A Guide To Biotin: Supplements, Hair & Skin Benefits + More
Your body is a well-oiled machine, but without proper maintenance and fuel, machines begin to slowly break down, and problems start to arise. B vitamins, like biotin, play a crucial role in fuel conversion, which keeps the machine going.
What is biotin?
Biotin is a type of vitamin B, specifically B7. Unlike vitamin C or vitamin D, there are many types of B vitamins that each play their own important role in maintaining how your body functions. In particular, biotin stands apart from the rest with its role in keeping skin, hair, and nails healthy and looking vibrant.*
How does biotin work in the body?
B vitamins fuel many delicate, intricate pathways in the body, like methylation—your body's biochemical superhighway, a process that happens more than 1 billion times every single second. This pathway is responsible for decreasing the body's inflammatory response; it also helps your body in breaking down food for energy production.
Biotin's role in energy production is perhaps its most important: Biotin is considered a coenzyme for carboxylases1, which are the enzymes that assist in metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, turning these macronutrients into your body's fuel. The enzymes also aid in processes such as gluconeogenesis2, insulin release3, fatty acid synthesis4, and the use of branched-chain amino acids to produce neurotransmitters5.
Where is biotin found? Food and supplements.
Your body cannot synthesize biotin6, so it must be obtained through what you ingest. Any protein-bound biotin from your food or supplement ends up being converted into free biotin, which is then absorbed within the small and large intestine7. Once absorbed, it is then moved into the systemic circulation, picked up by the liver, to finally cross the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system8.
Biotin is naturally in beef liver, animal meats, egg yolks, avocados, salmon, cheese, nutritional yeast, and spirulina. It is also a common ingredient in supplements. It is often paired with collagen to further support the skin and hair benefits.* It can also often be found with B-complex vitamins that contain all types of B vitamins such as B12, B6, niacin, and riboflavin since B vitamins all work together to support methylation, brain function, and more.*
8 benefits of biotin.
While a lot of the buzz around biotin focuses mainly on its ability to strengthen hair, skin, and nails, there are many more aspects of your health in which biotin plays a significant role:
Supports hair health.*
Thinning hair and hair loss are very common symptoms of biotin deficiency3 and can be supported with a supplement.* Additionally, biotin is believed to naturally promote healthy hair growth because it is involved in the production of keratin, the main component of hair.* In one small study, women with thinning hair reported significant regrowth when supplementing with biotin as compared to those given a placebo.*
Supports skin health.*
Biotin is right there at the front line to fight the effects of aging with its role in fatty acid synthesis, which is crucial for healthy skin9.* The cells in your skin depend heavily on fat production10 for added protection against damage from pollution, sun, and other harsh everyday environmental concerns.*
Promotes nail strength.*
Brittle, rigid nails are another common complaint for those with vitamin deficiencies, especially vitamin B deficiencies. Biotin has been shown to support thickness and firmness of nails11 in several human studies.* One moderately-sized human study found that those who took biotin supplements had 25% thicker nail beds12 than the placebo group.*
Supports immune health.*
Biotin is essential for maintaining the development of white blood cells13.* These are the defense mechanisms of your immune system and work to protect your body against viruses and bacteria that make you sick. Your body actually contains two different types of white blood cells, called TH1 and TH2. Almost like a seesaw, TH1 and TH2 need to balance each other. When one becomes dominant, it can trigger an inflammatory response in your body. One reason this can happen is a lack of T-regulatory cells, which work to maintain balance14.* Biotin deficiency is associated with T-cell decay15.*
Supports brain function.*
Biotin, along with other B vitamins, plays a role in neurotransmitter activity and protects against neurodegenerative disorders like age-related cognitive decline and overall aids in supporting cognitive function.* It also helps to maintain mood due to their role in synthesizing hormones responsible for a positive mood.* Deficiency in biotin can lead to neurological problems16, which has biotin supplementation has been shown to support.*
It can act as an anti-inflammatory.*
Studies have shown that biotin deficiency can increase pro-inflammatory cytokines and contribute to inflammation. It works by activating the inflammatory nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB for short), which binds to your DNA and triggers a number of inflammatory cascades throughout the body17. Research has shown that supplementing with biotin can maintain healthy levels of these pro-inflammatory cytokines18.*
Supports heart health.*
Biotin is needed for fat metabolism19, which is important for thriving heart health. It can also work in conjunction with chromium20 to reduce LDL levels and increase HDL since inverse levels of each are markers for increased risk of heart disease. Research has shown that a dose of 15,000 mcg a day of biotin can also maintain healthy blood triglyceride levels21.*
Supports nutrient breakdown in the body.*
In every cell of your body, biotin helps break down the nutrients (protein amino acids, carbohydrates, and fatty acids) from your food for fuel. B7 is also über-important whenever we are doing different forms of fasting (such as intermittent fasting) or if you are in a ketogenic state (nutritional ketosis or fat burning). During these metabolic states, biotin is needed to support new glucose for fuel through gluconeogenesis.*
Since biotin is found in many different kinds of food, low levels may occur, but severe deficiencies in this nutrient are rare. If you are concerned, you can get tested for biotin deficiency by your doctor.
You may also be at risk for biotin deficiency if you:
- Struggle with digestion issues. Due to the fact that a lot of this conversion happens within your gut, many patients who struggle with inflammatory bowel diseases or other microbiome dysfunctions can have trouble maintaining adequate amounts of biotin22.
- Take antibiotics. These may contribute to low levels of biotin since they also end up killing biotin-producing bacteria23.
- Drink excessive amounts of alcohol, which inhibits biotin absorption24.
- Smoke25, as it speeds up biotin absorption and use.
Symptoms of biotin deficiency.
You may be deficient if you experience any of the following—however, these are also symptoms of several other vitamin deficiencies, so it's best to check with your doctor:
- Brittle hair
- Hair loss
- Digestive issues
- Dry skin
Why you should be concerned about biotin deficiency.
Very low levels of biotin23 can become a problem when your metabolism is concerned. Metabolism is your body's internal process that turns whatever food you eat into usable energy, and any food that is not used for energy is stored as fat. Because biotin is needed for the proper function of this process, you can end up with health problems including fatigue, dull skin and hair, and weight loss resistance.
Are there any side effects of taking biotin?
Overall, biotin is a safe vitamin that has relatively few, if any, side effects. It is typically very difficult to even overdose due to the fact that it is water-soluble, and any excess amounts are released through your urine23. But with any type of supplementation, regular monitoring with bloodwork is important. For some people, extremely high doses of biotin can throw off thyroid test results and mimic Graves' disease in lab work. So it's important that your doctor knows what supplements you are taking.
Quick biotin-rich recipe: Beef-liver egg scramble
Here is an easy recipe to get in some of the highest biotin foods all on one plate.
- 1 cup ground beef liver
- 4 eggs
- ½ red onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional)
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ghee
- 1 small handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 whole avocado, pitted and sliced
- Favorite salsa
- Heat ghee in skillet over medium heat.
- Add onions and jalapeño, and cook until soft.
- Add ground beef liver with sea salt, pepper, and garlic, and cook until done.
- Beat eggs in a separate bowl, add to skillet, and cook until done.
- Place egg scramble on plate and top with salsa, cilantro, and sliced avocado.
The bottom line:
Biotin is an essential form of vitamin B and supports healthy hair, skin, and nails.* But its benefits go far beyond beauty: It helps your body turn essential nutrients like fat, carbs, and protein into fuel.* Biotin is often found in collagen supplements, where it plays a key role in supporting the beauty benefits.*
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian,The Inflammation Spectrum, and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.