Your body is a well-oiled machine. Without proper maintenance and fuel, machines begin to slowly break down, and problems start to arise. An adequate well-rounded amount of nutrients are to your body like oil is to a machine. B vitamins in particular play a crucial role in helping your body function optimally.
Many delicate, intricate pathways like methylation—your body’s biochemical superhighway, a process that happens more than 1 billion times every single second—are fueled by B vitamins. It is responsible for helping you to detox, helping to decrease an inflammatory response, and in turn, avoiding a lot of autoimmune-inflammation, brain, and hormone problems. They also help to aid your body in breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates for energy production.
What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that unlike vitamin C or vitamin D, there are many types of B vitamins that each play their own important role in maintaining how your body functions. In particular, vitamin B7—commonly known as biotin—stands apart from the rest with its role in keeping skin, hair, and nails healthy and looking vibrant and youthful. In fact, biotin is often referred to by its nickname “vitamin H” from the German words Haar and Haut which mean, you guessed it—hair and skin. Other sources say that biotin was originally called vitamin H because when nutrients were first being discovered they were named in alphabetical order.
No matter where its name originated, biotin, like all the other B vitamins, is critical for our body to thrive. B7 is used for a myriad of pathways that determine the health of every single one of our trillions of cells. Without a doubt, biotin is essential for life.
Your body cannot synthesize biotin, so it must be obtained through diet, supplementation, and intestinal bacteria. Any protein-bound biotin from your food ends up being converted to free biotin, which is then absorbed within the small and large intestine. Once absorbed, it is then moved into the systemic circulation, picked up by the liver, to finally cross the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system.
Since biotin is found in many different kinds of food, severe deficiencies in this nutrient can be rare. However, in my functional medicine clinic, I often see lower, suboptimal levels actually becoming increasingly more common. Why is that? Well, due to the fact that a lot of this conversion happens within your gut, many patients who struggle with inflammatory bowel diseases or other microbiome dysfunctions can have trouble maintaining adequate amounts of biotin. Other factors like antibiotics, which wipe out the beneficial bacteria in your gut, contribute to low levels of biotin since they also end up killing biotin-producing bacteria.
You can also be at risk for biotin deficiency if you:
- Drink excessive amounts of alcohol, which inhibits biotin absorption
- Are pregnant
- Smoke—speeds up biotin absorption and use
- Eat raw egg whites—the protein, avidin, inhibits biotin absorption
Symptoms of biotin deficiency.
If you suspect a deficiency, symptoms can include:
- Brittle hair
- Hair loss
- Digestive issues
- Dry skin
Biotin is considered a coenzyme for carboxylases, which are enzymes that assist in metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and proteins for energy production and processes such as gluconeogenesis, insulin release, fatty acid synthesis, and the use of branched-chain amino acids to produce neurotransmitters.
Low levels of biotin can become a problem when your metabolism is concerned. Metabolism is your body’s internal process that turns whatever food you eat into usable energy and any food that is not used for energy is stored as fat. Because biotin is needed for the proper function of this process, you can end up with a whole slew of health problems including fatigue, weight gain, and weight loss resistance.
The benefits of biotin.
While a lot of the buzz around biotin focuses mainly on its ability to aid in enhancing appearance, there are many more aspects of your health in which biotin plays a significant role.
Biotin for immune health.
Biotin is essential for the development of white blood cells. These are the defense mechanisms of your immune system and work to protect your body against viruses and bacteria that make you sick. Your body actually contains two different types of white blood cells, called TH1 and TH2. Almost like a seesaw, TH1 and TH2 need to balance each other. When one becomes dominant, it can push you into the inflammatory autoimmune spectrum, putting you at risk for a number of health problems.
One reason this can happen is a lack of T-regulatory cells, which work to bring balance back to your immune system. And not surprisingly, biotin deficiency is associated with T-cell decay. This is bad news for anyone struggling through immune problems. And with close to 75 percent of your immune system being located inside your gut, it only makes sense that a deficiency in biotin is linked to poor immune function because of how much biotin is converted within the gut.
Biotin for brain health.
Biotin, along with other B vitamins, plays a role in neurotransmitter activity and protect against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and aid in improving cognitive function. It also helps to regulate mood due to their role in synthesizing hormones responsible for a positive mood.
Deficiency in biotin can lead to neurological problems such as depression, loss of muscle coordination, seizures, and even biotin-responsive basal ganglia—a metabolic condition that causes lack of coordination and seizures—but all have been shown to improve with biotin supplementation.
The Elimination Diet
Biotin for blood sugar.
Since biotin increases insulin production and stimulates glucokinase—an enzyme in the liver that promotes glycogen synthesis—it helps to lower blood sugar levels. In fact, biotin supplementation was shown to decrease fasting blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes by 45 percent. Biotin has even been shown to improve diabetic neuropathy in diabetic patients.
Biotin for inflammation.
Studies have shown that biotin deficiency can increase pro-inflammatory cytokines and contribute to chronic inflammation. It works by activating the inflammatory nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB for short), which binds to your DNA and triggers a number of inflammatory cascades throughout the body. Research has shown that supplementing with biotin can decrease production of these pro-inflammatory cytokines. Here are more ideas for inflammation-calming tools, from an mbg article I wrote on the subject.