Biotin

Biotin is a vital water soluble B-vitamin which we need to help us generate energy from our food. It is very important for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, and for keeping our hair, nails and skin in great condition.

Biochemistry

Biotin used to be known as vitamin B7 or H, or coenzyme R. It got the H because that is German for  Haar und Haut meaning hair and skin.

This vitamin is a constituent of  many enzymes in cells called carboxylases which fix carbon dioxide so that bigger molecules can be generated. It is one of the key synthetic methods for generating larger fatty acids and for exploiting energy molecules like glucose.

The recommended daily intake is 5 micrograms for infants and 30 micrograms for adults. When women are breast feeding the amount needed rises to 35 micrograms daily.

It is still a requirement in some countries that an inability to produce biotin is tested for in babies simply although deficiency is extremely rare. Breast feeding women can experience mild forms of deficiency. Vitamins like pyridoxine, folic acid, niacin, thiamine and riboflavin are also critical in our diet.

Natural Sources

To be honest, deficiency should be quite rare because most foods contain adequate supplies of this vitamin. So, a healthy well-balanced diet should provide all the vitamin needs including this one.

Meat (poultry)

Issues With Some Foods

If you eat too many raw eggs (it’s not that common a practice but people do), over an extended period of time, you can suffer slight deficiency. Raw egg whites contain a very important protein called avidin which binds biotin to it and prevents absorption by the body. It is in fact one of the ways birds protect the insides of their eggs because bacteria cannot thrive in such a environment where biotin is removed from the environment. Fortunately, there is no problem with avidin in cooked eggs as heating destroys the protein.

Macronutrient Metabolism

Biotin is a key component of carboxylase enzymes and there are many of these which use this component. they are all involved in fat, protein and general energy metabolism. These enzymes are often the key ones in the various pathways they operate in and help make full use of the nutrients we ingest.

The key biochemical pathways are:-

Fatty acid synthesis: These enzymes catalyse reactions important for the production of fatty acids like arachidonic acids.

Gluconeogenesis: This metabolic pathway enables glucose production from sources other than carbs, such as amino acids. Biotin-containing enzymes help start this particular process.

Amino-Acid breakdown: amino acids are a source of energy and raw materials for other compounds needed by cells to live. Most important for the breakdown of leucine.

Skin, Nails And Hair

Nails are an important cosmetic feature for many of us. Brittle nails or onychoschizia as it’s known, can weaken and readily become split, cracked or chipped and the condition affects nearly 20 per cent of the world’s population. A biotin supplement may help reverse the condition if a stable healthy diet is not possible.

A couple of studies have shown that biotin helps ameliorate the condition of brittle nails. One study which was rather small in the numbers of people looked at ( 8 in total), found that when 2.5mg of biotin was taken daily from between 6 and 15 months, nail thickness and splitting reduced by 25 per cent in all eight participants (Colombo et al., 1990). In the same study there was a second group of 14 patients who showed a modest improvement in nail strength when the administration of biotin did not coincide with any initial or terminal clipping of nails. However, they could still demonstrate a benefit.

A further study in Switzerland found that in 35 people with the same brittle nail condition found 2.5mg of biotin per day for 1.5 to 7 months reduced their nail problems in 67 per cent of participants (Hochman et al., 1993) or had no benefit at all.

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References

Colombo, V. E., Gerber, F., Bronhofer, M., & Floersheim, G. L. (1990). Treatment of brittle fingernails and onychoschizia with biotin: scanning electron microscopy. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 23(6), pp. 1127-1132. PMID: 2273113
 
Hochman, L. G., Scher, R. K., & Meyerson, M. S. (1993). Brittle nails: response to daily biotin supplementation. Cutis, 51(4), pp. 303-305.