Hamsa Al-Aqqad, M.S.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT ARE VITAMINS?
Vitamins are organic compounds that are needed in small amounts by the body as the human system is not able to make them. They are coenzymes – components of enzymes – which speed up reactions in the body to allow for optimal metabolism of fat and protein as well as energy liberation from carbohydrates. Some vitamins are water – soluble including the B complex family and vitamin C; such vitamins are not stored in the body. Others are fat – soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K) and any excess accumulates in the body. Hence, attention must be given to the amounts consumed so as not to reach toxic levels.
WHAT IS BIOTIN?
Biotin is a vitamin that belongs to the B complex family. It’s also known as vitamin H, vitamin B7, and coenzyme R. It was first described in 1936 as a vitamin that was colorless, water – soluble, and highly unstable; biotin is easily destroyed by environmental elements such as heat (cooking), water (soaking), and exposure to light1.
Even though biotin exists in eight different forms, only D – biotin is active2.
WHAT ARE THE FUNCTIONS OF BIOTIN?
- Nutrient metabolism: biotin helps the body to convert carbohydrates and amino acids into glucose that is used to produce energy. It’s also involved in the synthesis of fatty acids and amino acids, and aids the transformation of amino acids into proteins1-4.
- Cell growth and division: biotin plays a role in regulating the replication and transcription of DNA, in addition to other cellular reactions5-7. Consequently, it plays a vital role in normal embryonic development during pregnancy3.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF BIOTIN?
Good – quality research evaluating the health advantages of biotin is limited, with many of its proposed claims being based on case reports and weak studies. However, biotin has been shown to be of added value in the following conditions:
- Brittle nails: it has been suggested that biotin supplementation may enhance thin, splitting nails. One study8 revealed that fingernail thickness increased by 25% and splitting decreased after biotin supplementation.
- Hair loss: initial research demonstrated that biotin, taken with zinc by mouth in addition to applying a cream containing clobetasol propionate to the affected skin, can help reduce hair fall9.
- Cradle cap (seborrhoeic dermatitis): this is a red scaling scalp rash that may develop in biotin – deficient infants. However, double-blind cross-over trial of biotin given by mouth in the treatment of seborrhoeic dermatitis of infancy did not show a statistically significant advantage of biotin over placebo10.
- Diabetes: a couple of studies showed that taking biotin in combination with chromium picolinate could prove beneficial in patients with type 2 diabetes11-12.
- Diabetic nerve pain (diabetic neuropathy): in a small – scale study of 3 diabetic patients with severe diabetic nerve pain, long – term biotin administration showed promising improvement in symptoms13.
HOW DO I KNOW I’M GETTING ENOUGH BIOTIN?
It is quite rare to be deficient in biotin as bacteria in the intestine can produce it. Nevertheless, signs and symptoms of a mild biotin deficiency include1-3:
- Hair loss.
- Dry scaly skin/eczema.
- Cracking in the corners of the mouth.
- Dry eyes.
- Numbness and tingling of extremeties.
- Loss of appetite.
Severe biotin deficiency could lead to high cholesterol levels and heart problems. Depression may progress into hallucinations as the liver can no longer remove toxins from the body efficiently. In infants, a severe biotin deficiency may lead to lack of muscle tone1.
ARE THERE ANY FACTORS THAT CAN INCREASE MY RISK OF A BIOTIN DEFICIENCY?
- Pregnancy can be associated with a slight deficiency. The daily requirements of biotin are increased during lactation.
- Treatment with antibiotics may kill the natural bacteria in the gut responsible for biotin synthesis, so a biotin – rich diet should be consumed meanwhile.
- Inherited biotinidase deficiency disorder. Biotinidase is responsible for releasing biotin from dietary protein to make it available for absorption by the intestine. If this enzyme is missing, biotin in food will not be absorbed by the body, and a deficiency will result.
- Diabetic patients.
- Patients on hemodialysis.
- Patients receiving total intravenous nutrition lacking biotin.
- Long-term intake of raw egg whites; these contain avidin, a protein which inhibits the absorption of biotin. Cooked eggs do not have this effect.
WHICH FOOD SOURCES ARE RICH IN BIOTIN?
