by Dr. Will Cole
Think of your body as a well-oiled machine. If machines do not get the necessary fuel and maintenance, problems arise causing them to break down over time. An adequate well-rounded amount of nutrients are to your body like oil is to a machine. B vitamins specifically are essential for your body to function properly.
Methylation is your body’s biochemical superhighway. It is responsible for helping your body detox and reduce inflammation, and in turn, avoid a lot of brain, hormone, and autoimmune-inflammation problems. B vitamins are the fuel behind this process. They also help your body break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates from the foods you eat to produce energy.
However, what most people don’t realize, is that unlike vitamin D or C, there are many different types of B vitamins that each have their own role in how your body functions. Vitamin B7, also known as biotin, is responsible for the health of your hair, skin, and nails. Biotin even has the nickname “vitamin H” derived from the German words Haut and Haar which mean skin and hair. Some people also say that vitamin H came from the fact that nutrients were named in alphabetical order when they were first being discovered.
Regardless of where its namesake originated from, biotin and all other B vitamins, are essential for our bodies to thrive. B7 is used in a myriad of pathways that determine the health of our trillions of cells, making it necessary for life.
Since your body cannot synthesize biotin, it must be gained through supplementation, diet, and intestinal bacteria. Protein-bound biotin obtained through food is converted to free biotin and then absorbed in the small and large intestine. It then moves into the systemic circulation to be picked up by the liver, to then cross the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system.
There are many foods that naturally contain biotin, making severe deficiencies in this nutrient rare. However, I often see suboptimal levels in my functional medicine clinic. Why is that? Well, due to the fact that most of biotin conversion happens in the gut and many of my patients struggle with different kinds of microbiome dysfunctions, it can make it difficult to maintain an adequate amount of biotin in the body. Also, I see a lot of patients who take antibiotics which wipe out beneficial gut bacteria including biotin-producing bacteria.
Other risk factors for deficiency include:
- Excessive alcohol consumption, which inhibits the absorption of biotin
- Smoking, which speeds up biotin absorption and use
- Raw egg white consumption – the protein, avidin, inhibits biotin absorption
If you suspect a deficiency, here are some symptoms to be aware of:
- Hair loss
- Brittle hair
- Digestive problems
- Dry skin
Biotin is considered a coenzyme for carboxylases, which are enzymes that assist in metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and proteins for energy production as well as processes such as insulin release, gluconeogenesis, fatty acid synthesis, and the production of neurotransmitters from the use of branched-chain amino acids.
Low biotin levels can be a concern when it comes to your metabolism. Your metabolism is your body’s process of turning food into usable energy. Any food that is not used for energy is then stored as fat. Since biotin is needed for this process, deficiency can result in numerous health problems including weight gain, fatigue, and weight loss resistance.
The Benefits of Biotin
Most of the information around biotin focuses on its beauty enhancing abilities, but there are many more ways biotin benefits your health.
Biotin and immune health
Biotin is needed for the development of white blood cells which are the defense mechanisms of your immune system. They work to protect your body against bacteria and viruses to ward of sickness. There are two different kinds of white blood cells in your body – TH1 and TH2. Similar to a seesaw, they need to balance each other out, one not being too high over the other. When imbalance occurs it can put you into the autoimmune spectrum and increase your risk for various health problems.
This can end up happening due to a lack of T-regulatory cells. These work to balance your immune system and a deficiency in biotin is linked to T-cell decay. Bad news for anyone who struggles with immune problems. Since 75 percent of your immune system is located in your gut – the same place where biotin is converted – it only makes sense that biotin deficiency is associated with poor immune function.
Biotin and brain health
Biotin and other B vitamins play a role in neurotransmitter activity and work to protect against neurodegenerative disorders like dementia and help improve cognitive function. It also helps synthesize hormones responsible for positive mood.
Neurological problems like seizures, depression, depression, and biotin-responsive basal ganglia – a metabolic condition that can cause seizures and a loss of coordination – are associated with biotin deficiency. However, all of these have been shown to improve with the addition of biotin supplementation.
Biotin and blood sugar
Biotin works to lower blood sugar levels through its role in increasing insulin production and stimulation of glucokinase, the enzyme in the liver that promotes glycogen synthesis. Studies have shown that supplementing with biotin can decrease fasting blood sugar by 45 percent in people with type 2 diabetes. It can also improve diabetic neuropathy in diabetic patients.
Biotin and inflammation
According to research, biotin deficiency can contribute to chronic inflammation by increasing pro-inflammatory cytokines. By activating the inflammatory nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) it triggers numerous inflammatory cascades in the body. But studies show that adding in biotin supplements can decrease pro-inflammatory cytokine production. You can check out my previous article for more ways to soothe inflammation.
Biotin and heart health
Biotin is necessary for fat metabolism, which is key to a healthy heart. By combining biotin and chromium together, this power duo can lower LDL levels and increase HDL – since inverse levels of each are markers for heart disease risk. Studies have shown that taking 15,000 mcg a day of biotin can also lower blood triglyceride levels.
