hair loss). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7159307/ The group had equal representation of men and women and concluded that there were no statistical differences between biotin levels and people with telogen effluvium and the control group.

Who’s at risk of biotin deficiency?

That said, certain groups of people are more likely to suffer from a deficiency. For example, risk factors include chronic alcoholism, chronic antibiotic use, gastrointestinal issues (impairing absorption) and Accutane use. In the US up to half of all pregnant women might be suffering from a mild biotin deficiency which has the potential to contribute to birth defects.

One other thing to watch out for is raw eggs. There’s a protein in raw egg whites called avidin which binds biotin. Eating large amounts of raw egg whites will significantly increase your risk of biotin deficiency. Cooking the egg whites decreases the amount of avidin although some will remain.

Negative impact

Finally biotin supplementation can have a negative impact on your health. While there’s not a known toxic amount it can create false test results for thyroid screening. Just because it’s possible to buy a product over the counter with no prescription doesn’t mean that it’s safe, even a 10mg dose is enough to create a misdiagnosis. Given the intense marketing efforts by supplementation companies and the ubiquitous appearance of biotin, it’s easy to see why vulnerable consumers are being conned. Don’t even get me started on biotin shampoos!!!

So does biotin work?

To conclude from the information available, I’d say it works for specific cases where there’s an actual deficiency which could have multiple underlying causes. In my experience of working with clients biotin hasn’t been part of the solution. After all, how simple would that be?

If you’re ready to address your health and make changes to improve it in a scam free setting then let’s talk. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/work-with-me

Autoimmune flare

What can you do when you’re in the middle of an autoimmune flare? Depending on the AI disease(s) that you’re managing this could appear in many different ways. For example it could mean a recurrence of hair loss for alopecia, or fatigue and brain fog for Hashimoto’s.

These are steps that I’d recommend taking to manage an autoimmune flare:

Time

Look at your To-do list or schedule for the next few days, what can you drop or move to next week?

Sleep

Prioritise sleep. This means maintaining good sleep hygiene, for example, make sure that you get outside (the earlier the better to support your circadian rhythm), avoid blue light in the evening and keep your bedroom cool and dark.

Food

Prioritise nutrient dense whole food. This isn’t the time to think that you feel like rubbish so might as well attack the chocolate, crisps and booze as it can’t do any more harm as you already feel terrible.

Instead focus on meat/chicken stock rather than the longer cooked bone broth, healthy snacks like nuts and seeds, and foods containing healthy fats (particularly omega 3s). Here’s a link to some nutrient dense, gut supporting foods. https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/foods-to-regrow-your-hair/

Have a think about what food you really want to eat right now and follow that instinct with the aim of healthing it up if it’s not already healthy. For example, if you really want to eat chicken wings, then eat chicken wings but have them baked rather than fried. I love this recipe from Dr Anna Cabeca. https://drannacabeca.com/blogs/recipes/chicken-wings-with-buffalo-sauce

Maintain hydration by drinking warm water rather than cold or hot.

Self-care

Be kind to yourself! Don’t beat yourself up for the things that you’re not able to do. Trust me, I know it’s frustrating but being annoyed with yourself isn’t going to help.

Have a bath, add a cup of Epsom salts. The magnesium in the salts is absorbed via your skin and supports over 300 of your body’s biochemical reactions.

Try some gentle exercise. It could be a walk, it could be some yin yoga. This is not the time for HIIT or pushing your heart rate up with a run.

Meditate

Meditate, just 10 minutes a day will make a difference. Use an app with a guided meditation to help you, or if you’re a seasoned meditator make sure that you continue to carve out the time for yourself.

Medications

Check your medications with your doctor, are they still at the right dose? The same thing goes with your supplements are you up-to-date and taking what you need to?

Find joy

What would you love to do? What can you schedule for yourself that will put a great big smile on your face? Whatever it is, plan to do it over the next few days.

Even if you’re in the middle of an autoimmune flare there’s always something that you can do to help yourself. If you’re looking for more support you can book time in my calendar here: https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

Vegetables to help regrow your hair

If you’re interested in which foods can help to regrow your hair, you’re in luck! It’s the New Year and we’re all keen (I think…) to improve our eating habits after the last few months.  In the UK walking around a supermarket from September onwards is literally a battle of temptation and nostalgia for Christmas eating. We’ve emerged on the other side only to be met by creme eggs, but they can be safely ignored until April this year.

Not ready for AIP or Paleo?

While you might be happy to plunge full-on into the AIP diet or a Paleo reset, equally you might not. If you’re in the latter category but also want to ramp up your healthy eating a little these are the foods that will support hair growth. They’re in no particular order, and you should aim to consume foods from a couple of different categories daily:

Fats: Avocado, MCT oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Flaxseed oil and Coconut oil.

