Thinking about supplementing with biotin but want to know a bit more? You’ve come to the right place.
There’s a lot of information on the internet claiming the benefits of nutrients like biotin. As you may know, most of that information is given to you through a marketing lens with the goal of selling you something.
Stripped down to the facts — biotin is actually a pretty amazing nutrient. Its role in metabolism alone is enough to write a book on. Not to mention its effect on type 2 diabetes, blood sugar, the nervous system and even brittle nails.
So let’s take a look at this fascinating little b vitamin in more detail.
Biotin belongs to the group of B vitamins. Along with vitamin C, B vitamins are water-soluble. This means your body can absorb them without fat, but they’re also excreted a lot easier.
You may have noticed the bright yellow color that your urine gets when you take a B vitamin supplement, that’s the extra b’s being excreted in your urine. In fact, about half of the biotin you consume will be excreted within 24 hours[*].
The known importance of biotin dates all the way back to 1927 when a group of researchers fed mice raw egg whites (which can cause biotin deficiency), and then reversed the deficiency with biotin containing foods[*]. By 1942 the role of biotin as an essential vitamin for humans was confirmed when a similar study was done on a group of people[*].
Biotin has a few different names it can go by: Vitamin B7, Vitamin H, W Factor, and Coenzyme R. Along with its many titles, biotin boasts a variety important biological activities in your body. It’s main job, however, involves the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and protein.
Biotin is made naturally in your body by your gut bacteria, but it can also be found in small amounts in a variety of foods.
#1: Boosts Metabolism
Biotins main job in the body is to serve as a cofactor (key player) for specific enzymes involved in metabolism. These enzymes help with the breakdown and utilization of the fat, carbohydrate, and protein that you eat. Because of its involvement in the use of all three macronutrients, biotin plays an important role in your metabolic function The three main pathways by which these enzymes work are[*]:
- Fatty acid synthesis
- Amino acid catabolism
Gluconeogenesis is the pathway that creates glucose (aka blood sugar), from non-carbohydrate sources. The pathway for gluconeogenesis is turned on when your stores of glucose get depleted so you’re not deprived of fuel[*].
Fatty acid synthesis is the creation of fatty acids in your body, typically from carbohydrate sources. This reaction generally happens in the liver or in fat cells. Fatty acids synthesis allows for the storage of energy in your body, and gives excess glucose a place to go[*].
Amino acid catabolism is the breakdown of protein. Your body is constantly engaged in the act of building up and breaking down protein structures from amino acids. In some cases you end up with excess amino acids, which can’t be stored for later and also can’t be excreted. In this case they need to be transformed into a different source of fuel for the body — mainly fatty acids, glucose or ketones[*].
As you can see, biotins role is extremely important in leveraging energy from the food you eat, as well as storing energy from food for later.
#2: May Help Lower Blood Glucose
Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by the inability of your body to manage your blood sugar, causing levels in your blood to rise too high. The hormone insulin normally shuttles glucose out of your blood and into your cells. If you have diabetes, your cells become insulin resistant — meaning they don’t respond to insulins attempt to shuttle in blood glucose.
Most of the time when your body develops this resistance your doctor will put you on some sort of blood sugar regulating medication. Unfortunately, these medications don’t always work, and they come with a long list of undesirable side effects. Research into natural alternatives has uncovered some interesting observations.
Scientists found that people with diabetes also tend to have low levels of biotin. Several studies also showed that biotin has an effect on blood glucose. However, when research was done to determine if biotin supplementation could affect blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes, there was no effect[*].
Of course, the human body is never that simple. Researchers continued to examine possible links to biotin and diabetes, and eventually came across an interesting discovery; biotin in combination with chromium picolinate can lower blood glucose[*][*].
It should be noted that to date these studies have only been done on people with poorly managed blood sugar that are already on medication. However, it gives great promise that eventually a more natural way to manage blood sugar for diabetics will be discovered.
