Does biotin / vitamin B7 actually help regrow hair?
DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
Biotin is a popular supplement marketed for its benefits in terms of hair and fingernail health. The skeptical reader will likely question whether biotin is actually a legitimate supplement when it comes to the treatment of hair loss, since so often in the modern health industry “popular” = “not real/not healthy”. Biotin is a vitamin like any other vitamin, and taking it as a supplement is unlikely to do any damage. So then, the question remains, does biotin really help remedy hair loss? Read on to find out…
What is biotin deficiency and how does it happen?
Biotin is categorized as a B-complex vitamin, and like the other B vitamins, it is water-soluble. Because biotin is water-soluble, this means that the vitamin enters and leaves the body relatively quickly in contrast with the fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A or vitamin E, which can be stored in the body’s fat stores for later. Thus, biotin must be taken in daily via supplements or food in order for the body to be able to function appropriately.
When a person doesn’t have enough biotin, especially when their biotin intake is low or practically nonexistent for a longer period of time, this can result in a biotin deficiency (note that biotin deficiency can resemble zinc deficiency in some cases, and vice versa). Some of the symptoms of a biotin deficiency include:
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Periorificial dermatitis (a red, scaly rash around orifices of the body like the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, etc.)
- Conjunctivitis / Pink eye
- Skin infection
- Ataxia (problems with speech and movement)
- Hypotonia (a decrease in muscle tone)
- Dry skin
- Lesions of the feet and legs
- Hyperaesthesia (excessive sensitivity of the skin)
Some children are born with biotinidase deficiency, a rare genetic condition that negatively affects a person’s ability to metabolize and use biotin. Besides this rare health problem (which most hospitals test for when babies are born), other risk factors for the development of biotin deficiency include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Pregnancy (approximately half of women in the United States who are pregnant get less-than-optimal levels of biotin in their diet; therefore, supplementing with biotin during pregnancy is smart, to ensure that the mother and baby both get sufficient biotin)
- Taking certain medications, such as:
- Antiepileptic / anticonvulsant drugs (carbamazepine, phenytoin, phenobarbital, etc.)
- Oral antibiotics
- Acne medications (isotretinoin)
- Old age
- Consumption of large amounts of egg whites (raw eggs contain avidin, a glycoprotein that inhibits biotin absorption in the intestines and therefore can, over time, cause a biotin deficiency)
- Gastrointestinal disease (such as inflammatory bowel disease)
Antibiotic use has become extremely prevalent in most developed countries, which may pose a risk to biotin deficiency. This is because a large portion of the biotin that we need is produced by healthy probiotic bacteria in the intestines, which are damaged or even nearly destroyed in some cases by the use of oral antibiotics. If a person takes antibiotics and then doesn’t make an effort to rebuild their intestinal flora (via a healthy diet and consumption of fermented foods and/or by taking a probiotic supplement), this can seriously reduce their body’s biotin production.
Biotin and Hair Loss: The Real Story
Biotin has been clearly observed in studies to benefit people with brittle, splitting nails, regardless of whether or not they have a biotin deficiency, however whether or not it benefits people with hair loss (even if the person doesn’t have a biotin deficiency) has been subject to debate. In people with a true biotin deficiency, though, most studies have indisputably proven that biotin supplementation is able to encourage hair regrowth and health (since the hair loss is due to insufficient biotin levels).
In one study that focused on women with hair loss, researchers observed that 38% of the women in the study had low serum biotin levels, indicating a biotin deficiency, while only 13% of the women had optimal serum biotin levels. In the group with low serum biotin levels, 11% of these women demonstrated one of the risk factors for biotin deficiency listed above. This suggests that in some, though not all, cases, hair loss in women may indeed be caused initially by a biotin deficiency.
A different study observed a group of 60 patients with telogen effluvium hair loss in comparison with a group of 20 control subjects who were healthy and not experiencing hair loss. As could be expected, individuals with telogen effluvium who were in one of the risk factor groups for biotin deficiency (pregnancy, old age, smoking/alcohol abuse, etc.) did indeed show lower-than-average biotin levels in comparison with all of the other subjects. However, while these individuals and most of the people with telogen effluvium in general did have lower serum levels of biotin than the control subjects, all of the individuals in the study still demonstrated serum biotin levels within the accepted normal range.
Using this information as a reference, it’s fair to assume that in some cases biotin may be beneficial to individuals suffering from hair loss, but that these supplements may not elicit much change in most situations. Nevertheless, individuals who fall into one of the risk factor categories above who are experiencing hair loss may indeed have suboptimal or even deficient levels of biotin, in which case supplementation with biotin would be one of the primary keys to hair regrowth. For example, a woman who has been pregnant and breastfeeding recently and who is experiencing inexplicable hair loss could consider biotin as a possible factor. Another individual with hair loss who has been on multiple courses of antibiotics within the recent past or who has some kind of gastrointestinal disorder that affects the healthy bacteria of the intestines or nutrient absorption may also consider biotin deficiency as a possibility.
In conclusion… biotin supplementation may not benefit everyone who experiences hair loss, but since it’s an affordable, accessible, and generally harmless supplement to take, incorporating some biotin into your daily hair regrowth protocol won’t hurt anything. While it’s possible to get lab tests on biotin levels, this can be expensive and may not offer accurate results since the results can change dramatically from day-to-day. So, if you see yourself in one of the risk factor groups above (even if only a little bit), it may be worth it to take a biotin supplement to support potentially suboptimal biotin levels. If none of the risk factors match your profile, consider a vitamin B-100 supplement instead to supplement all of the B vitamins, including biotin.
How to Take Biotin for Hair Loss and Regrowth
Biotin supplements are very bioavailable when taken orally, and it is very nontoxic (it’s nearly impossible to take too much biotin, since any excess will be excreted in the urine, similar to other B-complex vitamins). It can be given to anyone of any age or life situation. A dosage of 5mg of oral biotin per day is the recommended dose to correct biotin deficiency. This dose should be taken daily until improvements are seen either in lab results or in symptoms (or both). If the patient suffers from a true biotin deficiency, this dose is likely to work fairly quickly in the vast majority of cases.
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Fatima, Saleem and Soos, Michael P. (2022). Biotin Deficiency. Retrieved September 11, 2022 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547751/
Trüeb, Ralph (2016). Serum Biotin Levels in Women Complaining of Hair Loss. Retrieved September 11, 2022 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4989391/
Abdel Rahman, Sherine Hosny, et. al. (2020). Biotin Deficiency in Telogen Effluvium: Fact or Fiction? Retrieved September 12, 2022 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7159307/