Biotin deficiency is quite rare. Bacteria in the intestines make biotin, or vitamin B7, and the human body actually recycles unused biotin through the intestines too, making a biotin deficiency unlikely. Certain medications and dietary practices, however, can predispose individuals to a deficiency.
Like most B vitamins, biotin or vitamin B7 is a water soluble vitamin. All living creatures need biotin, but only bacteria, yeasts, fungi and molds can make it themselves. That's good news for people, since bacteria living in the intestines create biotin and share it with the host organisms. Many foods also contain biotin, such as liver, cauliflower, carrots, soy products, and products containing yeast, so between the body's way of making it through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria and ingesting biotin in common foods, people typically get plenty.
Biotin Deficiency Symptoms and Causes
Biotin deficiency is extremely rare, and occurs most often in two situations. People who consume raw egg whites steadily over many weeks and months may develop a biotin deficiency. Those taking certain prescription medications may also develop a deficiency.
Symptoms manifest most often in the hair, skin and nails. Symptoms include dry skin, recurrent fungal infections of the skin, a rash, dry or brittle hair, or hair loss. Nails may also become brittle. Mood swings and depression may also result from biotin deficiency. Note that these symptoms may appear with other vitamin deficiencies, diseases, or medical conditions, so if you suddenly start losing your hair or can't get rid of a nagging rash, it's time to call your doctor for an appointment to find out what's causing it.
While poor nutrition and intestinal disease may contribute to deficiency, the two main causes are over consumption of raw egg whites and prolonged use of certain medications. There is also a rare inherited disorder in which people cannot absorb as much biotin from the intestines, leading to deficiency.
- Raw egg whites: The Linus Pauling Institute states that raw egg whites contain a protein called avidin. This protein is neutralized during cooking, which means that cooked egg products do not act the same way. Avidin binds with biotin and prevents it from being absorbed, but is rendered inactive during cooking. Most health experts caution against the consumption of raw egg whites for any reasons since raw eggs have been linked to salmonella and other bacterial outbreaks.
- Medications: Anticonvulsant medications (anti seizure medications) and prolonged use of antibiotics, which can kill intestinal bacteria, have been implicated in vitamin B7 deficiency. There are some anticonvulsant medications that do not impact biotin absorption. If you think you may have a biotin deficiency and you are taking an anticonvulsant medicine, talk to your doctor. You may be able to switch to a different medication.
Treatment and Prevention
A deficiency of vitamin B7 or biotin is easily treated. Supplemental biotin tablets provide the extra biotin the body needs if it's having trouble making its own. Those consuming raw eggs whites should stop immediately, supplement with biotin or a good B-complex vitamin, and the symptoms should go away on their own.
For those taking oral antibiotic medications, talk to your doctor about discontinuing them and supplement your diet with biotin as well as probiotics, which resupply the intestines with beneficial bacteria. As you nurture the good bacteria in the gut, they will produce biotin again.
Anticonvulsant medicines interfering with biotin production may be changed to different medicines without this side effect. Only your doctor can change your prescription and tell you if such medicines are appropriate for your condition.
You can prevent vitamin deficiency in general, and B7 deficiency in particular, through a good diet that includes foods rich in biotin: carrots, cauliflower, yeast and yeast products, soy products and others. Nurture your intestines by eating a diet rich in plant foods and fiber, which create a healthy environment for bacteria that produce biotin. Cultured food products such as yogurt and other cultured dairy products provide beneficial bacteria, or a probiotic supplement can enhance the quantity and quality of bacteria living in the intestines.
Fortunately, biotin deficiency is considered very rare. Unless you have an underlying illness that contributes to a biotin deficiency or you're taking medication, you shouldn't worry about a biotin deficiency.