Blood sugar regulation isn’t the only way in which biotin can help those with diabetes. Something called diabetic neuropathy can occur in the later stages of diabetes. This occurs when there’s damage to the nerves that carry messages from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. This breakdown of communication can cause painful muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, inability to stand and walk, and tingling in your arms and legs.
Biotin supplementation was shown to improve all of the above symptoms in diabetics within just a few weeks. This benefit further underlines the hypothesis that there is a connection to biotin deficiency and type 2 diabetes.
In fact, one of the enzymes that biotin plays an important role in is also needed for proper functioning of the nervous system — it’s been proposed that it could be the dysfunction of this enzyme that’s contributing diabetic neuropathy[*][*].
#3: Needed During Pregnancy
Although biotin deficiency is relatively rare, several studies have found that biotin status can decrease during pregnancy[*][*]. There seems to be evidence pointing to increased needs of biotin for women who are pregnant, potentially due to the role that biotin plays in the development of the fetus[*][*].
It’s possible that there’s an increased breakdown of biotin in pregnant women, which leads to a slight deficiency[*]. This increased breakdown may be due to the fact that all b vitamins play an important role in the function of the nervous system, as well as energy production throughout the body. These two functions are in high demand during the creation of new life[*][*].
#4: Boosts Hair, Skin, and Nail Health
Biotin has been widely marketed as a nutrient that can help you grow long, voluminous hair; strong, thick nails; and glowing, soft skin. Although the science doesn’t exactly live up the hype of these claims, there are some interesting benefits that biotin has on your hair, skin, and nails that’s worth mentioning.
If you don’t have a biotin deficiency, it’s unlikely that taking a biotin supplement will do much for you in the hair department[*]. Biotin deficiency, however, may result in hair loss[*]. Therefore, if you’re deficient in biotin, adding in some extra biotin may help with your hair growth — among other signs of biotin deficiency.
Struggling with brittle, chipping, cracking, thin, nails can be a total nuisance and aesthetically very unpleasing. In cases of severely brittle nails you may even experience separation of the nail from the bed, which can be very painful.
Although it didn’t work in 100% of the cases, there is reason to believe that biotin has a role to play in nail strength. It should be noted that biotin deficiency wasn’t taken into account in these trials.
Much like hair loss, skin issues can also result from a deficiency in biotin. A common skin manifestation, dermatitis, is thought to be a consequence of impaired fatty acid metabolism. Since biotin plays such an important role in the metabolism of fatty acids, this hypothesis would make sense. There’s also some evidence that impaired immune function as a result of biotin deficiency may also play a role[*][*].
Here again though, there doesn’t seem to be strong evidence that biotin supplementation can prevent or repair skin issues that are not caused primarily by a biotin deficiency.
#5: May Help Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects your central nervous system. It disrupts the flow of information within your brain, and between your brain and body. MS is an autoimmune disease — meaning it’s your body’s own immune system that turns on your central nervous system and causes damage to cells and tissues.
The cause of MS is still unknown, although environmental and genetic factors do seem to play a role[*].
Every nerve fiber in your body is insulted by a fatty shield called myelin. The myelin protects your nerves, and also assists in sending signals via your nerves to your brain and body. In MS, your myelin can become inflamed, leading to damage.
Researchers have found that supplementing with high doses of biotin have led to improvements in symptoms for people suffering with MS. Some of the symptoms include vision difficulties, paraparesis (the partial paralysis of the lower limbs), and overall improvement in disability[*][*].
Myelin is made from fat. As you know, biotin has a very important role in fatty acid synthesis. It’s been hypothesized that biotins beneficial role in MS may have to do with its ability to induce remyelination in people who have damaged their nerve fibers[*].
More research needs to be done, and there are several clinical trials currently underway to further determine the role that biotin may play in symptoms and potential treatment of MS.
Biotin deficiency is pretty rare. You can find biotin in a variety of food sources, and your gut bacteria are able to make it endogenously as well.
There are, however, some cases where biotin deficiency can occur:
- Drug interactions – some medications can inhibit the absorption of biotin.
- Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases – they may prevent you from being able to absorb biotin.
