Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin that's essential for making glucose in the body, and helps to keep skin, hair and sweat glands healthy.

Why you need biotin

Biotin works together with several enzymes involved in the synthesis and metabolism of fatty acids, amino acids, genetic material and in the formation of energy storage molecules.

It is estimated that one in every 123 people has an inherited inborn error of biotin metabolism (either biotinidase deficiency or holocarboxylate synthetase activity). This affects immunity against yeast infections and may cause recurrent vaginal thrush infections. Taking high dose biotin supplements will solve the problem where biotin deficiency is to blame.

How much you need

The EC RDA for biotin is 0.15mg.

Biotin deficiency is unusual (except in those with inborn errors of biotin metabolism) as the vitamin is widely distributed in food and is also made by bacteria in the gut, from which it can be absorbed. People on long-term antibiotic treatment (e.g. for acne) may be at risk of deficiency as this destroys normal bowel bacteria. When taking antibiotics, taking a probiotic supplement containing friendly bacteria (e.g. Lactobacillus acidophilus) will help to overcome this effect.

Those following very low-calorie weight-loss diets are also at risk of biotin deficiency. Another group of people who may become biotin deficient are those eating large amounts of raw egg white over a long period (e.g. body builders who eat a dozen raw eggs per day). This contains a protein, called avidin, that acts as an anti-vitamin by binding to biotin in the gut and preventing its absorption. Cooked egg white does not have this effect.

Symptoms that may be due to biotin deficiency include

  • dry, flaky skin
  • rash around the nose and mouth
  • brittle hair
  • patches of hair loss (alopecia)
  • eversible baldness
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • depression
  • muscle pains and wasting

Foods containing biotin include

  • liver
  • kidney
  • yeast extract
  • nuts
  • whole grain foods
  • whole wheat bread
  • egg yolk
  • oily fish
  • rice

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