Biotin, generally classified as a B-complex vitamin, is water soluble and is required by all organisms. Biotin helps the body properly use fats and amino acids, and can improve health, promote healthy hair, prevent brittle nails and improve skin conditions. Biotin is marketed in oral supplements and may also be present in shampoos.
Biotin, also often referred to as vitamin H or vitamin B7, is produced by bacteria, yeasts, molds, algae and some plant species. It helps with carbon dioxide transfer and therefore the metabolism of carbohydrate and fat. Biotin can be obtained by consuming foods such as eggs, liver, milk, yeast, kidney, beef, chicken, peanuts and cheese. Raw egg whites should be avoided because it contains avidin, a protein that prevents biotin absorption.
Biotin deficiency rarely occurs in healthy individuals with regular diets, but may be caused by anti-seizure medications, oral antibiotics, intestinal malabsorption and intravenous feeding. Biotin deficiency may cause fatigue, depression, nausea, muscle pains, anemia, hair loss and weak finger nails.
Dermatologists often prescribe biotin supplements to patients with hair loss. It promotes hair growth, prevents dryness and encourages the production of unsaturated fats. Sufficient biotin consumption increases hair cortex elasticity and prevents breakage. Hair cuticles are thickened, making hair seem fuller. Biotin may be included in shampoos, but these products may not be efficient because the skin does not absorb biotin well. Oral biotin supplements might work better.
Biotin can treat cradle crap, a condition in infants where scaly patches form on the scalp. For nursing infants, biotin supplements taken by their mothers improve the condition. Non-nursing infants can consume direct biotin supplements. However, when the same condition occurs in adults, known as seborrheic dermatitis, biotin does not successfully treat it.
According to Reader's Digest, biotin strengthens the hooves of horses, which are made of the same substance as human nails. This may be why biotin can improve thin or splitting nails. A Swiss research study found that patients with brittle nails showed a 25 percent increase in nail plate thickness after increasing their biotin intake. Also, a U.S. research by Columbia University in New York studied the effect of taking biotin supplements for people with brittle nails, and found that 63 percent of cases improved, while the rest reported no change.