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hair loss

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

Which foods can help to 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

What to do if your child develops alopecia

First off, while it would be fantastic to receive a diagnosis at the very first hint of a bald spot, the chances are that it will take a period of time to receive a diagnosis after your child develops alopecia. Then you know what you’re dealing with, and can take appropriate action immediately. I’m speaking as someone who didn’t do this, and hindsight is a wonderful gift! It would have been much more straightforward, painless and quicker to address the autoimmune disease before it really dug in, took hold and became even more challenging to address.

What not to do…

We didn’t do this… My son, Harrison’s, alopecia didn’t start with an obvious spot. It began slowly during the Summer of 2016 with thinning eyebrows and the ophiasis pattern. The first time that we noticed it, we thought that it was just a bad haircut! His hair behind each ear had simply disappeared in even lines almost as if it had been waxed. It wasn’t until the next hair cut a few weeks later, with a different barber who announced that it looked like alopecia.

With the second hairdresser’s diagnosis we visited the GP who thought that maybe it could be alopecia, but he wasn’t sure. It was tempting to go back to the barber and ask for his recommendations given that the GP had none, other than there’s not much that you can do and it’ll probably grow back on its own. To be fair to the doctor maybe this would have happened, but unfortunately two other events happened in relatively quick succession which resulted in complete hair loss.

Immune System took a hammering

First, in December Harrison suffered a nasty spiral fracture to his leg while playing rugby. This meant that a super sporty boy was in a cast and stuck on the sofa for the best part of 12 weeks. He was annoyed at missing such a big chunk of the season, and unable to do any exercise at all. Being stuck inside and on the sofa had a negative impact on him. He then developed a throat infection. A week after starting a course of antibiotics his hair was falling out in handfuls. This was in March 2017.

Back at the GPs when I mentioned the timing they were genuinely confused and told me that hair loss wasn’t caused by antibiotics. It simply wasn’t a side effect of amoxicillin. At this time I had an awareness about gut health and knew that antibiotics could wipe out your ‘good’ bugs. I was wondering how I knew this but the doctor didn’t. Typically if your child develops alopecia you will be referred to a dermatologist, in our case he recommended a topical steroid cream. That didn’t work. Harrison lost all of his hair including eyebrows and lashes.

How many experts?

We then started along a path of seeing various experts including: a pediatric dermatologist, allergist, pediatric gastroenterologist (x2) and immunologist. Each of these doctors carried out their own tests, and some prescribed treatments too which we dutifully carried out. These appointments were mainly through our private health insurance, but none of them helped much either. Although the second dermatologist told us that the first had prescribed the wrong version of the steroid cream. Awesome.

This all took months during which time Harrison would have some patchy growth and brows and lashes would come and go. For the most part he was wearing a hat to school, and his friends and teachers knew of his condition. When he turned 14 he joined our local gym and started working out. He trained himself using youtube videos and after a year or so he bought Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Body Building bible.

While he did have some patchy regrowth during this time it never stayed, as I mentioned before the brows and lashes were particularly unpredictable. We’d also completely given up on conventional medicine as none of these experts had helped at all. What continues to astonish me is that the gastros didn’t have a clue about gut health. The problem with all of these specialists is that they are so focused on their own little niche, which they’ve spent years being immersed in, that they no longer see the body as a whole interdependent system.

Done with ‘normal’ medicine

Having given up on mainstream or ‘normal’ medicine while continuing to have an unhappy bald son we crossed over the line to alternative treatments… We saw a trichologist, Chinese Medicine doctor, bought hair growth products from Israel(!) and tried acupuncture. Do I have to mention the shampoos? Yes we tried ‘hair growth’ shampoos too. All the above served to do was lighten my purse. With the exception of the acupuncture which I’ll come to later, none of the above helped at all. Still bald, still not happy.

In the Summer of 2018 we experienced hope for the first time in two years. Harrison had an appointment with a Functional Medicine doctor who was the first person to utter these magic words: Root Cause. Rather than treating the symptoms of alopecia i.e. hair loss, we would get to the bottom of what was actually causing the hair loss. He started on the Auto Immune Protocol diet which produced limited success, in that his eyebrows which had grown back did not fall out. He was treated for an infection and placed on a supplement regime which he took for 2 to 3 months depending on the supplement.

Child Develops Alopecia
Back to school 2018

Back to school

He went back to school in September with a smile on his face. It didn’t last long, by November his eyebrows had gone again. I didn’t want to be the kind of Mother who was constantly hassling her child so we didn’t try anything else. In fact, I thought that he had come to terms with it, and if he was happy, then I was happy. But sadly that wasn’t the case. In February 2019 he asked if he could get a wig. Clearly he hadn’t come to terms with being a bald teenager, and was starting to grab at straws.

I didn’t have a clue about how one went about getting a wig, none of the doctors had mentioned it as an option. Plus because he played so much rugby I kept seeing this image of him being on the pitch in a scrum, and instead of the ball coming out, it would be a wig… So we went back to the drawing board.

