Biotin (also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H), is one of the water-soluble B-vitamins, necessary for a number of functions, including cell growth, keeping skin, hair and nails healthy, as well as maintaining a well-functioning neuromuscular system. It is also involved in the metabolism of amino acids, carbohydrates and fats so they can be converted into energy.
One of the greatest advantages of biotin is that it has been shown to increase glucose tolerance and reduce insulin resistance, which is helpful for those with Type 2 diabetes. In studies performed on adults with Type 2 diabetes, it was found that supplementation with biotin reduced their blood sugar levels by half.
Though biotin can’t be absorbed topically through either the hair or skin (making shampoos and cosmetics that contain it a waste of money), taking biotin supplements internally is often advised for those who are suffering from brittle nails and hair breakage.
Biotin is a vitamin produced naturally by your body’s own intestinal bacteria, so a deficiency is not common, apart from those who drink alcohol excessively or eat raw eggs on a regular basis. One of the best sources of biotin is egg yolks, however, it is important to note that the body may not be able to absorb the biotin in an egg yolk if it is eaten with the white of the egg. Raw egg whites contain the glycoprotein avidin, which binds to biotin, preventing absorption. The prolonged consumption of raw or undercooked egg whites can lead to a biotin deficiency, but by cooking egg whites thoroughly the avidin is deactivated, leaving the biotin intact. Other good dietary sources of biotin are Swiss chard, liver, tomatoes, carrots, yeast and soy.
Some symptoms of biotin deficiency are skin problems, such as seborrheic dermatitis or cradle cap in infants (a relatively common problem in which they develop a pale yellow or white crusty growth on the scalp), hair loss, brittle nails, depression, lethargy, lack of muscle tone and coordination, and muscle pain. Biotin has also been used to help treat peripheral neuropathy and Parkinson’s disease.
It is especially important that pregnant women get sufficient amounts of biotin, as it breaks down more quickly during pregnancy, and a deficiency in the first and third trimesters was found to be relatively common. Taking biotin supplements can alleviate this problem.
The recommended daily allowance for biotin in adults is 300 mcg per day, which will keep you from a deficiency and will provide you with healthy skin, hair and nails, in addition to helping prevent diabetes.
The B group of vitamins is probably the most commonly misunderstood of the vitamins, simply because the B vitamins are several distinct vitamins lumped together. Additionally, the fact that the vitamins in this group are known by both letter, number and name is confusing to many people. Here is a quick list of the B vitamins found in the Vitamin B complex group.
B1 is also thiamin
B2 is also riboflavin
B3 is also niacin
B5 is also pantothenic acid
B6 is also pyridoxine
B7 is also biotin
B9 is also folic acid
B12 is also cobalamin
You should note that there are four additional substances in the B complex group, though they are not known as vitamins. They are choline, lipoic acid, PABA and inositol. When you purchase B complex vitamins, these four will not be included. Furthermore, one or two of the recognized B vitamins may also be omitted. B5 and B7 are so widely available in food that most people get plenty of these vitamins even if they aren’t eating a healthy diet.
There are gaps in the numbers of the B vitamins because our understanding of them has evolved over time. Initially there was only a single B vitamin. Later it was recognized that what had been referred to as a single vitamin, actually had many components. These component parts where numbered 1,2,3,4, etc… Even later it was determine that some of these components (such as B4) did not meet the criteria of being a vitamin and they were dropped. That’s how we ended up with 8 B-vitamins with non-sequential numbers.
One thing that all the B vitamins share is that they are water soluble. Any excess vitamin B is not stored, but rather is excreted in the urine. That means that all the B vitamins need to be constantly replenished from our diets.
B vitamins are found in whole unprocessed foods including grains, meats and vegetables. In general, the more processed that food is, the lower the content of all the B vitamins. A daily multi-vitamin is a great way to ensure that you are getting all the B complex Vitamins your body needs on a daily basis.
One of the most commonly recognized uses of the B vitamins is an energy booster. Many popular energy drinks that claim a natural boost of energy without sugar or caffeine are high in B vitamin complex.
There are too many components in the Vitamin B complex to discuss the health benefits, deficiencies and Recommended Daily Allowance for the whole group in a single article.