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Biotin for Hair Growth and Health

If you’ve spent any time researching hair loss solutions, you’ve come across more than a handful that include biotin. It’s everywhere. But just because shampoo and supplement makers are throwing something in their products doesn't necessarily make it a wise buy.

The price of an ingredient and how popular it is often plays a bigger role in what’s sold than its effectiveness or even safety. Some companies are only interested in making a buck. Google "hair loss cures", as you no doubt already have, and you’ll be met with countless results -- quite frankly, many of them useless and a waste of your time and money.

So, where does biotin fit in?

We’ll start by telling you what biotin isn’t -- a miracle cure for balding -- there isn’t one. But, unlike many solutions that claim to offer fast and dramatic results, there is some evidence that increasing biotin consumption could slow hair loss and promote hair growth.

What Is Biotin?

Biotin is a B vitamin, vitamin B7 to be more exact. It’s also sometimes called Vitamin H or coenzyme R, because science likes to keep things confusing. Like all B vitamins, this one helps the body metabolize food, or turn carbohydrates into energy for our body to use, and break down proteins and fats.

Perhaps surprisingly, biotin is created naturally by bacteria in your intestines, but just how much is absorbed and put to use is unknown. Despite the unknowns, it’s widely accepted that a healthy body makes enough biotin for us. Even if it didn’t, however, we also get biotin through several food sources.

Like all B vitamins, biotin is water-soluble, so your body doesn’t store or hold onto excess amounts of the vitamin. Any extra is flushed out as waste.

Biotin Sources

Biotin either comes from the natural action of intestinal bacteria or through small amounts in the food you eat each day. Yeast, egg yolks, cauliflower, avocado, raspberries, carrots, bananas, pork, liver and salmon are all good sources of this B vitamin. However, cooking depletes biotin concentration, so the plant sources of biotin are best eaten raw if you’re concerned about increasing intake naturally.

Biotin Deficiency

Your body needs biotin, but the chances that you’re lacking it are rare. As a matter of fact, biotin deficiency is so rare, there is no recommended daily allowance or RDA set for it. However, it’s generally recommended adults get somewhere between 30 to 100 micrograms of the vitamin daily, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"Although overt biotin deficiency is very rare, the human requirement for dietary biotin has been demonstrated in three different situations," according to the Linus Pauling Institute. This means that scientists have identified three scenarios that could definitively lead to biotin deficiency and therefore a need for supplementation. Those situations are: prolonged feeding through an IV without biotin, infants fed formula without biotin, or consumption of raw egg whites for many weeks or years.

Now, a word to our muscle-bound bros -- if you’re slamming back glasses of raw egg whites after a heavy gym "sesh", don’t panic just yet. You would have to eat raw egg whites daily for many weeks or even years to see biotin deficiency as a result. And, there’s a quick fix. If you want egg whites, just cook them. Cooking them renders the protein avidin unable to block biotin absorption. Problem solved.

Rarely, your body may not create biotinidase, an enzyme that’s necessary for obtaining biotin from its sources. Anti-seizure medications can also reduce biotin levels when used over a long period of time. Likewise, if you’ve had your stomach surgically removed, you’ll need more biotin, and likely every other vitamin and mineral known to man.

In case it isn’t obvious by now, you’re unlikely to be biotin deficient. However, if you are, there would be several signs. Symptoms of biotin deficiency include: a dry, scaly rash around the mouth, nose, eyes or genitals; swollen and painful tongue; loss of appetite; depression; insomnia; "unusual fat distribution on the face", and hair loss. Yes, hair loss.

Biotin and Your Hair

Keratin is the protein that makes up your hair, and biotin does play a role in keratin production. It isn’t exactly clear how, but unlike many nutritional supplements for hair loss, there is some evidence that biotin works.

The Research: Nutrition

One 2016 study published in the International Journal of Trichology found 38% of women complaining of hair loss were actually deficient in biotin. However, the researchers concluded that biotin supplementation shouldn’t be used unless biotin deficiency was suspected after patient evaluation.

Another well-designed study pointed to improved hair growth with the use of biotin supplementation. It’s important to note, this study was funded by Lifes2good, Inc., a Chicago-based company that makes the supplement used in the study. Though this doesn’t negate the researchers findings, it is worth pointing out.

Published in 2015, this study looked at the effects of supplementing with a supplement containing biotin, a marine protein complex, zinc, and other ingredients. Sixty women took part, with 30 receiving the supplement and 30 receiving a placebo. The researchers found their supplement to decrease hair loss and increase hair growth over a period of 90 days.

Finally, in a few different studies of children, biotin supplements were found to reverse hair loss. However, the hair loss in these children was caused by valproic acid, a seizure medication believed to contribute to biotin deficiency. So again, the positive results were seen in subjects known to be lacking biotin.

The Research: Topical Applications

When’s the last time you wanted vitamin C to help battle a nasty cold, so you applied orange peels to your nose? Hopefully, you’ve never done that. You don’t physically apply the nutrition to the part of your body experiencing symptoms -- that’s weird. As such, applying biotin to the hair or scalp likely does little to nothing to remedy your hair loss. It isn’t even clear that your hair or scalp can absorb biotin.

Despite this, there is no shortage of biotin hair care products. Shampoos, oils, conditioners, serums -- likely all a waste of money unless the products contain some other helpful components. Stated otherwise, there is no clear evidence that applying biotin topically will stop or slow your hair loss.

Biotin Risks

There is little risk associated with taking a biotin supplement. The Mayo Clinic reports no side effects in supplementing with up to 10 milligrams each day, a relatively high dose. In people with certain genetic disorders and multiple sclerosis, much higher doses were well-tolerated, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.

If you’re taking other supplements with biotin, be aware that both alpha-lipoic acid and vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) can work against the absorption of biotin. And vice versa, biotin can prevent the absorption of these supplements.

The Bottomline

It’s unlikely, though not impossible, that your hair loss is caused by a biotin deficiency. Hair loss is just one of several signs that you could be lacking this important B vitamin. If you suspect deficiency, look for other signs too including rough and scaly patches of skin, swollen tongue, and fat deposits on the face. If you notice these, make an appointment to talk to a doctor in person.

For those of us with seemingly normal levels, you can still increase your biotin intake through foods rich in biotin and with supplementation. Remember, however, biotin is water soluble. This means massive daily doses of the vitamin are futile, as you’ll be sending any excess biotin down the toilet, literally.

Although there aren’t significant, known risks associated with biotin supplementation there also isn’t major evidence that it is helpful in growing or preserving hair in those of us with normal levels. However, unlike many other hair loss "solutions", there is evidence that biotin can aid in hair growth and slowing hair loss.

This article was reviewed by Brendan Levy, MD.

References:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/biotin-oral-route/description/drg-20062359
http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/biotin#deficiency
http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-h-biotin
https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/313.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4989391/
https://www.hindawi.com/journals/drp/2015/841570/
http://jddonline.com/articles/dermatology/S1545961614P0809X/1
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/287720.php