Nutrient Spotlight – Biotin

In the recent blog ‘The Digestion Sessions’, we discussed what a healthy digestive process looks like. The main goal of the process is to digest nutrients from our food to help our body do all the amazing things it does.

Now let’s have look at some of those nutrients and the role they play in your health. To kick things off, we will start with biotin.

Biotin is a member of the B vitamin family (B7), although it is sometimes referred to as vitamin H. Like other members of the vitamin B complex family, biotin is a water-soluble nutrient. Itis essential for human health and is involved in important metabolic pathways for energy production and metabolism. It also acts as a co-factor (helps other nutrients to ‘work’) for other actions in the body.

Where do we get it?

Many foods contain biotin including organ meat (such as liver), meat, eggs, fish, seeds, nuts and certain vegetables (such as sweet potatoes). Humans also synthesise biotin in the gastrointestinal tract via our gut microbes.

What it does for us

Our body uses glucose as its primary energy source, mainly because it’s easy. Our bodies are really quite efficient and will take the easy road where possible. Because we have an abundance of carbohydrates (sugars) available to us, this is what the body will use as energy. Any excess in glucose is stored in the liver and skeletal muscles as glycogen – a process called glycolysis. Once those stores are full, excess glucose is stored as fat.

Fun fact – humans have an unlimited ability to store excess energy as fat. Our fat cells (adipose tissue) upregulate in response to requirements so the more excess we have, the more fat cells increase in size and number in order to store this excess.

There are some tissues in the body that need glucose to function. In order to provide glucose for vital functions such as the metabolism of red blood cells and for the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) during periods of fasting (greater than about 8 hrs after food absorption in humans), the body needs a way to provide glucose from other nutrient sources (fats and protein). This process is referred to as gluconeogenesis, essentially making new glucose from non-carbohydrate sources. It occurs in the liver and kidney and makes energy through the oxidation of fatty acids. Pretty amazing that our body can adapt like this and, really, this is what our bodies are designed to do.

So, what does all this have to do with biotin?

Well, biotin is essential to this process. It is one of the nutrients that activates the enzyme reactions required for this reverse glycolysis to happen.

Biotin is also an integral part of our gut microbiome and the functions it facilitates. As our microbes (gut bacteria) are breaking down our food, specifically fibre, they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – butyrate, acetate and propionate. These SCFAs are known to have wide-ranging impacts on human health and disease. They are important for maintaining health through regulation of the immune system, maintenance of the epithelial barrier (gut barrier) and promotion of satiety following meals (letting you know you are full and satisfied). They may be protective against several diseases including colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, graft-versus-host disease, diabetes and obesity. And SCFAs can’t do any of those things without the help of biotin.

 Some other important functions of biotin

– Helps to maintain hair, skin, nails, sebaceous glands (oil glands), bone marrow and sex glands

– Metabolism of protein, fats and carbohydrates

– Cell growth

– Reduction of cholesterol plaques on blood vessels

Biotin supplements

Humans only require a small amount of biotin daily (30 micrograms), therefore biotin deficiency is rare, and supplementation isn’t usually required.

Biotin seems to be a popular addition to over-the-counter supplements marketed to support the growth of hair, skin and nails; the dosages in these formulas being well above what your body needs.

Taking biotin, especially in high doses, can influence how other nutrients work in the body and can alter blood test results. It can cause the results of these tests to be either falsely high or falsely low. As a result, people can be misdiagnosed or treated incorrectly which can have serious consequences.

The affected tests are immunoassays that use biotin in their testing mechanism to bind chemicals and other substances in the blood to the test tube so they can be measured. Excess biotin in the blood from supplements can block that binding and the substances are not measured accurately. For anyone taking any biotin-containing supplements, it is important to cease taking the supplement for at least 48 hours before having blood taken for testing.

It is also a great idea to see a qualified health practitioner to decide if in fact biotin is indicated for you.

Written by Amanda Lorch, BHSc
Naturopath & Kinesiologist

If you would like to know more about this topic, or have a digestion- or other health-related concern, book an appointment with Amanda and find out what’s really going on in your body.