Biotin and beauty
Like I said earlier, biotin stands apart for its ability to promote vibrant hair, skin, and nail health. Because of this, you can find many beauty products that contain biotin but there is limited research to support just how effective it is topically. You’ll be better off ingesting biotin if you want a more youthful appearance.
Biotin and skin health
Biotin fights the effects of aging by helping aid in fatty acid synthesis which is needed for glowing skin. Skin cells rely on fat production as protection from the constant onslaught of harsh environmental factors like sun and wind. My skin health guide has more tools to help keep skin clear.
Biotin and hair growth
Thinning hair and hair loss are some of the more common symptoms of a thyroid problem, as well as a result of biotin deficiency. Adding in biotin through diet and supplementation can help restore hair loss from deficiency and thyroid problems.
Biotin and nail health
Brittle nails are another symptom of biotin deficiency and thyroid problems. Even if you aren’t dealing with thyroid problems, biotin can increase the thickness and health of your nails.
Biotin and metabolism
Biotin is needed to break down carbohydrates, fatty acids, and protein amino acids from food to use as fuel. If you are intermittent fasting or are in a ketogenic state such as fat burning or nutritional ketosis, biotin is super important since it is used in the process of producing new glucose as fuel through gluconeogenesis.
What are the side effects of taking biotin?
Biotin has few, if any, side effects. In fact, it is difficult to overdo it on this vitamin since it is water-soluble and excess amounts get released through your urine. However, as with any supplementation, I recommend regular monitoring with diagnostic labs. In some people, high doses of biotin can mimic Graves’ disease in lab work and affect thyroid test results. Therefore, it is important to know where you stand so both you and your doctor are aware of any potential implications. Knowledge is power when it comes to your health!
How to include biotin in your everyday life:
There is no recommended dietary allowance since more studies need to be done to determine the bioavailability of supplementation. The National Institutes of Health have a recommended adequate intake for each age group based off of the current scientific knowledge:
- Birth to 6 months: 5 mcg
- 7 to 12 months: 6 mcg
- 1 to 3 years: 8 mcg
- 4 to 8 years: 12 mcg
- 9 to 13 years: 20 mcg
- 14 to 18 years: 25 mcg (30 to 35 mcg if pregnant and lactating)
- 19+ years: 30 mcg
Since biotin is found in a variety of foods, supplementation isn’t always necessary. I always recommend getting our vitamins from whole food sources whenever possible:
- Beef liver: 30 mg to 3 oz.
- Eggs: 13 mg to 1 whole
- Salmon: 5 mg to 3 oz.
- Avocado: 2-6 mg to 1 whole
- Cheese: 0.4-2 mg to 1 oz.
- Brewer’s or Nutritional Yeast: 1.4-14 mcg to 7 grams
Biotin can usually be found in all B-complex vitamins along with B6, B12, riboflavin, and niacin. Since B vitamins work synergistically to support brain function, methylation, and more, including biotin alongside the rest of the B vitamins can be the best way to capitalize on its benefits. Also, since excess biotin is eliminated from circulation through urine, high dosage is not always necessary.
Spirulina’s B-vitamin content is second-to-none and, bonus, it’s plant-based! This algae is found in saltwater and freshwater lakes across the world and has been used for years in ancient civilizations such as Africa and Mexico. Additionally, it contains all nine essential amino acids (the ones your body can’t make and need to get through food). Everyone needs to have this secret beauty weapon in their toolbox.
I love spirulina for B vitamins so much that I went ahead and formulated a functional blend of spirulina with two of my other favorite aquatic food medicines, marine collagen and pearl powder, to bring biotin into the 21st century. This oceanic trinity is paired with my favorite tropical adaptogen, holy basil. A synergistic blend of not only biotin but other B vitamins, minerals, compounds, and herbs that promote healthy hair, skin, nails, and overall wellness from the inside out.
I formulated this blend, called holi (youth) for Agent Nateur, the premiere natural skin care company out of Los Angeles, to share my love of the earth’s waters and adaptogens with everyone, not just my patients. It is designed to mix in your water, tea, smoothies, or your favorite elixir.
So, whether you get biotin through supplements or food, this vitamin’s health benefits are far-reaching. Try this simple recipe which combines some of the highest biotin foods all on one plate!
Beef-Liver Mexican Egg Scramble
- 1 cup ground beef liver
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 red onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped (optional)
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ghee
- 1 small handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 whole avocado, pitted and sliced
- Favorite salsa
- Heat ghee in skillet over medium heat.
- Add onions and jalapeno, and cook until soft.
- Add ground beef liver with sea salt, pepper, and garlic, and cook until done.
- Beat eggs in a separate bowl, add to skillet, and cook until done.
- Place egg scramble on plate and top with salsa, cilantro, and sliced avocado.
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