Biotin: Wonder vitamin or waste of time?
If you’ve wandered down the aisles of your local vitamin supply store or pharmacy, you’ve likely noticed a number of biotin vitamin supplements. From pills to gummies, shampoos to lotions, there are literally hundreds of biotin-enriched products and supplements on the market today.
Endorsed by celebrities as a game-changer in personal care, proponents claim increased hair growth, thickness, and glossiness, a cure for male hair loss, strong and healthy nails, and smooth, supple skin. Yet how many of these claims are true and how much is wishful thinking? Should you add biotin to your daily health care regime or it is just a passing fad?
What is Biotin?
Biotin is a naturally occurring B-complex vitamin known by a variety of names: B7, coenzyme R, and Vitamin H. Most people consume adequate amounts of this water-soluble vitamin merely by eating a well-rounded diet. Biotin helps the body convert food into energy. Yet this doesn’t mean that popping a biotin supplement with make you feel more energetic.
B vitamins like biotin work diligently in your cell’s mitochondria to convert energy from the food you eat into adenosine triphosphate, which is energy your body can use. People require only a very small amount of biotin in their diet. Any extra is excreted. So, unless you are deficient in biotin, you will likely not notice a difference at all if you take biotin supplements or increase the amount of biotin-rich foods in your diet.
If extra biotin is not beneficial, then why is it so popular? Surely there must be something to the claims. Is biotin the miracle, end-all, cure-all solution you’ve been waiting for? Who wouldn’t want thicker healthy hair and youthful skin? Before you add biotin supplements to your daily healthcare regimen, let’s take a look at the vitamins’ supposed benefits and the science backing each of these claims.
Who wouldn’t want to have longer-lasting energy without relying on energy drinks? Could a biotin supplement replace your daily caffeine fix and beat the afternoon slump? We know that biotin plays an important role in energy production. In fact, it is absolutely vital for enzymes involved in metabolic processes to function properly. Biotin plays a role in the breakdown of amino acids as well as in gluconeogenesis and fatty acid synthesis. It’s not the same type of energy-boost one gets from drinking a mug of coffee though. Biotin does play a role in energy production, but this is not the type of energy that makes you feel energized. On the bright side, there is some evidence that biotin may increase the metabolism.
Biotin for Hair Growth
One of the loudest claims slapped across bottles of biotin supplements is the promise of healthy hair: thicker, faster growing, shiny, healthy, a cure for thinning or balding heads everywhere. By the age of 50, 85 percent of men experience significant hair loss, so it’s no surprise how many men have jumped aboard the biotin for hair train in hopes of lusher locks. Yet there is little scientific evidence proving this to be the case. Only people who are biotin deficient, which is extremely rare, will see tangible improvement in their hair health and growth by increasing their biotin intake.
Brittle nails are unsightly and uncomfortable, easily chipping and splitting. Biotin offers some relief for those suffering from a brittle nail. Several small scientific studies have shown marked nail strength improvement in participants consuming 2.5 mg of biotin daily over a period ranging from 1.5-15 months. While these studies were small and need to be replicated on a larger scale before definitive scientific evidence can be reported, initial results were promising. Biotin may indeed help strengthen brittle nail.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) studies suggest that taking high doses of biotin may help improve quality of life for MS sufferers. Biotin plays a role in the production of myelin, a protective nerve fiber covering damaged by MS. Results have been promising so far, with participants in several small studies showing improvement. Further research and study are yet to be done, but biotin is a promising breakthrough in nerve health and multiple sclerosis.
Biotin Vitamin Deficiency
For most healthy men, a well-balanced diet rich in meat, nuts, grains, vegetables, and dairy will provide more than enough biotin. Cases of biotin deficiency are extremely rare. According to the National Institutes of Health, there are no reported cases of severe biotin deficiency in healthy people eating a varied diet. Yet there are certain diseases that cause a reduction in biotin levels. Also, bodybuilders often take biotin supplements to counteract biotin deficiency caused by a diet high in eggs.
Signs of Biotin Deficiency
As of 2018, there are no reliable laboratory tests yet on the market for biotin deficiency. However, there are signs to look out for. Thinning hair and a rash around the eyes, nose, mouth, and anal area are potential signs of biotin deficiency. Tingling feelings in the arms and legs, brittle nails, lack of interest, high levels of acid in the blood or urine, hallucinations, seizures, nervous system disorders, and depression have also been reported.
How Common is Biotin Deficiency?
As mentioned previously, if you are a healthy male eating a well-rounded diet, it is highly unlikely that you have a biotin deficiency. Long-term tube feeding, smoking, malnourishment, certain inherited disorders, rapid weight loss, and diabetes are a few conditions that may lead to a biotin deficiency. Always consult a doctor about your concerns and avoid self-diagnosis.
