Biotin, also referred as vitamin H, belongs to a category of vitamins referred to as the B-complex group. Although biotin was discovered in 1927, it was not until 1967, after 40 years of research, that biotin was recognized as a vitamin. Biotin is considered an essential nutrient for humans because the body cannot synthesize it, so it must be obtained through the diet.
Functions of Biotin
All of the B vitamins help your body convert the calories from the macronutrients -- carbohydrates, protein and fat -- into energy that your body can use. Specifically, biotin plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Biotin also helps strengthen your hair and nails. The B vitamin is especially important during pregnancy because it allows the embryo to grow normally.
Biotin needs differ based on your age. Children between 1 and 3 need 8 micrograms of biotin each day, while children between 4 and 8 need 12 micrograms daily. Children between 9 and 13 should consume 20 micrograms per day, and teenagers between 14 and 18 need 25 micrograms daily. After the age of 18, adults need 30 micrograms of biotin each day. Women who are pregnant also need 30 micrograms per day, and biotin needs increase to 35 micrograms per day for women who are breastfeeding.
Sources of Biotin
Biotin is available in a wide variety of foods, including nuts, legumes, milk, meat, eggs, cauliflower, bananas, mushrooms, soybeans, whole grains and cereals. According to the Institute of Medicine, the biotin in cereals may be less bioavailable than the biotin that is bound to the protein in meats. The bacteria that live in your intestinal tract can also synthesize some biotin, helping you meet your needs.
Although rare, biotin deficiency is possible. Physical symptoms of biotin deficiency include skin rashes and hair loss. Biotin deficiency can also lead to neurological symptoms, such as depression, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, sluggishness, and hallucination.
Biotin deficiency usually occurs in those who eat a lot of raw egg whites. A protein in the egg whites called avidin binds to biotin, blocking its absorption and increasing its elimination from the body. Cooking the egg white denatures the protein, changing its structure and inactivating it.