Unless you’ve spent most of your time living under a rock then it is safe to say that you’ve heard about the importance of vitamins and minerals for overall health and wellness.
Most essential nutrients can be found naturally in the foods we consume and each have a role to play in our bodies.
Biotin, part of the B-complex family of vitamins, is one essential water-soluble vitamin that has an important role in metabolism but it may be best known as a supplement for hair health.
Although it belongs to the vitamin B family, it is also known as vitamin H. The word "biotin" comes from the Greek word biotos, meaning "sustenance" and "life."
However, it also has some amazing benefits for skin health that are often overlooked.
What is Biotin?
Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is one of the eight, water-soluble nutrients known as B-complex vitamins. Other B-complex vitamins include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
Sources of Biotin
Biotin, like all B vitamins, are not produced naturally by our bodies. They are most often consumed through dietary means, either by the foods we eat or through supplementation.
Food sources that contain biotin:
- Dairy products; cheese, milk, and yogurts
- Beef liver, organ meats, beef, pork, egg yolks, and raw egg whites
- Fish; salmon and tuna
- Nuts, oats, and seeds; almonds, oatmeal, and sunflower seeds
- Whole grains
- Nutritional yeast
- Vegetables; spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes
- Fruits; bananas
As a supplement, biotin can be found alone or in combination with other B-complex vitamins and multivitamin supplements.
Biotin’s Role in the Body
B-complex vitamins have many roles within the body, some common roles include:
- Cellular health and function; e.g. growth and development.
- Metabolism; B vitamins help to convert food to energy by breaking down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
- Support immune health and function as well as digestive, cardiovascular, and brain health.
- Aid in cholesterol and hormone health.
Biotin, in particular, plays an essential role for energy metabolism; being a necessary nutrient for fat and glycogen synthesis.
Since B vitamins must be consumed through the foods we eat, dietary deficiencies can arise without proper nutrition.
Biotin deficiency can present with symptoms such as thinning hair and loss of body hair, skin rashes (around eyes, nose, mouth), brittle nails, seizures, acne, psoriasis, depression, hallucinations, and nervous system disorders.
Most people get enough biotin in the foods they consume so biotin deficiencies are rare. The adequate intake (AI) or recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of biotin for adults (ages 19 and older) ranges from 30 – 35 mcg. Having too much biotin isn't good for your body, either, so make sure to follow this recommended dose and avoid high doses of biotin beyond the AI.
Groups most at risk for low levels of biotin include those with chronic exposure to alcohol and those that are pregnant.
Skin Health and Biotin Benefits
The terms health and wellness demand our attention every day. We see them plastered on commercials and magazine racks in checkout aisles. Proper nutrition and regular exercise are said to be the cornerstones of overall health.
Heart, brain, digestive, and immune system health get most of the attention — and rightfully so. But in the conversations surrounding health and wellness, there is one important organ system that doesn’t share the same limelight — our skin.
Healthy skin, though often overlooked, is just as important to our overall health. In fact, our skin supports the health of our other body systems.
As the largest organ, it provides us with a protective covering, along with hair and nails. Skin-related side effects such as brittle fingernails or acne can be early signs of important vitamin deficiencies or diseases, letting us know when it's time to contact a healthcare provider.
A well-balanced diet and proper nutrition — via foods and vitamins — is not optional for skin health, it is essential. Biotin is one of these essential vitamins that boasts some amazing benefits; and not only for our skin — here are five.
1. Biotin and Clear Skin
Clear, healthy skin is at the top of many people’s wish list. However, many are unaware that diet and vitamin deficiencies can have a big role to play in skin health. As noted, biotin deficiency can contribute to issues with the skin.
In fact, deficiencies in biotin can cause a condition known as alopecia, an immune disorder that causes hair loss. Furthermore, skin rashes can also persist when certain dietary vitamins are lacking; causing skin dermatitis (skin irritation).
Although the studies are limited, biotin supplementation has shown useful for those with biotin deficiency and related skin issues.
2. Biotin and Fatty Acid Production
Many people are unaware of the role that essential fatty acids play in normal skin function. In fact, as an organ, the skin is metabolically active. Many fatty acids are synthesized by amino acids and modified in the skin.
Furthermore, polyunsaturated fatty acids have an essential role in the structural integrity and function of the skin. As a B-complex vitamin, biotin is involved in the metabolic processes.
One of the metabolic processes that biotin affects is fatty acid synthesis, or the production of fatty acids. Biotin supports the healthy production of fatty acids, which has implications for overall skin health.
3. Biotin and Strong Nails
The skin, being the largest organ, plays a vital protective role for our bodies. However, the nails also have a protective role to play. Nail health can also be an indicator of certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Brittle nails, also known as onychoschizia, refers to nails that are easily cracked, split, or peeled. Oftentimes they are a result of aging. Biotin supplementation has shown to be beneficial for those with fragile nails.
One small study in Switzerland did show positive results in biotin supplementation for brittle nails, promoting a 25% increase in nail thickness in participants with brittle nails.
4. Biotin and Healthy Hair
Vitamins promote good hair days — who knew? Biotin as a supplement is perhaps best known for its role in hair health. Scientists believe this has something to do with B vitamins' role in amino acid production; specially, keratin — the main structural protein of hair.
Once again, the research is limited as to the effects of biotin for actual hair growth, but some findings do merit consideration, especially when deficiencies are present.
One double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluated the efficacy of biotin supplementation alongside zinc, silica, and vitamin C for women with thinning hair. The results were favorable. After a three-month period, participants reported less shedding, thicker and stronger hair, as well as a self-described faster growth rate.
5. Biotin and Cell Growth
One of the most underrated benefits of this B vitamin is its assistance in cell proliferation (cell growth). Primarily, biotin is better known for its role in metabolic processes, but it’s regulation in the formation of DNA is just as important.
DNA ensures that the essential genetic information in cells works and replicates properly. This has implications for all cells within the body; skin cells included.
Furthermore, certain immune response cells like lymphocytes increase the demand for biotin. When biotin deficiencies are present, cell proliferation can be reduced. Needless to say, the presence of B-complex vitamins can have quite an impact on cellular and tissue health.
The Bottom Line on Biotin
One thing is certain, biotin, along with its B-complex vitamin sidekicks, play an essential role in many processes throughout the body; from metabolism to cellular health. However, biotin is better known for its potential roles in skin, hair, and nail health.
Biotin, as a water-soluble essential vitamin, is not naturally produced in the body. This means that adequate intake must come from dietary means; foods or supplementation.
Although the benefits of biotin are worthy of merit, it is important to note that research on the efficacy of biotin as a supplement is limited and ongoing. That is why it is important to consult your health care provider before starting any type of supplement.