Saturday, 12 February 2011

The (in)famous biotin rant

Biotin, also previously known as vitamin H and B7 is a water soluble vitamin. In the human colon exists benign bacteria which produce biotin that the body will absorb. In the vast majority of people, these bacteria produce more than enough biotin to meet the daily requirement for the body and a lot of the naturally available biotin will be flushed out through the urine. Some countries and agencies doesn’t even have an externally recommend daily dose of biotin since the bacteria produce surplus biotin already. Deficiencies are extremely rare. Recommended daily allowance is no higher than 225 mcg… By people who don’t attempt to sell you biotin as supplement! Of course, if you ask the companies that actually sell supplements it’s a wonder we’re all not bald as eggs if we don’t take their amazing supplements. It’s called source criticism. It’s an important skill in life.


Biotin is necessary for a lot in the body: For all cell growth, for energy produced in the cells, the production of fatty acids and enzymes, transferring carbon dioxide and the metabolism of fats and amino acids.
Biotin is very important for hair too. It’s essential for the production of keratin and melanin. Some studies show it may prevent greying and hair loss in men. It promotes healthy hair growth since it increases the elasticity of the hair's cortex, thus preventing breakage and protects against dryness.


As you can read, it’s very important for hair growth. However, there are no studies that show any benefit in any case where the subject is not actually biotin deficient. And as previously mentioned, deficiencies are extremely rare.
Basically, if you are deficient, you will be sick in ways that can’t be ignored: Hair loss, depression, lack of muscle coordination, strange rashes of different kinds, pink eye, lack of energy, “swelling” of the face because of an unusual fat distribution, hallucinations and numbness and tingling of the extremities. There is no way you can ignore it or not know something is seriously wrong and you need help.


But because people know that A) its beneficial for hair growth and B) its water soluble, people will overdose on it. Not just overdose, but mega dose. Some people say it helps their hair grow faster, thicker and stronger. Actual medical studies seem to disagree. Of course it’s highly likely a lot of it is mental: If you’re taking a supplement and having a good hair day, its one of those conclusions us humans like to draw. Placebo is particularly effective if the pills are expensive, taste bad or have weird colours and shapes.
Doses happily and commonly mentioned are 5.000 mcg (22 times recommended daily allowance) 10.000 mcg (44 times recommended daily allowance) and I have seen several people taking 20.000 mcg (That’s 88 times the recommended daily allowance!)


If you take a biotin supplement and you get ½ inch a month with 5.000 mcg, it doesn’t mean you will get 1 inch at 10.000 mcg. Or 2 inches at 20.000 mcg.
It goes the other way too: If you get ½ inch with 5.000 mcg, you will probably also get ½ inch at 500 mcg. You are already overloading at those doses. They are unnecessary. Popping pills is not the answer to better hair growth.


But since biotin is “cursed” with being water soluble, it seems people believe its okay to eat it like sugar pills. Ironically, a lot of people would object to this, because sugar is bad, evil, unhealthy, addictive etc etc… Same with water: No one would think you could just drink as much water as you please, because that would be dangerous. But taking ridiculously huge doses of a water soluble vitamin? Oh, that’s completely safe!


Biotin is actually difficult to avoid in your diet: (brewers) yeast, (Fatty) fish, avocado, bananas, beans, breads, cauliflower, cheese, chocolate, dairy products, egg yolk, kidney, legumes, liver, meat in general, milk, molasses, mushrooms, nuts, oatmeal, organ meats in general, oysters, peanut butter, peanuts, pork, poultry, raspberries, soy, unpolished rice, wheat germ, whole grains and yoghurt contains biotin. You will have to have a very deficient and monotonous (And bizarre!) diet to not get biotin in your food.


So why do people mega dose on biotin?


My best guess is because of the A) and B) as mentioned before. People simply have no respect for the water soluble vitamins “because they just get peed out!”. Which is a statement that in itself makes no sense: Why would you buy a supplement that you know will just end up as expensive urine anyways?


But of course the truth isn’t that simple. Nothing is “just” done in the body. Thousands of chemical reactions and processes take place during the day; every nutrient is broken down, filtered and processed by organs. Nothing “just” happens. Nothing we eat or ingest is cost free. It affects everything in our bodies. It is processed in our internal organs. It changes the body chemistry.