Foods That Naturally Contain Biotin
Biotin is plentiful in nature and eating a healthy diet is a sure-fire way to meet your biotin requirements. The average adult male needs 30 micrograms (mcg) of biotin daily. Biotin is found in meat (especially organ meats like liver), fish (particularly salmon), brewer’s and nutritional yeast, cheese, milk, yogurt, mushrooms, seeds and nuts, grains, cauliflower, broccoli, leafy greens, legumes, egg yolk, avocados and sweet potatoes.
The quickest way to up your biotin levels is to consume animal liver; beef liver packs a punch at 30 mcg per 3-ounce serving. According to Medical News Today, processing techniques can affect how much biotin food retains. Look for the least-processed food choices to maximize your biotin intake.
If the online reviews sway your opinion and you have your heart set on taking biotin supplements, Body Nutrition has some recommendations. Natrol Biotin Maximum Potency contains 10,000 mcg of biotin per serving. Sports Research High Potency Biotin supplements also contain 10,000 mcg per serving. These are just two of numerous biotin supplements on the market.
There are dozens of biotin pills on the market. Ingredients often differ between brands, as do the number of pills required per serving. The top five biotin supplements recommended by USA HomeGym are: Natrol Biotin Maximum Strength (10,000 mcg), Nature’s Bounty Biotin Softgells (10,000 mcg), Sports Research Biotin (5,000 mcg), Incite Nutrition Biotin (10,000 mcg), and Nutricost Biotin (10,000 mcg).
Biotin Shampoos claim to tackle hair problems right at the source, delivering vitamins and minerals to your hair shafts and promoting hair growth and thickening.
Organix Thick and Full Biotin and Collagen Shampoo strengthens weak hair, increases hair growth, hydrates, and adds volume. Avalon Organics Biotin B-Complex Thickening Shampoo promotes hair growth and scalp health while providing hydration too. Nature’s Gate Biotin and Bamboo Strengthening Shampoo adds shine and improves hair texture while also helping to curb hair thinning.
A quick trip to the pharmacy or online to Amazon will result in dozens of biotin shampoos. While online reviews are plentiful and offer mixed results, there’s not yet scientific evidence proving these claims to be accurate. Biotin enhanced shampoo may help if you are biotin deficient, but there are simply no studies proving that these shampoos will make your hair thicker.
Where to Buy Biotin Supplements
Biotin supplements are incredibly popular and widely available. Walmart and Target stock them, as do vitamin stores and pharmacies. Online storefronts are a good option as well and often have consumer reviews to help you make a wise buying decision. No matter where you decide to buy your supplements, make sure you’re buying a high-quality product and check out ingredient lists.
The recommended dose of biotin intake depends on one’s age and gender. Here’s a quick breakdown for the entire family:
- Babies: 5 mcg (0-6 months); 6 mcg (6-12 months)
- Children: 8 mcg (1-3 yrs); 12 mcg (4-8 yrs)
- Males: 20 mcg (9-13 yrs); 25 mcg (14-18 yrs); 30 mcg (19+ yrs)
- Females : 20 mcg (9-13 yrs); 25 mcg (14-18 yrs); 30 mcg (19+ yrs)
- Lactating Females: 35 mcg regardless of age
Biotin Before and After Using Supplements
The internet is full of biotin success stories. Some users are excited that after several months of taking supplements, their skin and hair are noticeably stronger and healthier. Some users experience significant changes. However, others experience little or no results after taking biotin over an extended period of time. As you read online testimonials, keep in mind that there is little scientific research and evidence backing up the claim that biotin is a wonder drug for skin and hair.
Biotin Side Effects and Safety
While biotin supplements are not necessary for the average, healthy person, there are also no apparent health risks involved in consuming biotin supplements. You cannot overdose on biotin. Excess amounts are excreted from the body in urine or feces. There are no known side effects of biotin consumption. Scientists are currently researching biotin in an attempt to better understand this vitamin and discover any long-term side effects or safety issues.
How Biotin Can Affect Lab Results
This is where biotin intake can get tricky and cause potential issues. Biotin supplements are known to mess with lab results, so take heed. This especially applies to thyroid tests, hormone levels, cardiac troponin levels, and vitamin D levels. Medical conditions may be misdiagnosed.
There’s at least one report of a patient dying due to biotin-related false low result on a cardiac troponin monitor, which is used to diagnose heart attacks. So, if you are taking any type of biotin supplement, no matter how low the dosage, always disclose that information to your doctor or dietician if you need any lab tests completed. It is unknown how long biotin stays in your system at levels significant enough to effect lab testing.
Final Thoughts on Biotin
Biotin is incredibly popular in the health-supplement world right now and celebrity endorsements have convinced many that this naturally occurring vitamin is the perfect addition to their self-care regimen. Proponents claim that biotin helps with hair growth, metabolism, energy, skin, nails, and more. Hundreds of supplements, biotin-infused products, and even shampoos make it easy to believe that biotin effectiveness is a fact. Yet there are few scientific studies proving any of these claims.
If you consume a well-rounded diet rich in vegetables, meat, nuts, and dairy, you’re getting more than enough biotin already. Daily biotin requirements are extremely low and supplements offer significantly higher dosage than recommended.