There is no doubt that vitamins play an extremely important role in protecting our health and sustaining our body’s organs, systems and functions. And the B-complex is quite remarkable in this regard. The B vitamins are essential for energy production, they help synthesise and repair the DNA and RNA, play a key role in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins and they are essential for the functioning of the nervous system. And although each vitamin is unique, they are interrelated and they work together to create this amazing barrier of protection for our bodies.
In an ideal world, we would get all the necessary vitamins and nutrients from the food we eat, from our interaction with the environment (see the example of vitamin D, which is synthesised when we expose our skin to the sun), or as a result of the natural chemical reactions that take place in our bodies. But we obviously live in a far less than ideal world, with very many factors affecting the proper absorption and storage of vitamins. The levels of B vitamins are affected by stress, unhealthy dietary practices, excesses of alcohol and drugs, smoking, working overtime, not getting enough sleep and not allowing our bodies to properly recover after illnesses.
Biotin (or Vitamin B7) is mostly known for its beneficial effects on the health and the appearance of hair, nails and skin. And though this is perfectly justified, as Biotin has indeed be proven to have great results in these respects, it is also important to know that Biotin also plays other even more important roles in our bodies. Here are some of the most significant facts and figures about this amazing vitamin!
What is Biotin?
Biotin, also known as Vitamin B7, vitamin H or coenzyme R, is a water-soluble vitamin from the vitamin B group, which plays a vital role in a large number of physiological functions of the body, such as metabolism and nutrient absorption. The word “biotin” comes from the ancient Greek word “biotos”, meaning “life” or, more specifically, “means of living”. And Biotin is indeed indispensable for human life, as it helps convert food into energy and plays a crucial role in embryonic growth during pregnancy.
Biotin also represents an important component of the enzymes that are involved in metabolizing fats and carbohydrates, it influences cell growth and it is also considered to have a positive effect on maintaining a steady blood sugar level.
Biotin deficiency is relatively rare, especially in populations that have a diverse and nutritious diet. But Biotin is water-soluble, which means that whatever the body does not use at the moment is eliminated through urine. Because no reserve of Biotin is ever built in the body, we have to constantly make sure that we ingest the daily recommended dose of Biotin, either through the food we eat or through supplements. Intestinal bacteria can also synthesise small amounts of Biotin. Biotin supplements are an easy and safe option, as there is no danger of building up too much of the vitamin in our organisms, to levels where it could become toxic. Whatever we do not use, usually gets eliminated.
Certain factors can increase the risk of Biotin deficiency:
Biotinidase deficiency – according to the National Institutes of Health, this is a rare disorder that prevents the body from releasing free Biotin, leading to biotin deficiency despite normal intake. Without treatment, biotinidase deficiency produces neurological and cutaneous symptoms, and profound biotinidase deficiency can lead to coma or even death. Because treatment with oral Biotin starting at birth can prevent these symptoms, all newborns in the United States and many other countries are nowadays screened for this disorder.
Pregnancy – according to a study published in 2002, marginal Biotin deficiency occurs frequently in the first trimester of pregnancy. Biotin supplements can sometimes be taken during pregnancy, but only healthcare professionals can make this recommendation.
Certain medication – anti-seizure medications such as phenytoin, primidone or carbamazepine, and some anticonvulsants may lead to Biotin deficiency. Prolonged administration of antibiotics has also been linked to alterations of the intestinal flora which can lead to malabsorption.
Protein deficiency – certain proteins are involved in protein homeostasis and play an important role in helping release Biotin from food and in the absorption of the vitamin by the gastrointestinal system. On the other hand, other types of proteins, such as avidin, which can be found in raw egg whites, can have a negative impact on these processes. A well balanced diet can provide us with all the range of proteins we need for maintaining a good level of Biotin, while any imbalance can lead to Biotin deficiency.
Intestinal malabsorption – caused by certain digestive disorders such as the short bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, leaky gut syndrome or celiac disease.
Certain diets – a study published in 2003 showed that the ketogenic diet, a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, can increase Biotin bioavailability and consumption, which can result in exaggerated Biotin deficiency. It was suggested that individuals that follow the ketogenic diet have an increased Biotin requirement.
Smoking – it is believed to speed up Biotin catabolism and lead to Biotin deficiency, especially in women.
Other risk factors for Biotin deficiency:
- Severe malnutrition.
- Excessive alcohol consumption – plasma biotin concentrations are low in 15% of people with chronic alcoholism.
- Certain genetic mutations.
- Breastfeeding – according to NIH, plasma and breast milk concentrations of Biotin decrease in lactating women.
Biotin deficiency can lead to a wide range of physiological symptoms, such as:
- Dry and irritated skin;
- Brittle hair and/or hair loss (alopecia);
- Muscular cramps;
- Numbness or tingling in the limbs;
- Fungal infections;
- Digestive disorders;
But also a series of psychological symptoms, such as:
- Mood changes;
- Cognitive impairment;
Regardless of the cause, biotin deficiency is primarily treated with Biotin supplements.
