Biotin is a critical nutrient. It's one of the B-vitamins, also known as B7. Biotin is especially important during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It's also important for the health of your hair, skin and nails, which is why I put a lot of it in my Healthy Hair and Nails formula. But even though getting enough biotin is essential for good health, there is a problem with it. An article published just a few months ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association points out what could potentially be a serious issue for someone taking biotin supplements. It has to do with testing.
Many laboratory tests use antibodies that can interact with biotin. And that means that a high level of biotin in the blood due to taking a biotin supplement can alter the test results. This can cause the doctor reading the test to misinterpret the results. And occasionally, that misinterpretation can be serious. To find out more about the problem, scientists recently looked at the results of several tests that used the biotin-related techniques.
To do the experiment, the researchers performed the following thyroid tests in two women and four men: thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), total thyroxine (T4), total triiodothyronine (T3), free thyroxine (free T4), and free triiodothyronine (free T3). They also analyzed four other tests: parathyroid hormone, prolactin, N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (proBPN), 25-hydroxyvitamin D (vitamin D3), prostate-specific antigen (PSA), and ferritin (an iron test). Once they performed the tests, they gave each of the participants 10 mg of biotin every day. This is a dose that is very commonly found in over-the-counter supplements for healthy adults. Then, after a week of taking the supplements, they repeated the tests. Here's what they discovered.
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The biotin supplement altered the results of 39% of the tests. 63% tested falsely high, and 27% tested falsely low. Another test that is altered by taking biotin is troponin. When a patient is having a heart attack, one of the ways a doctor can tell is if there is an elevation in the blood levels of troponin. The FDA has recently reported that a patient who was taking high levels of biotin died when a troponin test failed to show he was having a heart attack. On the other hand, some patients have been incorrectly diagnosed with hyperthyroidism (elevated thyroid hormones) because of the way biotin altered the test results.
Earle Holmes, PhD, is a professor of molecular pharmacology and therapeutics at Loyola University School of Medicine. Dr. Holmes and his team reviewed 374 tests that run on some of the most popular lab testing machines in the U.S. He found that 221 of them use biotin related assays. Only about 80 of these tests came with instructions that indicated they could be skewed by extra biotin in a patient's blood.
Notwithstanding the negative influence biotin can have on many tests, it's a very important vitamin. For example, it's critical for several enzymes known as carboxylases, which are important in energy production. When combined with chromium, biotin may help lower blood sugar levels in people with type-2 diabetes. And you also can use biotin supplements to decrease peripheral neuropathy. And you can use it therapeutically to treat MS (multiple sclerosis). One pilot study in 23 people with progressive MS tested the use of high doses of biotin. Over 90% of participants had some degree of clinical improvement. And, as I have already mentioned, biotin supplements are very effective at stopping hair loss and restoring healthy levels of hair re-growth.
Biotin is also incredibly safe. So, if you are benefitting by taking biotin supplements, don't stop taking them. However, if you're going to have some blood testing, no matter what the doctor is testing, my advice is to stop the biotin for a week before having the blood drawn. That way there will be no influence of the vitamin on the test results.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Li D, Radulescu A, et al. Association of Biotin Ingestion With Performance of Hormone and Nonhormone Assays in Healthy Adults. JAMA. 2017 Sep 26;318(12):1150-1160.