Understanding the uses and importance of biotin to your hair

Maintaining luscious, shiny and healthy hair remains an important goal for many women and men. One of the vitamins touted to improve hair quality and texture includes vitamin H or biotin. 

Vitamin H is an essential member of the vitamin B complex. The vitamin B complex converts carbohydrates and lipids to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell’s energy currency. These B vitamins assume other critical roles, such as manufacturing myelin sheath of the nerves.

Hence, a deficiency in B vitamins can lead to nerve damage. Symptoms of nerve damage include pain, numbness and tingling sensation in the hands, arms and legs. The body only needs small B vitamins, including biotin, to maintain optimal functioning. 

Which foods are rich in biotin? 

Biotin can be naturally sourced from the following biotin-rich foods

  • White mushroom 
  • Egg yolks 
  • Pork 
  • Beef 
  • Whole milk 
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Oats
  • Apple 
Biotin-rich foods | White mushrooms

Research on the importance of biotin on hair

It is important to note that maintaining the quality of one’s hair depends on several factors, not only on biotin intake. There is limited evidence that continued biotin intake can make your hair look shinier and healthier.

However, research studies published in academic journals suggest that biotin supplementation can treat and prevent hair loss. 

A study [1] led by Deepa Patel of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville, Kentucky, USA, examined 18 case studies of individuals suffering from biotin deficiency.

All individuals in the case reports were diagnosed with biotin deficiency, hair loss and brittle nails. Following supplementation, all participants experienced an improvement in their nails and hair regrowth

The study, published in the Skin Appendage Disorders, further reported that those with uncombable hair had more manageable and combable hair following supplementation.

The results of this study demonstrated how biotin deficiency could lead to hair loss, tangled and difficult-to-comb hair and brittle nails. Supplementation with biotin corrected these conditions. 

Doses of biotin supplements in the study ranged from 2,500 micrograms to 30,000 micrograms per day for one to six months. Notably, the participants in the case studies were all children.

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The dosages in the case studies were significantly higher than the recommended daily allowance of 12-25 micrograms per day for children. However, these high-dosage supplementations did not result in adverse events or side effects. 

High-dosage biotin supplementation to correct hair loss, brittle nails and tangled hair in biotin-deficient children is safe and tolerable. Despite these findings, it has yet to be determined if longer-term use of high-dose is safe for children.

More studies are still needed to confirm if long-term use of high-dose biotin deficiency is safe for young people. 

Another study [2] examined the effects of supplements containing biotin and other nutrients in preventing or treating hair loss in women experiencing hair loss due to various factors. These women had temporary hair loss due to stress, hormonal changes, abnormal menstrual cycle and poor diet

The study, published in the Dermatology Research and Practice journal, reported that women in the treatment group received oral supplements containing biotin and other nutrients.

In contrast, women in the control group only received a placebo. All women in the studies took the supplement and placebo for three months. At the end of three months, hair growth and hair shedding were examined in both groups.

Findings indicated that those in the treatment group significantly reduced hair shedding and increased hair growth compared to the placebo group. 

The results of this study are promising since these showed that women with thinning hair due to several factors could address hair loss through oral supplementation of nutrients that include biotin. 

This study shows that combining biotin with other nutrients can optimize hair treatment and prevent further hair loss. 

What is hair loss? 

Hair loss or pattern baldness in men is more common compared to women. However, women can also experience hair loss. However, it is an overlooked condition in women, although 40% of women who reach the age of 40 have visible hair loss. Hair loss may begin as early as in the 20s and can increase significantly as one ages. 

In males, hair loss is mainly attributed to genetic factors. In women, hair loss is due to medical conditions, emotional stress, physiologic conditions and medications. Here are some factors that can contribute to hair loss in women: 

  • Smoking 
  • Separation or divorce 
  • Higher stress severity 
  • Longer sleep duration
  • More children 
  • Various medical conditions 
  • Higher-income 
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamins, proteins, essential fatty acids and minerals 
Causes of Hair Loss | Smoking

Compared to men, women often report higher psychological distress following hair loss. Biotin deficiency has been identified to be another critical factor of hair loss in women.

Since biotin acts as a co-factor in several enzymes in the body, a lack of it can result in poor production of the protein that makes up the hair follicles. 

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Should people without nutritional deficiency use biotin for better hair growth? 

To date, no studies suggest that individuals with sufficient biotin intake can benefit from having more to improve the quality of their hair or even nails. 

Since several factors influence hair growth, using biotin in those not deficient may not lead to increased hair growth and volume.

Notably, hair growth is influenced by the following: 

Genetics: The genes you inherit from your mother or father will determine the growth of your hair. Evidence from previous studies [3] has shown that the genes that control baldness are complex. However, it was understood that these genes have strong signals in the X chromosome. 

In males, the X chromosome is only inherited from the mothers. Hence, the idea that the baldness gene is passed on from mother to son. However, it is now recognized that baldness can be inherited from the genes of both mother and father. 

Age: Hair grows the most from adolescence to early adulthood or about 30. Gradual hair loss may be experienced by males as early as their 20s. However, not all males can experience alopecia or baldness. Females may also experience hair loss beginning in their late 40s. 

Some women in their perimenopausal age can experience hair thinning due to low levels of estrogen and progesterone. When both hormones are present at low levels, this can trigger the production of androgens. The latter has been implicated in shrinking hair follicles, resulting in persistent hair loss. 

Sex: Female hair grows more slowly than male hair. However, pattern baldness is more common in males than females. 

Nutrition: Optimal nutrition is essential in maintaining and growing healthy hair. 

Although high-dose biotin deficiency can correct hair loss in those who are deficient, there is still a need to supplement one’s diet with other nutrients to achieve voluminous and healthy hair.

Consider taking supplements if you are biotin-deficient to correct hair loss. However, if you have sufficient biotin, you can take other nutrient supplements to ensure healthier hair. 

What are the other benefits of biotin? 

Biotin has many known benefits. To date, here are some benefits supported by evidence from the literature: 

  • Improvement of symptoms of peripheral neuropathy 
  • Management of type 2 diabetes mellitus 
  • Suppression of inflammation 
  • Improvement of brain function 

What are the side effects of too much intake of biotin? 

Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin. This vitamin is stored in the liver, with an excess of this vitamin excreted by the kidney into the urine. Biotin from natural food sources is safe and tolerable.

However, excessive supplementation may result in the following side effects: 

  • Insomnia 
  • Digestive upset 
  • Skin rashes 
  • Kidney problems 
  • Problems in releasing insulin for glucose metabolism

Take home message 

Biotin serves as a cofactor in many enzymes in the body, including those that metabolize proteins and lipids in the body. Protein and lipids are necessary for hair’s growth and development. Hence, biotin-deficiency results in hair loss. 

Supplementing high-dose biotin in deficient individuals can lead to hair growth and prevent hair loss. However, in individuals with sufficient biotin intake from food or supplements, additional of this vitamin is ineffective in promoting increased hair growth. 

Biotin supplementation would appear to work well in those experiencing hair loss due to deficiency. In women who are stressed and have medical conditions, supplementation can also help address hair loss. 

Always consult your doctor when taking a biotin supplement to address hair loss. Following your doctor’s advice will ensure the safe use of supplements. 

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[1] ​​https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5582478/
[2] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/drp/2015/841570/ 
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5308812/

Photograph: SkloStudio/Envato
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