Juvenon Health Journal volume 3 number 10 october 2004
By Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D.
What is biotin, and how does it support cellular health? Biotin is one of nine water-soluble vitamins commonly grouped together and referred to as vitamin B-complex. They are necessary for the activity of enzymes essential for cellular health. Like most vitamins, except for vitamin D, the B vitamins can’t be synthesized by our tissues; they must be supplied by the diet.
The most common early signs of biotin deficiency skin conditions are, a rash, dryness, or itchiness. Some evidence indicates that brittle nails and unhealthy-appearing hair can be associated with biotin deficiency. Additional symptoms may include a depressed state and lethargy. Severe and prolonged biotin deficiency can be fatal.
Should I worry about a biotin deficiency?
Biotin is present in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables and meats. The highest quantities are present in wheat bran, baker’s yeast, cooked eggs and liver. The recommended daily intake is 300 micrograms.
Biotin deficiency is not common, but there are predisposing conditions. Such conditions include pregnancy, use of certain drugs like phenobarbitol and anticonvulsant drugs, exposure to environmental toxins including cigarette smoke, consumption of raw egg white, and poor nutrition. Recent evidence suggests that pregnant women have a greater demand for this vitamin (as well as others, including folic acid). A contributing factor to biotin deficiency during pregnancy is believed to be increased demand for biotin by rapidly dividing cells, which occur with fetal development. The same is true of other rapidly dividing cells of our body including the cells comprising the skin, nails and hair follicles— hence the recommendation by some health professionals to take biotin for brittle nails and hair, as well as during pregnancy, especially early stage. It is probably a good idea to take supplemental biotin and other B vitamins if any of the above conditions apply.
Biotin deficiency can be the consequence of a genetic error in one or more of the genes involved in biotin metabolism. Children born with such an error may not survive unless treated with mega-doses of biotin (100 times the recommended daily requirement). Interestingly, in many of the gene-associated biotin disorders, the patient can be returned to normal if the problem is recognized and treated with mega doses of biotin. The patient not only survives, but lives a normal healthy life.
How does biotin work?
You may wonder how minute quantities of an obscure vitamin can affect organs as diverse as the skin and the central nervous system. Biotin performs its magic by activating a broad spectrum of biological processes related to carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism. Therefore, a deficiency in this vitamin will have a major effect on the metabolic health of humans.
More importantly, biotin is involved in converting biological food-derived substances to metabolites of the Krebs cycle, the energy-producing process contained in the mitochondria. These metabolites, in turn, are transformed in this cycle to additional substances, which are utilized for energy production and growth, as well as repair of damaged tissue components.
When a metabolite of the Krebs cycle is removed to build some other cellular substance, the production of energy in the mitochondria is impaired. In the presence of sufficient biotin and associated enzymes, the reduced activity of the Krebs cycle is addressed, as biotin takes part in reactions to replenish the mitochondria with new metabolites. The net effect is a recharged Krebs cycle producing maximum energy.
There is also evidence that biotin may be involved in gene regulation as 25% of tissue biotin is located in the nucleus and much of it is found associated with histones, proteins that bind to and aid in packaging DNA. In fact, a significant portion of the biotin taken up by rapidly dividing cells is shuttled to the nucleus, indicating that it is somehow involved in turning on and off specific genes involved in growth. Current research is directed toward answering these questions and ultimately determining the role biotin plays in gene regulation.
Biotin deficiency and the brain
A deficiency in biotin has a dramatic effect on the nervous system. Tuned-up mitochondria are essential for a healthy brain, which requires more energy than any other organ of the body. Inefficient mitochondria, resulting from a deficiency in one or more of the Krebs cycle metabolites, are associated with many of the effects of aging.
Even more problematic is the fact that the brain places an additional demand on the mitochondria. Specifically, it utilizes some of the Krebs cycle metabolites to produce specialized neurotransmitters to maintain a healthy central nervous system.
Biotin is absolutely essential to restore these metabolites to maximum level in the mitochondria of nervous tissue. In addition, biotin may serve another function in the brain, by participating in reactions involved in the removal of ammonia, which is toxic to tissue, including nervous tissue.
Why does the brain appear to be more biotin-dependent than other tissues? A recent study has demonstrated that, faced with biotin deprivation, the body directs available supply to the brain at the expense of other biotin-dependent organs. It is believed that while this is necessary to maintain a healthy central nervous system, it reinforces the need for biotin supplementation.
In summary, the reasons to ensure that you have adequate biotin are many: healthy skin, healthy cells, strong energy production, healthy brains and, for pregnant women, healthy fetal development. Although most foods contain biotin, it is reasonable to take supplemental biotin under the conditions described. The vitamin is well tolerated even at doses several hundred times the recommended daily intake.
Biotin is a cofactor for at least five different cellular enzymes known as carboxylases. A recent study directed at learning more about the consequence of errors in genetic coding for these enzymes has shed new light on their importance to the health of the central nervous system. A key finding is that during biotin deprivation, a biotin-recycling enzyme (biotinidase) remains active and functions to strip biotin from tissues such as kidney and liver and direct it to the brain, an organ where biotin is more critical for survival. The study further demonstrates the importance of supplementing with high doses of biotin in patients with errors in carboxylase genes to reestablish the optimum level of biotin for maximum carboxylase activity in the liver, kidney and other organs of the body. For details, click here.
(For the full article in PDF format, click here.)
This Research Update column highlights articles related to recent scientific inquiry into the process of human aging. It is not intended to promote any specific ingredient, regimen, or use and should not be construed as evidence of the safety, effectiveness, or intended uses of the Juvenon product. The Juvenon label should be consulted for intended uses and appropriate directions for use of the product.
Dr. Treadwell answers your questions about Juvenon™ Cellular Health Supplement
QUESTION: I’m interested in learning about lipoic acid and cardiovascular health in smokers. What can you tell me?
ANSWER: Smoking has been demonstrated to inactivate several important vitamins, including vitamins E, C and biotin in the blood of smokers. Lipoic acid, one of the more potent cellular antioxidants, helps protect these substances from the deleterious vitamin-destructive effects of the cigarette smoking. The chemical properties of lipoic acid make it a more attractive target, thus sparing the vitamins from attack.
Benjamin V. Treadwell, Ph.D., is a former Harvard Medical School associate professor and member of Juvenon’s Scientific Advisory Board.