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Biotin is a B-complex vitamin, also known as vitamin B-7 or vitamin H. It is important in a number of metabolic functions in the human body, including cell growth, the synthesis of fatty acids, and the metabolism of the amino acid leucine. Biotin also assists in the Krebs cycle, through which the body converts food into energy, and in the transfer of carbon dioxide within the body. Intestinal bacteria naturally produce this vitamin, and a deficiency is therefore quite rare.
Many health and beauty products that promote hair and nail strength include biotin. However, the usefulness of externally applied products like shampoo is questionable, as this vitamin is not easily absorbed through the skin. In order to reap the health benefits, the vitamin must typically be consumed in supplement form.
Most people have no need for biotin supplements, as enough is either consumed through a healthy diet or produced by intestinal bacteria. Dietary sources of biotin include dairy products, shellfish, chicken breasts, cauliflower, and organ meats. There is no daily recommended intake of biotin in most nutritional guidelines. However, supplements may be helpful in treating some specific conditions.
Biotin may help prevent hair loss and can improve certain skin complaints. Children with the congenital disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) often suffer from skin problems like eczema and seborrheic dermatitis, more commonly known as Cradle Cap, and biotin supplements can help. Recent studies have suggested that the vitamin may also be helpful in improving insulin synthesis and release in diabetics, leading to improved blood sugar control.
Though biotin deficiency is rare, it is serious. This deficiency is usually a congenital condition, but it can also be caused by excessive consumption of raw egg white over a period of many months or years. If untreated, biotin deficiency can present serious and potentially fatal neurological symptoms. In early stages, it is marked by hair and skin conditions including dryness, alopecia, eczema, rashes, and fungal infections. Luckily, this condition is easily treated with supplements.