Alternative names: Vitamin B7
The main role of biotin in the body is to assist in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Severe biotin deficiency results in impaired functioning of the immune system, as well as a scaly dermatitis that resembles seborrhea (a condition characterized by reddened, oily scales on the face and scalp).
Biotin is needed by the body to maintain hair growth and hair color. It has therefore been added to the diets of patients who worried about losing hair, or hair turning white prematurely. If either of the conditions is caused by biotin deficiency, biotin supplementation will have a great therapeutic effect.
In the past it was thought that biotin deficiency is rare, because biotin is found in a wide variety of foods and is also manufactured by intestinal bacteria. Only a few cases of severe biotin deficiency had been reported, all of which were caused by the consumption of excessive amounts of raw egg white, which contains a compound that inhibits the absorption of biotin. However, a 2002 study reported in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2002; 75: pp.295-9) indicates that a more subtle form of biotin deficiency occurs during pregnancy, possibly as a result of the increased demand for nutrients placed on the mother by the growing fetus.
Deficiency symptoms include anemia, chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, impairment of fat metabolism, irregular heartbeat, impaired cognitive skills, anorexia, baldness, alopecia, insomnia, depression, drowsiness, hallucinations, muscle pain, pallor, dandruff, dermatitis, psoriasis, seborrhea, eczema.
NOTE: If two or more of the above symptoms are present you may need therapeutic supplementation of Biotin. However, for all intents and purposes, it is considered unwise for a layperson to attempt to treat themselves therapeutically. In view of this, you should always seek the services of a doctor that is formally schooled and trained in the profession of natural health care.
Animal studies have demonstrated that biotin deficiency can cause birth defects. For that reason, some researchers have recommended that pregnant women use a prenatal multiple vitamin-and-mineral formula that contains biotin. Although additional research is needed to determine whether biotin supplements can prevent birth defects in humans, taking a biotin-containing prenatal formula seems a reasonable step for pregnant women, since the vitamin is considered safe and has not been associated with adverse side-effects.
Some biotin is available in a wide range of foods, though amounts are always very small. The biotin needed for normal functioning of the human body is considered to be around 200mcg per day.
Biotin supplements have also been used for several other health conditions. Preliminary studies have suggested that biotin in large amounts (such as 5 to 16mg per day) can help control blood sugar levels or improve nerve damage in diabetics. In a study of individuals with dry, splitting nails, supplementation with 2.5mg of biotin per day improved the quality of the nails in 63% of those treated. Improvement was seen after an average of two months, although some individuals did not see results until they had taken biotin for four months.
With the exception of those receiving intravenous feeding or downing dozens of raw eggs, supplementation is most likely not necessary. Nevertheless, many multivitamins contain some biotin – it won't do any harm.
A deficiency of biotin (one of the B-complex vitamins) may occur in as many as 50% of pregnant women, and this deficiency may increase the risk of birth defects. [American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002; 75: pp.295-9]
In this study, laboratory evidence of biotin deficiency was found both in the early (first trimester) and late (third trimester) stages of pregnancy, and was corrected by supplementation with 300mcg of biotin per day for 14 days. Researchers had already suspected that biotin deficiency is common during pregnancy, but previous studies had used only an indirect method of determining biotin status.
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