Severe biotin deficiency is rare, but certain populations often test for less than ideal levels and researchers say that “marginal biotin deficiency” is a growing concern. While biotin is easy to get in foods and supplements, the factors that can lead to depletion are as well.
Biotin, Vitamin B7, is a critical nutrient for proper metabolic function: It ensures that your body is deriving energy from food. Your body cannot produce biotin, so it is important to consume enough biotin from food and supplements, as well as to feed and replenish the bacteria living in your gut that can synthesize the nutrient.
Biotin Deficiency Symptoms
Hair, skin, and nails
The most obvious markers of low biotin are those that you can see. Biotin deficiency can cause hair thinning that can lead to hair loss all over the body, alopecia. According to researchers, the hair loss is due to “gut dysbiosis and the overgrowth of Lactobacillus murinus.”
Brittle nails are a symptom of biotin deficiency. Scaly skin can also indicate low biotin. Marketers have latched onto this trifecta of beauty symptoms to create and sell “hair, skin, and nails” vitamins. More on that myth later.
Biotin Deficiency Causes
Low dietary intake
By far the most biotin-dense foods are beef and chicken liver. Whole cooked eggs — while more appetizing to most — are a distant third, which is still fine for most people since a three-egg omelet meets your recommended daily allowance. Other animal foods like dairy, salmon, tuna, pork chops, and hamburger offer significant amounts of biotin. While sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, and almonds contain some biotin, you’d have to be cognizant of your biotin intake if you don’t eat animal products.
Poor gut health
In addition to biotin from food sources, you also rely on bacteria in your gut to synthesize biotin. A shortage of this bacteria can leave your gut without the resources to maintain optimal biotin levels.
Conditions that cause malabsorption and increased excretion — like inflammatory bowel disease or chronic diarrhea — can also lead to biotin deficiency.
Chronic alcohol consumption
Alcoholism is associated with depleted biotin levels. According to the NIH, 15% of chronic alcoholics have low biotin.
Researchers have used rats to attempt to understand why this occurs. In one study, they found that alcohol inhibited biotin absorption in the intestines, where dietary biotin is absorbed. A later team found that alcohol inhibited biotin absorption in the colon, which is where the bacterially synthesized biotin is absorbed.
While scientists are not sure of the mechanisms at play, the NIH says that more than one third of pregnant women develop “marginal biotin deficiency” even when they consume normal amounts.
Watch out Rocky Balboa! Raw egg whites contain a substance called avidin, which bonds to biotin. This prevents biotin absorption in the gut which can cause depletion. So, if you’re following a diet for a 1970s boxer or bodybuilder, you may be at risk for biotin deficiency.
Long-term use of medications is known to interfere with biotin absorption. With a few exceptions, literature on the topic does not fully explain the reasons why most of these drugs compromise biotin levels.
Antibiotics are designed to kill bad bacteria that are causing an infection. While completing this mission, they often leave casualties in the friendly bacteria that synthesize biotin. This depletion of bacteria may be the reason why so many antibiotics are associated with biotin depletion.
Oral contraceptives use is associated with depletion of other vitamins in the B family, as well as other water-soluble nutrients like Vitamin C, selenium, and magnesium. While researchers have known about these depletions since the 1960s, they have yet to understand the reasons why.
Acid blockers and antacids lower stomach acid, changing the pH of the gastrointestinal tract. As the writers of a 2014 literature review state, “Local pH partially determines the absorption of biotin and folate in the small bowel,” suggesting that the change in acidity affects biotin levels.
The following classes of drugs are known to deplete biotin:
- Acid blockers
- Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy
- Breast cancer drugs
For specific medications, we recommend consulting the Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook or Drug Muggers.
Three proteins, including BTD, are involved in transporting biotin for absorption. Because of its central role in maintaining biotin levels, BTD deficiency can lead to biotin deficiency. This is caused by a mutation of the BTD gene. Researchers say that this condition can be caught as early as 1 week after birth, and profound BTD deficiency affects one in 112,271 births.
Smoking cigarettes accelerates metabolism of numerous nutrients, including biotin. This habit interferes with your body’s ability to absorb biotin, leading to increased excretion.
How to Address Biotin Deficiency
The easiest way to avoid biotin deficiency is to remove the lifestyle factors that cause it. Smoking, drinking, poor diet, and raw egg consumption can be fixed.
For the other factors, supplementation may help.
Probiotics for biotin deficiency
Many physicians recommend supplementing with a high-quality probiotic when taking a course of antibiotics. Probiotics help to replenish the gut with the good bacteria that synthesize biotin and perform a host of other beneficial functions.
Biotin supplements are easy to find, though the nutrient itself may be hidden behind a “Hair, Skin, and Nails” name on the label. If you find yourself turned off by the pink label with the vain, frivolous claims, worry not; there are better options for biotin supplements anyway.
Yes, if you are deficient in biotin, you could see improvements in your hair, skin, and nails. However, these hair, skin, and nails vitamins depend on their customers believing the fallacy that if low biotin causes hair loss, lots and lots of biotin must be the secret to thicker, more lustrous locks. It isn’t. Even without any biotin absorption challenges, your body can simply not use all the biotin included in these supplements. Now, there is no danger in loading up on biotin as there is no tolerable upper limit. Since biotin is water-soluble, your body will excrete what it doesn’t use.
Consider the reasons for biotin depletion: None of these factors, with the exception of maybe raw egg whites, only deplete biotin. As mentioned earlier, oral contraceptives deplete several B vitamins as well as essential minerals. Acid blockers deplete all nutrients that require stomach acid for absorption. Alcohol and smoking rob your body of a multitude of nutrients as well as your natural antioxidant production. If you follow a poor diet, biotin isn’t the only nutrient you have to worry about.
Supplementing with a high-quality Vitamin B Complex is more efficient and superior in addressing more likely depletions that come with that of biotin. And they don’t come with the humiliation of buying a “hair, skin, and nails” supplement.
A liposomal B Complex is an ideal choice. Liposomal supplements encapsulate the B vitamins into spheres made from the same material that comprises your cell membranes. That unique composition lets them bypass the traditional absorption methods that may be compromised due to the aforementioned factors. If you can’t absorb biotin from food, there’s a chance that you won’t be able to absorb the optimal amount from traditional supplements either. Liposomal B Complex uses a different absorption pathway, giving you a better way to absorb biotin and other B vitamins that you likely need.