Biotin is part of the B vitamin family. Like the rest of its members, it plays a key role in the body’s metabolic processes.
Mainly known for the benefits it confers to nails, biotin is needed for so much more. Deficiencies may lead to many health problems and can even be deadly.
Biotin has also been called vitamin H, which stands for haar and haut – German words for hair and skin – where biotin deficiency often shows itself.
Biochemist Dean Burk is credited as being one of the co-discoverers of biotin in the early 1930s.
Although biotin is made in the intestinal tract by healthy bacteria, its utilization is not always optimal. While biotin deficiency is uncommon, it has been observed in alcoholics, gastrectomy patients, epileptics, burn patients, athletes, and older individuals.
Deficiency can result in a rash in the face and genital area, hair loss, conjunctivitis, and neurologic symptoms including depression, numbness, and tingling. Biotin deficiencies can also cause brittle nails.
A deficiency in biotinidase, an enzyme that allows the body to reuse biotin, is caused by a genetic mutation. Symptoms show up within the first months of life.
Profound biotinidase deficiency can result in seizures, poor muscle tone, and developmental delays. When untreated, it can cause hair loss, rashes, fungal infections and other health problems.
The most common use for biotin is to support strong, thick nails. In a study of patients with splitting or brittle nails, daily supplementation with biotin resulted in a 25% average increase in nail plate thickness and clinical improvement in 63% of the participants.
In another study, women treated with biotin had a 25% increase in nail thickness among those with brittle nails, less splitting and improvement in the nails’ cellular structure. Results were confirmed with a scanning electron microscope.
Biotin is often recommended for hair loss, and although there is little clinical evidence to support its use for this purpose, there is a large body of anecdotal evidence.
Alan J. Bauman, MD, who is the medical director of Bauman Medical Group in Florida, has observed a 5%-10% improvement in hair mass index (a measurement of hair density) in patients taking 2500 milligrams of biotin daily.
Biotin is found in Swiss chard and other leafy green vegetables, peanuts, grains, liver and raw egg yolks. Raw egg whites, however, should be avoided, due to the presence of avidin, which binds with biotin and prevents its absorption.
Biotin is also widely available in B-complex supplements, some multivitamins, and as a stand-alone supplement.