what is biotin (web)

What is biotin and why should you care about it?

If you’ve ever struggled with your hair, skin or nails, you may have considered using a biotin supplement. But what exactly is it, and is it actually healthy?

What is biotin?

Biotin, otherwise known as Vitamin B7, has a few functions in the body. Along with some other B vitamins, it is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. It is also involved in the conversion of these substrates into usable energy such as glucose and fatty acids, and in gene expression. Biotin can be found in a variety of foods that we consume and most people consume more than they need – which is 30 micrograms per day for adults 19 years and older.

So why are people taking it for their hair, skin and nails?

Signs and symptoms of biotin deficiency, albeit extremely rare, can include high cholesterol levels and heart problems. Individuals may also experience hair loss and a scaly red skin rash. As a result of the latter 2 symptoms, supplement companies are promoting high doses of biotin (upwards of 5,000-10,000 micrograms) as a solution.

Unfortunately, there has been no good research to support recommending biotin for the reasons mentioned above. In fact, there have only been a couple of small studies that showed that biotin (2500 mg daily taken orally for 1 ½  to 15 months) increases the thickness and decreases the splitting of fingernails and toenails in people with brittle nails.

What should you know if you are taking a biotin supplement?

Although we know of no known adverse effects or toxicity concerns to having high biotin levels in the blood, there are 20+ lab tests that can significantly interact with biotin supplementation. These can either cause results to be too high or too low. This includes certain tests for thyroid function, hormones, vitamins and even markers for when someone is having a heart attack. Needless to say, this interaction has resulted in errors in medication adjustments and other follow up treatments that have been potentially life-threatening.

This issue is not new. However, because of the rise in popularity of supplements marketed for hair, nails and skin which contain high doses of biotin, it has prompted major organizations to raise the awareness of such interactions with the healthcare community. At Copeman, we recommend that if you are taking a biotin supplement, to stop taking it at least 48 hours prior to when your blood work is scheduled. This will help to avoid any confusion with your results (as well as having to have to retake your bloodwork again).

What is an alternative to biotin if I am suffering from those hair, skin and nail issues?

If you are experiencing troubles with your hair, skin or nails, don’t be afraid to reach out to your dietitian! There are many reasons why you might be experiencing these issues, and we can work with you to review your lifestyle and to explore different options for treatment.