- Biotinidase deficiency- the enzyme responsible for recycling biotin. This is a hereditary disorder often diagnosed early in life.
- Phenylketonuria – A pretty rare genetic disorder that results in decreased metabolism of the amino acid phenylalanine.
- Smoking – preliminary data suggest the smoking may increase the breakdown of biotin
- Raw egg whites- Raw egg whites contain a compound called avidin. Avidin is a strong biotin-binder and over time can cause a deficiency if taken in excess.
Symptoms of biotin deficiency are easily masked as symptoms of other diseases or deficiencies. The signs typically fall under physical or neurological.
Below is a list of some common symptoms you may experience if you’re deficient in biotin:
- Red, dry or scaly skin
- Hair loss
- Loss of hair color
- Dry eyes
- Muscle pain
- Burning in hands or feet
- Loss of appetite
If you’re concerned that you may have a biotin deficiency you should consult your healthcare practitioner for more information.
If you want to boost your biotin intake you can either eat more foods high in biotin, or take a biotin supplement.
There’s no shortage of biotin supplements on the market, so you want to make sure that you’re picking the right one and taking it correctly.
Some things to keep in mind:
- The Adequate Intake (AI) for biotin ranges from 5 micrograms per day for infants, to 30 micrograms per day for adults over 19. Breastfeeding women need a bit more — 35 micrograms per day.
- Unlike some other nutrients, biotin can be taken either with, or without, other supplements and food.
- The amount of biotin you need would depend on how deficient you are. Although there don’t seem to be any adverse effects of taking too much biotin, you should always consult with your healthcare practitioner before beginning any supplement regimen[*].
- Most biotin supplements come in 5mg, 8mg, or 10mg capsules.
Food Sources of Biotin
Biotin is found in small amounts in a variety of foods. Biotinidase is a special enzyme just for biotin that breaks the biotin in food away from proteins so your body can absorb it[*]. As long as your gut healthy is pretty good, and you’re not eating copious amounts of egg whites, the bioavailability of biotin should be pretty good.
Below is a list of foods that are good sources of biotin[*]:
- Beef liver
- Eggs (cooked)
- Pink salmon
- Pork chop
- Ground beef
- Sunflower seeds
- Sweet potato
As previously mentioned, biotin doesn’t seem to cause any issues when taken in excess. This is most likely due to its water-soluble nature and the fact you’ll pee it out before it could cause any damage.
However, there are some potential interactions and precautions to be aware of.
Biotin supplementation may interfere with the following:
- Biotin induces the activity of the enzyme cytochrome P450. This could potentially decrease the level of drugs that are metabolized by this enzyme[*].
- Biotin competes for intestinal absorption with alpha-lipoic acid. Therefore supplementation with both of these nutrients should be taken separately[*].
- Biotin competes for intestinal absorption with vitamin B5, this theoretically could mean that either B vitamin would exhibit decreased absorption when taken together[*].
Some medications interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Two types of medications in particular have been identified as having nutrient depletion effects on biotin levels, antibiotic drugs and anticonvulsants.
Antibiotic drugs may deplete biotin due to their effect on gut bacteria, which typically create an in-house supply of biotin. When Antibiotics kill off your bacteria, you have less workers to create biotin so you become more dependant on dietary sources.
Anticonvulsant drugs like Primidone, Isotretinion, and Phenobarbital were shown to lower plasma biotin levels by 50% when compared to controls. Some suggested mechanisms include increased competition for biotin transporter, increased biotin breakdown, and decreased reabsorption or biotin[*].
Takeaway: Get More Biotin
Biotin is a pretty amazing vitamin. Its role in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism gives way to a host of beneficial activities in your body. Deficiency of biotin is rare, likely due to the fact that you can find it in a variety of foods in addition to being able to produce it yourself in your small intestine.
You most likely don’t need to supplement with biotin, unless you’re taking one of the medications or supplements listed above. However, eating a diet rich in whole, real, foods is important to make sure you’re getting enough of this and other important nutrients.