Biotin, also known as vitamin H or B7, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps the body metabolize fats, carbohydrates, and protein. Since water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body, daily intake is required.
Vitamin B7 cannot be synthesized by human cells, but is produced by bacteria in the body and is found in a large number of foods.
Biotin therapy can help treat some medical conditions. Some people take supplements to strengthen their nails and hair, but evidence to support this use is lacking.
This article examines why we need biotin, the recommended intake, sources, and possible health risks.
Fast facts on Vitamin B7:
Biotin or vitamin B7 is needed to metabolize fats, carbohydrates, and protein.
Its deficiency can lead to hair loss and skin problems, but it is rare.
Dietary sources include red meat, eggs, seeds, and nuts.
Supplements are unlikely to harm, but have not been proven to help hair, skin, and nail health.
The body needs biotin to metabolize fats, carbohydrates and protein.
It is a coenzyme for carboxylase enzymes. These enzymes are related to:
synthesizing or creating fatty acids
synthesis of the amino acid isoleucine and valine
gluconeogenesis, or glucose producing
Biotin is important for a number of functions.
Maintaining a healthy pregnancy
Mild biotin deficiency usually occurs during pregnancy. It may lead to abnormal development in the fetus.
Folic acid supplementation is recommended in the year before and during pregnancy. It makes sense to get a multivitamin that provides at least 30 mcg of biotin per day in addition to folic acid to reduce the risk of deficiency.
Nails, hair and skin
There is some evidence that biotin may boost nails strength and stamina and improve hair and skin health.
A study published in 1989 found that 91 percent of 45 patients who took the 2.5 mg supplement per day had “harder and harder nails” after 5 months.
Other researchers concluded that “brittle nail syndrome is reduced by supplementing with a daily dose of 2.5 mg of biotin or a daily dose of 10 mg of silicon”.
Research published in 2015 revealed that women with thinning hair experienced some reduction in hair loss after taking oral marine protein supplements (MPS) for 90 days. However, biotin was only one ingredient in this supplement, and research was sponsored by a company that sells health and beauty products.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), there is little evidence that biotin supplements can strengthen nails and support healthy hair.
Further studies are needed to support the use of biotin supplements for this purpose in healthy individuals.
Lowering blood sugar
Several studies have tested biotin’s ability to lower blood sugar in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The results were promising.
In animal studies, biotin has been shown to stimulate the secretion of insulin from the pancreas and subsequently lower blood glucose.
Research published in 2016 showed that biotin can aid glycemic control in people with type I diabetes.
More studies are needed before the effects of biotin on blood sugar can be confirmed.
It can also help reduce nerve damage in people with diabetes or undergoing dialysis due to kidney disease.
In 1990, scientists found that three patients who took high doses of biotin for 1 to 2 years saw an improvement in symptoms.
Biotin is required for pyruvate carboxylase activity. Without this, high levels of pyruvate and aspartate can occur and this can negatively affect the nerves.
However, more evidence is needed to confirm this.
Biotin sensitive basal ganglia disease
This is a rare hereditary disease. It affects a part of the nervous system that controls movement. It can lead to involuntary stretching of the muscles, muscle stiffness, muscle weakness and other problems.
The condition appears to respond to treatment with thiamine and biotin.
Multiple sclerosis treatment
Studies have suggested that high-dose biotin therapy can help improve symptoms in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system and causes muscle weakness and a host of other problems.
Results published in 2016 showed that biotin is a safe treatment. In some participants, the high dose taken three times a day reduced symptoms after 9 months of use.
Biotin deficiency is rare in humans because biotin is commonly found in foods, and “good” gut bacteria can normally synthesize more biotin than the body needs.
Deficiency symptoms include:
Biotin deficiency is most common in:
It can also affect:
Biotinidase deficiency is another cause of biotin deficiency. This is an autosomal recessive metabolic disorder.
In people with this condition, the body does not produce enough of the enzyme needed to release biotin from dietary proteins during digestion or from the normal protein cycle in the cell.
Approximately 1 in 60,000 newborns have a deep or partial biotinidase deficiency. In a profound deficiency, there is less than 10 percent of normal enzyme activity. In partial deficiency, 10 to 30 percent of normal enzyme activity occurs.
Food should be the first choice when looking for biotin sources. Biotin in foods usually binds to protein.
Biotin-rich foods include:
Raw eggs contain a protein called avidin that inhibits biotin absorption. Eating two or more raw egg whites a day for several months is linked to biotin deficiency.
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