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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