Protein: Fatty fish rich in omega 3 like wild salmon, mackerel and sardines, chicken liver, calf’s liver.

Vegetables (starchy): Sweet potatoes, beetroot and parsnips

Vegetables (non-starchy): Cruciferous veg like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy. Spinach, asparagus, onions, organic seaweed.

Fruits: Berries, Cherries, Pomegranates and apples.

Grains: Gluten free grains only!

Nuts and seeds: Flaxseeds, Walnuts and chia seeds.

Herbs and spices: Basil, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, ginger, oregano, parsley, rosemary, turmeric and sage.

Full disclosure: I’m not a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist, I’m a Functional Health Coach who has had success with these foods in regrowing hair!

With this quick post on which foods can help to regrow your hair I’m trying to keep it simple and give you a steer towards foods which will support hair growth once you’ve ruled out any intolerances that you may have and have started to improve your gut health. I haven’t even mentioned bone broth… which is brilliant as long as it doesn’t trigger a histamine response. This is a great article on that very topic: https://chriskresser.com/could-your-histamine-intolerance-really-be-mast-cell-activation-disorder/?fbclid=IwAR1xoK18j19vpjaMFjCkGI280zqfT0NPdNrK5jsAW2nX6bVDo9JVHEouLew

If you’d like to find out if I can help you, book some time in my calendar. https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

Salmon, asparagus, prawns

Before we embarked on the AIP diet I considered that my family’s lifestyle was pretty healthy. We don’t eat takeaways (okay, we’ll have fish and chips every three or four months), we don’t eat fast food, we don’t eat out in pubs or restaurants often. We are all involved in team sports and go to the gym. I started making my own baked goods when the children were small because it was easier to bake than bundle up three kids into the car, drive and navigate a shop with them. I’ve baked sourdough bread for the last decade, switching to gluten free in 2014. If we have pizza it’s homemade. As a family we cook from scratch 90% of the time, and all of the kids who are now teenagers can cook.

Prescription: AIP diet

So when a Functional Medicine doctor prescribed the AIP for my son to address his alopecia I thought that it sounded interesting and was keen to try it. In fact, we started the very next day. There was none of this phased approach, we dived straight in. It seemed to make sense for the whole family to go on the diet as three out of the five of us were dealing with autoimmune conditions, and I figured that it would be easier to cook one meal for everyone than multiple meals for the two without AI conditions.

My supermarket shopping reduced dramatically as when you’re only buying meat, fish, veg and fruit there are literally two aisles in the whole shop which are of interest. I became a label reading expert. Why, oh why do food makers take a perfectly healthy food like organic olives, and then add industrially processed sunflower seed oil? Oh, cost, that’s why. I found some great dairy free milks that weren’t full of thickeners and gums. But probably the most interesting part was getting pushed out of my comfort zone to try foods that I’d not eaten much before like plantain and cassava flour.

Will it fix everything?

I know that many people hold out the AIP diet as a panacea to fix any AI issue, but that wasn’t my experience. I found the constant shopping, prepping, cooking and cleaning up to be really time-consuming and tedious. It was also expensive. My shopping habits changed… before AIP I’d visit the same one or two supermarkets each week, I started to visit my local butcher and greengrocer each week. I’d also have an organic veg box delivered. I’d buy fish from the market on the weekend. Plus trekking down to the local ethnic store… Like I say it was time-consuming.

I used the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook as the basis for our meals. It was fine. Some dishes were better than others! We were trying the diet in the Summer so lots of the soups and stews just weren’t appealing. It was very easy to keep making the same dishes. I reached the point where I couldn’t even look at another sweet potato. Our experiment was further compromised by a trip to France which coincided with our final week on the elimination diet. We were self-catering but our food bill went through the roof. The kids were not enjoying the food at all and couldn’t wait to start the re-introductions.

Reintroductions

After a month we started to reintroduce the foods that we’d been excluding. It’s really funny how much you miss different things, for example eggs. I never thought that I had such a close relationship with eggs until they went away. So what happened to our various AI diseases? Well it was only a month after all… there was no improvement to my daughter’s ulcerative colitis, my Hashimoto’s felt the same and with regards to alopecia Harrison didn’t lose his eyebrows during that month. So that’s sort of a positive, but as we reintroduced foods (still avoiding gluten and dairy), his eyebrows did slowly fall out too.

Recommend it?

