LANSING, Mich. — You can find them at any grocery or drug store, bottles and bottles of biotin. It's an essential vitamin we all need and, in recent years, has become a popular supplement many women take to improve their hair, skin and nails.
According to health guidelines, the normal daily requirements for biotin are around 30 to 100 micrograms a day. Typical biotin supplements, though, contain 2,500 to 5,000 mcg in a single pill. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning that these supplements could be putting you at risk of missing important and life-threatening diagnoses.
"While biotin is not toxic or harmful, per say, to the body, it can lead to misdiagnosis," said Dr. Saleh Aldasouqui, chief of endocrinology at Michigan State University.
Those who take biotin supplements are at risk of misdiagnosis for major health screenings and labs that can spot a heart attack, as well as hormone tests for thyroid issues. Not long ago, Aldasouqui saw out-of-control lab results for one of his thyroid patients.
"I had some issues with my labs being extremely high. We figured out that the biotin may have been an issue with the labs. So, we retook them and then the labs were normal again," said Elise Trojanowicz-Smith, whose lab results were affected by biotin supplementation.
While Trojanowicz-Smith is lucky they were able to catch the biotin issue with her labs, some other patients have not been so fortunate.
"There was a patient who went to the emergency room with chest pain, and the doctors told her that she had a heart attack or myocardial infarction. They did the blood test called troponin, and it came back normal, so they let the patient go. Unfortunately, I believe she died after that," Aldasouqui said.
The troponin test should have been very high and positive but the biotin affected the results, making the results negative.
Thankfully there is an easy way to prevent these issues: Stop taking biotin at least three days before you know you're going to take a blood test, and always be upfront with your doctor about all medications and supplements you are taking.
"Definitely let your doctor know that you're taking that or any other supplements so that it doesn't interfere with the lab results because you could have some underlying issue that you don't know about, or the doctor doesn't know about," Trojanowicz-Smith said.
Also, if you take an everyday multivitamin, let your doctor know before any testing. It may not seem like a big deal, but these pills usually contain at least 15 micrograms of biotin.