Biotin overdose symptoms have been seen when people have been consistently overdosing on it. Some side effects have been reported as slowed insulin release, skin eruptions, increased blood sugar and increased vitamin C and vitamin B6 requirements. A study on pregnant rats revealed that shrinking size of placenta and increased chances of miscarriage were caused by the biotin overdose.

In one case, a woman who took a high dose of biotin (along with vitamin B5) experienced a life-threatening lung and chest condition known as eosinophilic pleuropericardial effusion. However, this condition improved once she stopped taking biotin and vitamin B5. It is not known if the biotin, the vitamin B5, the combination of the two, or something else caused this problem.



Just on the hair forums I have frequented, members have had bad experiences with skin problems in general and painful cystic acne due to biotin overload. Light-sensitive migraines have also been reported.

But what goes on under the skin? The liver and kidneys still need to process it. Organs can suffer bad side effects neatly hidden under the skin. No one will know unless you develop kidney stones or ultra sound show damage to the liver. You can still get the toxic effect even though you “just pee it out”. It’s still in your body for long enough to affect it.


Those that experience acne because of the huge biotin doses will even happily ignore it or suppress it, which is an unbelievable attitude towards their body. Instead of responding to the fact that their body is reacting badly to it: “I’m just going to take some zinc to keep it down!”


Let’s imagine someone used a cream that made them break out. What would people do? Of course every normal, sane person would stop using that cream. No one would chose to keep using that cream and “I’m just going to use this serum to keep it down!”

People get their reply. Their body shows clearly and obviously it doesn’t need the biotin. It doesn’t want it. It doesn’t like it. It reacts badly to it. But it gets ignored or suppressed in the name of hair, even though it may not even have a beneficial effect on the hair.


Also baffling is when people scale the dose up gradually. Your body either needs it or it doesn’t need it. You cant somehow “condition” your body into learning to absorb more. It’s troubling when people without biotin deficiency treat biotin like its medication. There is good reason to slowly up a dose on necessary medication to protect you from side effects and get used to the dose.
But I repeat again; Biotin is not medication. You body needs it or it doesn’t need it.


Unfortunately science doesn’t move as fast with these studies as one could wish. Experiments are still being done. Research still goes on. Just think about how few years we have to go back when smoking wasn’t that bad. People didn’t know better for sure. Science didn’t have the numbers then.
Vitamin overdoses are generally difficult to study (Deficiencies are much easier: Too little will make you sick) and studies are still conducted. Maybe biotin is almost completely safe to take as much of as you want. Maybe not.


But it’s still unbelievably arrogant to think that just because you know something is water soluble, you are so much smarter and more knowing than the health care professionals who studied vitamins and reactions for decades. Especially when you don’t have any actual benefit from it.


The world isn’t against you growing a healthy head of hair. No, the scientists are not mean and jealous. As a matter of fact I will guarantee you they couldn’t care less about your hair unless they work for a company selling supplements.
The recommendations are there for one important reason: To guide and protect the general population’s health. It’s in the healthcare professionals’ interest to keep everyone healthy and safe.


It is okay to overdose on water soluble vitamins. They are, after all water soluble. They will be processed and filtered out if you are healthy and don’t suffer kidney problems.
Overdose, yes. Mega dose, no.
Different numbers on “okay” doses are out there on the internet. 1000 mcg seems to be pretty common as an okay dose. Of course this in itself is a dose used to treat legitimate biotin deficiencies. As in; The doctors and scientists that monitor and cure biotin deficiencies says that this is an okay dose to take… If you are deficient. 88 times the recommended daily allowance is not.
Most likely, even at a low dose you are not seeing any real, true benefit.


So my point is: Moderation. Moderation and actually study up on what you stuff in your body. (And please stop spreading “Its water soluble so you just pee it out!”. Thank you)

6 comments:

  1. That is not a rant that is plain speaking! Hope you return to LHC one day.

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  2. Thank you for writing this down! I second the applause

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  3. Hi Igor, long time no see. Your hair looks amazing. This is Shelly.

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  4. Only one statement I beg to differ on. I don't believe healthcare professionals are totally interested in keeping us healthy. The more we are ill, the more they make. )=;

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  5. But dead patients don't need healthcare professionals. And they also don't give very good recommendations and 99% of doctors I've been to have been based on a good recommendation.

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