Rich sources of biotin include brewer’s yeast, liver, and kidney2. Other good dietary sources are cooked egg yolks, nuts, soybeans, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, and bananas. More biotin will be available in foods that are not processed, as food processing destroys it2-3.
WHAT’S THE DAILY REQUIREMENT OF BIOTIN?
According to the National Academy of Sciences, the adequate daily intakes for biotin from food are as follows3:
- Infants 0 – 6 months: 5 mcg.
- Infants 7 – 12 months: 6 mcg.
- Children 1 – 3 years: 8 mcg.
- Children 4 – 8 years: 12 mcg.
- Children 9 – 13 years: 20 mcg.
- Teenagers 14 – 18 years: 25 mcg.
- Adults 19 years and older: 30 mcg.
- Pregnant women: 30 mcg.
- Nursing women: 35 mcg.
In Europe, a reference adult value of 15 – 100 mcg has been set2.
ARE THERE ANY INTERACTIONS FOR BIOTIN?
Generally, biotin works best when taken with other B vitamins, as they enhance each other’s effect. However, large doses of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) may compete for absorption by the body as they have similar chemical structures14.
As stated earlier, the use of antibiotics may decrease the bacterial production of biotin, leading to higher requirements. Supplementation with lactobacillus will help replenish biotin after treatment with antibiotics1.
Estrogen, alcohol, and sulfa drugs also increase biotin requirements1.
Long – term treatment with anticonvulsants may lead to biotinidase deficiency, which may be improved by biotin supplementation3.
ARE THERE ANY SAFETY CONCERNS ASSOCIATED WITH BIOTIN SUPPLEMENTATION?
Biotin supplements are commonly available as 10 mcg, 50 mcg, and 100 mcg tablets. Biotin can also be included as part of a complex supplement with brewer’s yeast3.
Biotin has not been associated with side effects even in high doses as any excess is removed from the body in the urine1.
- Skinner, P. and Odle, T. (2005), Biotin. Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Accessed July 4th, 2015 at encyclopedia.com.
- Vitamin B7 at a glance. Nutri – Facts. Accessed July 4th, 2015 at nutri-facts.org.
- Steven, D. (2011), Vitamin H (Biotin). University of Maryland Medical Center. Last reviewed June 26th, 2011. Accessed July 3rd, 2015 at umm.edu/.
- Zempleni, J. and Mock, D.M. (1999), Biotin biochemistry and human requirements. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 10, 128 – 138.
- Hymes, J. and Wolf, B. (1999), Human biotinidase isn’t just for recycling biotin. Journal of Nutrition, 129(2S Suppl), 485S – 489S.
- Zempleni, J. and Mock, D.M. (2000), Marginal biotin deficiency is teratogenic. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 223(1), 14 – 21.
- Kothapalli, N. Camporeale, G. Kueh, A. et al. (2005), Biological functions of biotinylated histones. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 16(7), 446 – 448.
- Hochman, L.G. Scher R.K. and Meyerson M.S. (1993), Brittle nails: response to daily biotin supplementation. Cutis, 51(4), 303 – 305.
- Camacho, F.M. and Garcia-Hernandez, M.J. (1999), Zinc aspartate, biotin, and clobetasol propionate in the treatment of alopecia areata in childhood. Pediatric Dermatology, 16, 336 – 338.
- Keipert, J.A. (1976), Oral use of biotin in seborrhoeic dermatitis of infancy: a controlled trial. Medical Journal of Australia, 1, 584 – 585.
- Singer, G.M. and Geohas, J. (2006), The effect of chromium picolinate and biotin supplementation on glycemic control in poorly controlled patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a placebo – controlled, double – blinded, randomized trial. Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics, 8(6), 636 – 643.
- Albarracin, C.A. Fuqua, B.C. Evans, J.L. Goldfine, I.D. (2008), Chromium picolinate and biotin combination improves glucose metabolism in treated, uncontrolled overweight to obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews, 24(1), 41 – 51.
- Koutsikos, D. Agroyannis, B. and Tzanatoz-Exarchou H. (1990), Biotin for diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 44, 511 – 514.
- Zempleni, J. and Mock, D.M. (1999), Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells: inhibition of biotin transport by reversible competition with pantothenic acid is quantitatively minor. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 10(7), 427 – 432.