Biotin is used in cell growth, the production of fatty acids, metabolism of fats, and amino acids. It plays a role in the Krebs Cycle, which is the process in which energy is released from food. Biotin not only assists in various metabolic chemical conversions, but also helps with the transfer of carbon dioxide. Biotin is also helpful in maintaining a steady blood sugar level. Biotin is often recommended for strengthening hair and nails. Consequently, it is found in many cosmetic and health products for the hair and skin.
Deficiency is extremely rare, save in cases where people have ingested large amounts of raw egg white over long periods of time, as intestinal bacteria generally produce in excess of the body's daily requirement.
Biotin works with other B vitamins to make healthy cells and convert carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy. Biotin also promotes healthy hair, skin, sweat glands, nerve tissue, bone marrow, and male sex glands.
Biotin has had a number of different names since it was first discovered. Scientists weren’t sure what it did, couldn’t decide if it was an enzyme or a vitamin, and had trouble naming it. Biotin is still sometimes referred to as vitamin H, although it is now known that biotin is a B-complex vitamin.
Biotin is found in brewer’s yeast, liver, cooked egg yolks, fish, butter, cheese, and milk, nuts, green peas, lentils, soybeans, sunflower seeds, corn, fortified cereals, cauliflower, meat, milk, poultry, saltwater fish, soybeans, and whole grains. Biotin is destroyed by certain food-processing techniques such as canning and heat curing, and raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin, which combines with biotin in the intestinal tract to deplete the body of this needed nutrient.
However, you don’t have to get biotin from your diet, because your body makes its own. If you are a normal, healthy individual, the bacteria in your intestines make all the biotin you need. It is rare for anyone to be deficient in this vitamin unless they have an eating disorder, but those taking antibiotics or sulfa drugs, or who consume large amounts of saccharin may need to supplement, because these substances interfere with the body’s ability to manufacture it. People with Type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes may also want to take a biotin supplement. One study found that people taking 9,000 micrograms each day for a month had blood sugar levels fall to nearly half of their original levels.*
Biotin supplements are both safe and available; large doses have no known toxic effects. A biotin deficiency can cause symptoms similar to those of other vitamin B deficiencies, including anemia, depression, hair loss, high blood sugar, inflammation or pallor of the skin and mucous membranes, insomnia, loss of appetite, muscular pain, nausea, and soreness of the tongue. Because biotin is key to the maintenance of healthy hair and skin, hair loss, brittle hair and nails may also be symptoms of deficiency. In infants, a condition called seborrheic dermatitis, or cradle cap, which is characterized by a dry, scaly scalp, may occur as a result of biotin deficiency. However, it is important to speak to a physician before giving infants a supplement of this or any other vitamin.