Would I recommend trying the AIP to people with AI diseases? Yes, but… only if you have a LOT of time to invest. I found that the stress of the experience likely mitigated any positive effects. I found that I was having to think about food all of the time which I didn’t enjoy. (It reminded me of when I lived in a converted garage in the South of France with no kitchen – I lasted just over a week before moving). Plus my kids were complaining about being hungry, and they weren’t enjoying the food flavours. Every time we sat down to eat someone would be unhappy, it didn’t make for a relaxing eating experience. AIP just felt too extreme and I feel that it would be extremely triggering to anyone who has a less than great relationship with food already. If you’re just cooking for one person and enjoy meal planning and batch cooking then it’s probably worth a try.

My kids and I fondly remember those plantain waffles, to be honest I should maybe try those again. They had a unique flavour (in a good way!) When I hear about people who eat this way long-term it sets off alarm bells because it’s so limiting. The whole point is to start making reintroductions to see what you’re able to tolerate. There’s a danger that the diet starts to define people and it’s quite easy to fall down a rabbit hole with it. If you’re trying it as an elimination protocol I’d start with 30 days and if you feel good after those 30 days then start the reintroductions. If your autoimmune symptoms are still apparent you could perhaps extend an additional month and then check in and perhaps start reintroductions at that point.

Do you need a coach for the AIP diet?

In my experience I’ve found that adopting a paleo template to eating is much less extreme and gives comparable benefits. I also found it considerably less stressful than AIP. I’ve written about it here https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/thirty-day-paleo-reset/ If you’re looking for support with AIP there are coaching programs out there, but there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be able to manage this diet by yourself. The paleo template that I use is modified for autoimmune conditions and has been a proven route to managing multiple autoimmune diseases within my family. I have a Hashimoto’s diagnosis that is in remission, my daughter’s ulcerative colitis is no longer flaring and my son is having amazing hair regrowth (without loss) despite having previously lost all of his hair. Another positive is that meal times are no longer traumatic, and I’m able to spend time on other things apart from just food shopping/prepping/cooking and cleaning.

If you’d like to get your autoimmune condition under control then let’s talk. Here’s a link to my calendar https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min.

Tree with extensive root system

One of the areas that I work on with clients is getting to the bottom of the root cause of hair loss. Once we figure out what the cause is we can address it and support your hair regrowth. It could be caused by an autoimmune disease, poor nutrition/absorption, infections, chronic stress, a traumatic event, hormones or histamine intolerance. And that’s just for starters! Clearly you are not going to get the bottom of this in a 12 minute GP appointment, or just by using a topical steroid prescribed by a dermatologist.

Genes load the gun…

If we acknowledge the widely accepted concept that genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger with regards to disease, then it makes sense to start here. Let’s put it another way, if we both have the same autoimmune condition e.g. Hashimoto’s, mine could have been caused by extreme stress which kept the body in fight or flight mode for sustained periods of time. While yours could have been created by inadequate sleep and eating foods that your body doesn’t tolerate well.

We have the same disease with (potentially) an identical impact on our thyroid functions causing hair loss among other symptoms. Our doctors will likely have prescribed the same dose of thyroid hormone. However, our treatment strategies to resolve the root cause of disease would be completely different. Mine would include stress management techniques, yours would incorporate a sleep hygiene protocol and a food diary to track the impact of the food that you’re eating.

Root Cause of Hair Loss

If we look at the root cause for alopecia any of the below list could be a trigger:

  • A car accident
  • An infection
  • A hormonal imbalance (e.g. pregnancy)
  • Chronic stress
  • Environmental toxicity (e.g. mold, heavy metals)
  • Histamine intolerance

This could be compounded with gut dysbiosis and/or leaky gut. As you can see all of these triggers are completely different and yet create the same end result of hair loss.

Alopecia

I’m frequently asked about the root cause for my son’s alopecia. I’ve concluded the following:

  • Genetics: We have a family history (both maternal and paternal) of AI disease.
  • Gut problems: Intolerance to dairy leading to leaky gut AND antibiotics wiping out gut bacteria
  • Triggers:
    • Underlying Stress – Moving internationally and attending 3 schools in 3 years
    • Trauma – 2016, Broken leg (nasty spiral fracture), 2017 Broken arm, 2018 Broken finger
    • Mindset – All of the breaks occurred while playing rugby, each recovery necessitated not playing rugby (which he loves) for between 6-15 weeks. I think that this had a negative impact on mental health.

I hope you can see that this particular scenario is unique to my son, just as your root cause will be completely unique to you.

It takes time to get to the bottom of the reasons for your hair loss, and it’s highly likely to be multi-factorial. Your hair is not a separate part of your body, it’s all connected. For example, if your nutrition/absorption is poor your body will prioritise your essential organs over your skin (the body’s largest organ) and hair.

I hope that this brief article has provided an insight into how figuring out your root cause can help you to regrow your hair. My program is naturally tailored to your precise circumstances because one size does not fit all.

If you’d like to find out how I can help you please book a call following this link: https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min

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