Biotin: If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a member of the rock-star group of eight Complex B vitamins that include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9) and cobalamin (B12). This group of B vitamins all play a part in assisting your body with a range of vital functions important to your overall health. They are also specifically important in helping with energy production. Who can’t use more of that these days!
While all-inclusive Complex B Vitamin supplements have been popular for many years, Biotin (also known as Vitamin B7 or Vitamin H) has broken out on its own as a solo act, and its career is sky-rocketing.
A ton of high-potency biotin supplements and biotin-rich cosmetic products have hit the supermarket aisles, drugstores and online retailers, increasingly gaining a lot of attention and commercial popularity.
But what exactly does biotin do, and why all the sudden hype around it as a standalone product?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) describe this water-soluble vitamin as helping the body metabolise fatty acids, glucose (blood sugar), and amino acids. In other words … like other “Vitamin Bs”, it helps create energy from what you eat.
Biotin also helps with cell signalling and gene regulation. This is science-speak for the mechanisms used to control the actions of cells and for deciding which of your tens of thousands of genes need to turn “on” and “off”, thus enhancing your body’s ability to adapt and change. (It’s a little-known fact but your body doesn’t actually “use” all of the genes it carries – they can be triggered into action like light-switches.)
Biotin already occurs in a number of common foods. Organ meats (such as liver) carry the highest amount of biotin, but it naturally occurs in other meats, egg yolk, seeds, milk and nuts. A small amount is also produced naturally by the body (in fact, it is the only B vitamin that is!).
Recently, biotin has gained the public spotlight for claims that are related to more cosmetic rather than vital health reasons. High-potency, isolated dietary supplements of biotin and biotin-rich cosmetic products (such as shampoos, conditioners, even “follicle stimulators”) are making the promise that increased intake leads to increased benefits. In the last few years, many consumers, including high profile social media influencers and celebrities, now tell us they have found that it helps promote hair, nail and skin health.
Cheaply and easily purchased, biotin has become a tempting new fad for consumers wishing to get in on the promoted benefits. But what do the studies suggest? Are biotin supplements something you need?
It’s difficult to say for sure, even for the scientists. If you are suffering from a legitimate biotin deficiency, then yes, according to the NIH. That situation, which causes symptoms like thinning hair, dermatitis and nervous system problems, could be caused by a genetic disorder or an insufficient dietary intake. However according to the NIH, healthy people get plenty of it from a well-balanced diet and are absorbing it sufficiently.
Low biotin levels that would necessitate high-dose supplements are actually rarely reported. Screening for genetic deficiency has been performed neonatally in the United States since 1984, so if you do have a deficiency problem, chances are you’d know about it from birth.
The science surrounding the use of biotin is not particularly forthcoming when it comes to improved hair, nail and skin health outside the above situations. There is no scientific basis on which to say definitively that it’s something most people need to be taking.
What we do know is that there don’t appear to be any undesirable effects from taking an excess of biotin, which means it’s probably safe to try without risking your health in doing so.
Is it worth your money? Like many supplements, maybe not, until some good science comes in to tell us otherwise. But biotin has certainly taken its place on the supplement scene and its scientific reputation will be well worth watching.