Daily recommended intake
According to the National Institutes of Health, the adequate daily intakes for Biotin are:
|Birth to 6 months||5 mcg||5 mcg|
|7–12 months||6 mcg||6 mcg|
|1–3 years||8 mcg||8 mcg|
|4–8 years||12 mcg||12 mcg|
|9–13 years||20 mcg||20 mcg|
|14–18 years||25 mcg||25 mcg||30 mcg||35 mcg|
|19+ years||30 mcg||30 mcg||30 mcg||35 mcg|
Sources of Biotin
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) does not list the Biotin content of foods or provide lists of foods containing Biotin, and that at least partly because studies have shown a wide range of varying Biotin levels for each food. Also, there are 8 known stereoisomers of Biotin, only one of them – D-biotin – occurring naturally.
|But the National Institutes of Health does indicate several food sources of Biotin in the following list:|
|Food||mcg / serving|
|Beef liver, cooked, 3 ounces||30.8|
|Egg, whole, cooked||10.0|
|Salmon, pink, canned in water, 3 ounces||5.0|
|Pork chop, cooked, 3 ounces||3.8|
|Hamburger patty, cooked, 3 ounces||3.8|
|Sunflower seeds, roasted, ¼ cup||2.6|
|Sweet potato, cooked, ½ cup||2.4|
|Almonds, roasted, ¼ cup||1.5|
|Tuna, canned in water, 3 ounces||0.6|
|Spinach, boiled, ½ cup||0.5|
|Broccoli, fresh, ½ cup||0.4|
|Cheddar cheese, mild, 1 ounce||0.4|
|Milk, 2%, 1 cup||0.3|
|Plain yogurt, 1 cup||0.2|
|Oatmeal, 1 cup||0.2|
|Banana, ½ cup||0.2|
|Whole wheat bread, 1 slice||0.0|
|Apple, ½ cup||0.0|
So, the foods that contain the largest quantities of Biotin are: organ meats, eggs, fish, meat, seeds, nuts and certain vegetables such as sweet potatoes. NIH draws attention to the fact that plant variety and season can affect the Biotin content of cereal grains and that certain processing techniques, such as canning, can reduce the Biotin content of foods. Also, it warns about the dangers of avidin, the glycoprotein in raw egg whites that binds tightly to dietary Biotin and prevents its absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. Cooking seems to denature avidin, making it unable to interfere with Biotin absorption, though a study showed that residual avidin was still present in fried, poached or boiled egg whites.
According to NIH, supplementing with Biotin is fairly safe, as there is no evidence in humans that Biotin is toxic at high intakes and studies have found no adverse effects in patients with biotinidase deficiency to whom high doses of intravenous Biotin were administered. However, if you are pregnant, lactating, taking any prescribed medication or have strong allergies, you must consult your healthcare professional prior to supplementing.
Supplementing with Biotin, especially when taken beyond the daily recommended intake, may cause clinically significant falsely high or low laboratory test results such as those for thyroid hormones. So make sure you inform your doctor beforehand.
If you plan on taking Biotin supplements, choose a formula that is natural and that contains no added fillers, binders, flavourings additives or preservatives, to make sure you get the most benefits and avoid chemical contamination.
Supports energy metabolism
There are several enzymes that are involved in carbohydrates, fats and proteins metabolism which cannot function properly without Vitamin B7. Biotin helps convert carbohydrates and sugar into energy, it activates fatty acids, it stimulates the metabolism and it helps prevent fatigue, digestive problems, weight gain and changes in appetite.
Promotes skin, nails and hair health
Biotin plays a key role in the health and appearance of hair, nails, and skin. According to NIH, signs of Biotin deficiency include skin rashes, hair loss and brittle nails.
Biotin for nails
A study published in 1990 concluded that the thickness of the nails of the persons who took Biotin supplements during the investigation increased significantly by 25%. Also, splitting of the nails was reduced and the irregular cellular arrangement of the dorsal surface of brittle nails became more regular.
In another study 71 patients were treated with a daily oral dose of Biotin of 2.5 mg. Out of the 45 cases which were evaluated in the end, 41 (91%) showed definite improvement with firmer and harder finger nails after an average treatment of 5.5 +/- 2.3 months.
Biotin for skin
Biotin is believed to help protect skin against fungal infections, rashes, dryness and acne.
Biotin for hair
People with Biotin deficiency may really benefit from supplementing, as Biotin deficiency can cause brittle hair and hair loss (alopecia).
A study focusing on a rare disorder of the hair shaft, known as uncombable hair syndrome, concluded that supplementing with oral Biotin – 0.3 mg three times a day – produced significant improvement after 4 months in one of the three patients, with increased growth rate, strength and combability of the hair.
Helps balance blood sugar and may be beneficial for type 2 diabetes
Biotin increases insulin production, has been shown to help lower blood sugar and it enhances glucose uptake in muscle cells. According to a study published in 1993, daily supplementation of Biotin significantly decreases sugar concentration in patients with type 2 diabetes. Also, regular Biotin administration has shown promising results for the prevention and management of peripheral neuropathy, nerve damage caused by chronically high blood sugar and diabetes.
Biotin is also believed to affect the enzymes that stimulate glucose production in the liver, thus reducing the quantity of sugar released into the bloodstream.
Protects the cardiovascular system
Biotin protects the health of the cardiovascular system by reducing inflammation, preventing the plaque build-up in the arteries, lowering triglyceride concentrations, increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL – “good cholesterol”) levels and decreasing low-density lipoprotein (LHL – “bad cholesterol”) levels. Biotin also plays an important role in fat metabolism, which is essential for maintaining the health of the heart and blood vessels.
Prevents cognitive decline
Myelin is a nerve-protecting fatty substance that surrounds nerves and facilitates nerve impulse conduction. In multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, myelin is damaged or lost. Biotin activates key enzymes that play an important role in the production of myelin and can help protect the brain against age-related memory loss, cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.