Vitamin B7 or vitamin H, more commonly known as BIOTIN, is part of the B complex group of vitamins. B vitamins help the body convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is then used to produce energy. These B vitamins, often referred to as B complex vitamins, also help the body metabolize fats and protein. B complex vitamins are needed for healthy skin, hair, eyes and liver. They also help the nervous system function properly.
Our bodies need biotin to metabolize carbohydrates, fats and amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Biotin is often recommended for strengthening hair and nails.
Like all B vitamins, biotin is water soluble, meaning the body does not store it. However, bacteria in the intestine can make biotin. It is also available in small amounts in a number of foods.
It is rare to be deficient in biotin. Symptoms include hair loss, dry scaly skin, cracking in the corners of the mouth (called cheilitis), swollen and painful tongue that is magenta in color (glossitis), dry eyes, loss of appetite, fatigue, insomnia and depression.
Biotin can be found in brewer's yeast; cooked eggs, especially egg yolk; sardines; nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts) and nut butters; soybeans; other legumes (beans, blackeye peas); whole grains; cauliflower; bananas; and mushrooms.
Raw egg whites contain a protein called Avidin that interferes with the body's absorption of biotin.
Food-processing techniques can destroy biotin. Less-processed versions of the foods listed above contain more biotin.
Biotin is available in multivitamins and B-vitamin complexes, and as individual supplements.
As with all supplements, check with your health care provider before taking biotin especially if other health conditions exist.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding please discuss with your physician. Dietary supplements should only be taken with your physician's approval.
Nevertheless, biotin has not been associated with side effects, even in high doses, and is considered to be nontoxic.
Although there is no evidence that biotin interacts with any medication, there are some medications that may lower biotin levels. If you are taking any of the following medications, you should first check with your health care provider.
- Antibiotics -- Long-term antibiotic use may lower biotin levels by destroying the bacteria in the gut that produces biotin.
- Antiseizure Medications -- Taking antiseizure or anticonvulsant medications for a long time can lower biotin levels in the body.