When I polled women last week on what vitamins and supplements they take, I was surprised how many folks were taking biotin. So was one of my cousins—who wrote me asking, “What is biotin? And should I be taking it?” Good questions! Let’s explore …
What is biotin?
Biotin is one of the lesser-known of the B-Complex vitamins (it was originally known as ‘Vitamin H,’ and is also sometimes referred to as Vitamin B7). It’s water soluble, meaning the body doesn’t store it, and it’s found in small amounts in a variety of foods. Good dietary sources of biotin include egg yolks, swiss chard, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, carrots, almonds, brewer’s yeast, sardines, onions, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower, mushrooms, goat’s milk, cow’s milk, raspberries, strawberries, halibut, oats and walnuts.
What does biotin do?
Biotin helps enzymes in the body that break down or metabolize fats, carbohydrates, sugars and amino acids. It helps your body make efficient use of sugar (by converting it into usable energy), and helps synthesize fat in cells, which is important for the skin. It’s also sometimes used to help treat intestinal problems (irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, chronic diarrhea), seizures, and skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis.
Most people I’ve talked to take biotin because they say it has a beneficial effect on their skin, hair and nails, helping skin shine and hair and nails grow faster and longer (though there’s little scientific evidence to support this).
What are the signs of biotin deficiency?
Biotin deficiency is characterized by hair thinning, developing a red, scaly rash around the eyes, nose and mouth, exhaustion, depression, muscle fatigue and cramps, hallucinations and tingling in the arms and legs. As many as 50 percent of pregnant women may be biotin deficient, but in general biotin deficiency is quite rare.
So only pregnant women or people with biotin deficiencies should take biotin supplements?
Biotin supplements can be good for you even if you’re not biotin deficient. Like I mentioned above, a lot of people think biotin does their skin, hair and nails good. You can easily get enough biotin from dietary sources; if you don’t, however, supplements are an option.
Are there any risks?
The NIH says biotin is safe for most people, though pregnant women should talk to their doctor about it. It doesn’t have any known negative interactions with other medications, herbs or supplements.
Is biotin part of regular multivitamins or B-complex supplements?
It depends. Some multivitamins might contain biotin, but not in very significant amounts. B-complex supplements usually contain biotin, but not 100% of your recommended daily value (Nature’s Way B-100 Complex, for instance, contains 100 mcg, or 33%).