Biotin is one of the B complex vitamins. This group of vitamins is responsible for breaking down fat and carbohydrates from the foods you eat and turning them into energy. This energy provides fuel for many of your body’s necessary functions. Biotin is also sometimes called B-7, vitamin H, or coenzyme R.
Biotin promotes good skin health, and it helps regulate your LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood sugar. Biotin is also necessary to produce keratin, a protein that promotes strong nails and hair.
Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin. That means it’s not stored in your body for long. Your body doesn’t naturally produce it, either. However, the bacteria in your gut can produce biotin. These bacteria, also called intestinal flora, have a healthy impact on your health.
A biotin deficiency isn’t as common as other deficiencies. Few people eating a healthy, well-balanced diet will struggle to have enough biotin. That’s because many common foods contain large amounts of the vitamin naturally.
Still, a biotin deficiency can occur. If it does, these symptoms may develop:
- red rashes on the skin, especially the face
- dry or scaly skin
- dry eyes
- brittle hair
- hair loss
- insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
- burning or prickling sensation in the hands and feet
- muscle pain
- changes in the intestinal tract (frequent upset stomach)
- cracking in the corners of the mouth
- difficulty walking
The symptoms of biotin deficiency can be confused for many other disorders or issues. Your doctor may first treat your symptoms as if they were from another cause. If your symptoms don’t disappear, your doctor may consider other possible issues.
If your doctor suspects you’re not getting enough B-7, a blood test can measure the level in your blood. Your doctor may order additional blood and lab tests to check other levels. They can use these numbers to either confirm or rule out a biotin deficiency.
Sometimes low levels of vitamin B-7 are the result another disorder or condition. If your doctor thinks an underlying issue might be causing your symptoms, they may suggest other tests to figure out the reason for the low vitamin B-7 levels.
A biotin deficiency is quite rare. Doctors typically look to one of six possible causes to explain why your B-7 levels might be so low. These causes are:
Certain medicines may prevent your body from absorbing vitamins correctly. These medications include antibiotics and anti-seizure drugs. Additionally, antibiotics destroy the good bacteria in your gut that can naturally produce biotin.
2. Intravenous (IV) feeding
If you receive your nutrition from an IV or tube, you can develop a B-7 deficiency. Supplements may be necessary until you’re able to eat solid food again.
3. Intestinal problems
4. Long-term dieting
Strict eating may prevent you from getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals from the food you eat. Eating a well-balanced diet is vital for your health, and you can still maintain or lose weight if that’s your goal.
5. Biotinidase deficiency
This hereditary disorder is very rare. It prevents your body from reusing biotin. Typically, the human body can reuse B-7 a few times before it’s removed in waste. People with this disorder cannot recycle the vitamin. This disorder is often diagnosed very early in life because of severe symptoms. These symptoms often appear within months of birth.
6. Other genetic causes
There are some other genetic disorders that may also result in biotin deficiency, including holocarboxylase synthetase deficiency, biotin transport deficiency, and phenylketonuria. Holocarboxylase synthetase deficiency and biotin transport deficiency are both extremely rare. Phenylketonuria is more common. Infants are screened at birth for this condition, since it’s associated with severe neurologic problems if not recognized and treated early.
Treatment and prevention
Treatment for a biotin deficiency typically fits into two main categories. These are food and supplements.
Foods that contain biotin
Daily requirements for biotin aren’t difficult to reach. An adult should aim to eat 30 micrograms (mcg) per day, a child should get 5 mcg per day, and an expecting mother should aim for 35 mcg per day.
Getting this vitamin from food is quite easy. Many common foods contain large amounts of biotin. These include:
- green peas, legumes, and lentils
- sunflower seeds and sunflower butter
- carrots, cauliflower, and mushrooms
- cooked eggs, especially egg yolk
- organ meats, including liver and kidney
- dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt
- whole grains, include barley and corn
Food processing destroys biotin. Eat as many of these foods in their whole, unprocessed forms to get the highest vitamin quantity possible.
Biotin is available in both multivitamins and individual supplements. Biotin supplements typically come in three amounts: 10, 50, and 100 mcg.
Consult with your doctor before you begin a biotin supplement. Rarely, B-7 can interact with other medications. This can cause unintended side effects. It’s also possible to have too much biotin. Ask your doctor for a recommended daily dosage.
Anyone can develop a biotin deficiency. Several conditions and disorders increase the risk for some people. These include:
People with biotinidase deficiency
This rare hereditary disorder prevents the body from reusing biotin. People with the disorder are more likely to be biotin deficient.
Biotin is critical for pregnant women. Without it, the baby could develop certain birth defects. Some blood tests for expecting moms will measure biotin levels. While you’re pregnant, your doctor may encourage you to eat more biotin-rich foods. This can help protect the growing baby.
People using certain medications
Antibiotics can destroy the healthy bacteria in your intestines. These bacteria can produce biotin naturally. Without them, you may become deficient. Anti-seizure medicines can also prevent vitamin absorption. If you’ll be using these medicines for a long period of time, you may need a supplement.
People using IV feeding
IV nutrition or tube feeding may lower how much biotin you can absorb. People using these forms of nutrition may need a biotin supplement until they’re able to eat solid food again.
When to see your doctor
The first signs and symptoms of a biotin deficiency can be mistaken for many disorders and conditions. If you have these symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.
You can help your doctor reach a diagnosis. Write a journal with your symptoms and keep note of what you eat and when. While you may not have a biotin deficiency, these notes may help direct your doctor to another diagnosis. Likewise, these notes may help your doctor rule out possible causes that behave and cause symptoms like biotin deficiency.
Once you have a diagnosis, you and your doctor can decide on the best treatment. The good news is a B-7 deficiency is treatable. If the condition is likely caused by dietary issues, you can change what you eat. You can also take a supplement for a short period of time to correct the low levels. If these measures aren’t successful, your doctor can explore other possible causes, including intestinal disorders.