Biotin deficiency is a very rare nutritional deficiency in which the body does not get enough biotin. Biotin is a member of the B complex of vitamins, and it plays an important role in metabolism and cell respiration. The daily biotin requirement is very low, making it difficult to develop a deficiency in this vitamin. Treatment for a biotin deficiency involves supplementing the diet with additional biotin until the patient stabilizes.
People who develop a deficiency in this vitamin usually do so because they have a problem with the enzymes which are responsible for extracting biotin from the diet. Biotin deficiencies can arise in people who have taken long courses of antibiotics, individuals on prolonged intravenous feeding regimens, and people who take anticonvulsants. Biotin deficiency has also been linked with consuming large numbers of egg whites, as egg whites contain a protein which binds to biotin.
Individuals with this condition usually develop dermatological problems like rashes, dry skin, fungal infections, and hair loss. As the deficiency progresses, the patient may also develop depression, muscle soreness, and changes in mood or attitude. The generalized symptoms can sometimes make it hard to figure out that a patient has a biotin deficiency. In infants, checking for nutritional deficiencies, including a deficiency of biotin, is a routine part of neurological screening to avoid missing an early diagnosis.
In addition to causing health problems to people of all ages, biotin deficiency has also been linked with certain birth defects, such as cleft palates. This is one of the many reasons why pregnant women need to eat a balanced and diverse diet, to ensure that the developing fetus gets the vitamins and minerals it needs to be healthy. Some researchers have suggested that the unusual food cravings experienced by some women during pregnancy can be linked to nutritional deficiencies, with the body seeking out foods which will remedy the deficiency.
Diagnosing a biotin deficiency can be difficult, due to the rarity of this condition and the rather vague symptoms of biotin deficiency. It is important for patients to fully discuss their health histories with doctors when seeking treatment for medical problems, as a doctor may be able to figure out what is causing a vague constellation of symptoms by hearing about something in a patient's history. For example, a dermatologist might not immediately suspect a biotin deficiency in a patient who presented with recurrent fungal infections, but he or she might be clued into the problem if the patient mentioned that he or she had just completed a long run of antibiotic treatment.