LDN

I remembered an autoimmune web conference that I’d attended where a US pediatrician mentioned using LDN with children suffering from autoimmune disease. In a nutshell, for those of us who like our science to be understandable… it causes increased endorphin release, and increased endorphins modulate the immune response. His Functional Medicine doctor had experienced success with this strategy for other patients with alopecia. He started in February, and by May new hair growth had started. This is something that you could perhaps consider if your child develops alopecia. I’ve written about it here https://practicalhealthcoach.uk/alopecia-and-ldn/

Functional Medicine Health Coach

Also in May I took a  5 week course with a Functional Medicine Health Coach on alopecia. This was the first time that I heard that it was possible to regrow hair even if you’ve been bald for years! By June I was hooked and enrolled on the ADAPT Functional Medicine Health Coach program in order to help spread both the concept of Functional Medicine and Health Coaching in the UK. It has literally been the only thing that has worked for my son, and as you can tell we’ve tried a pretty big array of treatments over the years.

Fast forward to today and Harrison’s hair is continuing to grow in. Perhaps more importantly he hasn’t lost it either. I mentioned earlier about acupuncture, we tried that for a few weeks in the Summer of 2019 when his hair had already started to grow back, potentially that may have helped too.

My Health Coaching Practice

In my practice I work with clients (or their parents) to help them find their own root cause for alopecia. I can guarantee that your root cause will be different to other clients. There’s no magic lotion, potion or pill. Just because LDN helped Harrison it may not help you. If your child develops alopecia you need to start with gut health and diet, moving on to the importance of sleep and exercise, finally looking at breathing/meditation and environmental causes. I know, it all sounds so simple and straightforward!

What’s unique about my work is the focus on micro behaviour changes through the lens of autoimmune disease. I’ve spent the last four years learning about what works, and what doesn’t, for alopecia. I’m actually really excited to be able to share this with you in the hope that you save time and money yourselves. I will always work with people who can’t afford my fees on a pro-bono basis. Please get in touch if you’d like to go on my pro-bono waiting list. Obviously, like you, I can’t afford to work for free so each quarter I work with one client for 3 months on this basis.

Thanks for reading, I wanted to raise awareness that if your child develops alopecia it’s entirely possible for hair to regrow. I want to give you both insight and hope.

Treating Alopecia with LDN

Over a year ago my son who’d lost all of his hair due to alopecia came to me and asked if he could get a wig. This knocked my sideways as I thought that he was dealing with his hair loss well. More to the point, I didn’t want to be the type of Mother that was constantly on at her child giving him the impression that he needed to be ‘fixed’. If he was happy, then I was happy. The converse was also true. I recalled some research that I’d done the year before (2018) with regards to treating alopecia with LDN. I’d not done anything with this info at the time, just stored it away.

LDN and autoimmune disease

I didn’t think that the answer for a super-sporty boy would be a wig. I revisited my alopecia studies, and recalled an auto-immune seminar that I’d attended with US pediatrician Dr Elisa Song https://healthykidshappykids.com/ She’d mentioned that some of her patients who had been diagnosed with auto-immune diseases had responded positively to the medication LDN. This medication was side effect free which was important to both my son and me. (We’d previously discussed Jak inhibitors with a dermatologist and not felt confident that the benefits outweighed the risks).

After finding out a little more via the LDN Research Trust https://www.ldnresearchtrust.org/ I was intrigued to find some examples of people with alopecia who’d experienced regrowth. Given the tricky nature of this auto-immune disease we’d already tried many different ‘experiments’, and saw this as another avenue to pursue. After discussing further with his functional medical doctor, we decided try treating his alopecia with LDN.

Three months from smooth to tiny hair

Three months later his completely smooth head developed some under the skin lumps and bumps, these developed into fine white growth which ultimately grew back in as his thick dark hair. It’s still growing back now.

This medication has been a critical part of the alopecia puzzle along with many significant lifestyle changes which would be challenging to anyone let alone a teenager. His strength of resolve and character inspires me every day.

What else can you try?

The purpose of this article is to let you know that other options exist that may support your hair regrowth. You could discuss LDN with your functional medicine practitioner. Alternatively you can get in touch with the compounding pharmacy that supplies LDN and can arrange delivery directly to your home as a private patient. This treatment is not available on the NHS. If you’re keen to pursue this option, here’s the link to the pharmacy https://dicksonchemist.co.uk/new/.

Functional Medicine gave us Hope

Alopecia is a disease which can affect anyone. My experience of living with someone impacted by this particular auto-immune disease is what made me decide to retrain as a Health Coach. Conventional medicine had no answers for us, even worse it had no hope. From the outset functional medicine gave us a measure of confidence, and the opportunity to try different protocols which have ultimately been successful.

I was delighted to discuss our experience on Alopecia Life with the lovely Deeann. You can listen here https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/s2e06-health-coaching-low-dose-naltrexone-advocating/id1479093384?i=1000499444249&fbclid=IwAR1jANOokS3xp9n5N9stIlqtf2pDy2TU_5UfUsYJbCCN53JW9SAvT-DbGoQ

Please leave a comment if you’ve had experience, positive or negative, of trying LDN.

If you’d like to see if I can help you, here’s a link to my calendar https://calendly.com/practicalhealthcoach/45-min