For years, dermatologists have quietly prescribed a B vitamin called biotin for hair loss, despite a lack of studies showing its benefit.
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Why? Because it works.
“We find biotin to be very helpful for hair disorders,” says dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD. “It also makes nails thicker, and oral biotin is exceedingly safe, even in large doses.”
It’s primarily used for alopecia, the medical word for hair loss in men or women. “Biotin improves hair growth and helps with inflammation,” she says. “The hair follicle, the skin and the nails all benefit.”
Why hair falls out
Hair loss has multiple causes, many of which are systemic. “If your hair is falling out at the roots, often something is going wrong in your body or in your life situation,” Dr. Bergfeld says.
Certain medical conditions are linked to hair loss. Among them are endocrine disorders, which include problems with your pituitary, parathyroid or adrenal glands, or your ovaries or testes. “For example, menopausal women who bleed excessively may be losing iron, and anemia causes hair loss,” Dr. Bergfeld explains.
Anything that disrupts your GI tract can also affect hair growth, she adds.
But one of the most common causes may surprise you: nutrition. “When we look at what our patients eat, we find they are often low in protein and essential vitamins,” she says. “Also, you need a little carbohydrate to make hormones, and your brain needs fat.”
It’s important to understand what is causing your hair loss, but this can take some detective work. Dr. Bergfeld says dermatologists start with a thorough physical exam. Then they look at your personal medical history and your family history. They consider not just your diet, but your exercise habits as well. Then they review your medications (because some can cause hair loss) and bloodwork.
How much biotin can you take for hair loss?
Biotin is present in many foods, including eggs, fish, meat, seeds, nuts, sweet potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower.
For supplementation, Cleveland Clinic dermatologists favor a mega-B vitamin combination that includes:
- 3 milligrams of biotin.
- 30 milligrams of zinc.
- 200 milligrams of vitamin C.
- <1 milligram of folic acid.
“Occasionally, the mega B-vitamin combination gives some patients minor gastric trouble, but switching them to biotin alone relieves it,” Dr. Bergfeld notes.
And if you can’t find the mega B-vitamin combination, you can buy biotin, zinc and vitamin C separately, she says.