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Friday, December 18, 2009

Biotin and The Holiday Blues

Caution: Consult a medical professional if you have major depression, a potentially dangerous condition that requires correct diagnosis and treatment. Home remedies should only be used with medical approval. Also, check with your medical professional for prescription drug contraindications, and double check with your pharmacist to be extra sure.

From now until the new year I'm going to write about depression, focusing on a remedy per day. Today's post is about Biotin for depression. And by depression, I do not mean major depression. I mean something more like the holiday blues.

Biotin, also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H, is a B vitamin which, when deficient, can cause depression. Consider this passage from chapter nine of Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit by Adelle Davis.
"A substance in raw egg white, avidin, can combine with biotin in the intestinal tract and prevent it from reaching the blood. Biotin deficiencies have been produced in human volunteers by adequate diets to which was added daily 1/2 cup of powdered but uncooked egg whites. The first symptom noticed was mental depression. In time the subjects developed dry peeling skin, extreme fatigue, muscular pain, nausea, and distress around the heart. The mental depression became so intense that it was described as 'panic,' and some volunteers experienced suicidal tendencies. All symptoms disappeared in three to five days after biotin was added to the diet."
The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University gives similar information on biotin along with info on predisposing conditions that lead to biotin deficiency, a recommended intake chart, food sources, and cautions: Micronutrient Information Center: Biotin. Note that their food source chart mentions the biotin content of a package of yeast. I assume this means baker's yeast, which is the only yeast I know of that comes in packets. Do NOT consume this yeast from the packet! It must be baked! (Unlike brewer's yeast and nutritional yeast which can be consumed without cooking.)

How do you know if you are deficient in biotin? The Linus Pauling Institute at OSU, linked above, states that,
"Three measures of biotin status have been validated as indicators of biotin status: (1) high excretion of an organic acid (3-hydroxyisovaleric acid) that reflects decreased activity of the biotin-dependent enzyme, methylcrotonyl-CoA carboxylase; (2) reduced urinary excretion of biotin; and (3) propionyl-CoA carboxylase activity in peripheral blood lymphocytes"
That means have your doctor order appropriate labwork. Other than that, you could go by the symptoms list, and try supplementing to see if you notice a change. Keep in mind, that some of the conditions described in the Linus Pauling Institute's biotin page can keep you from absorbing or utilizing biotin properly. Higher than normal supplementation levels may be required. Of course, before adding any supplement, check with your medical practitioner to make sure you do not have any personal or drug contraindications!

I observed one of the symptoms of biotin deficiency, a greyish skin color, in my father when he had cancer. He had depression and fatigue, too. All three of these symptoms cleared up when we started the extensive nutritional supplementation Adelle Davis recommended for people with cancer, which included biotin. (Cancer grows rapidly in persons deficient in biotin, another reason to make sure your intake is adequate!)

Biotin is inexpensive. I bought a bottle of 150 1,000 microgram (mcg) tablets at Walmart today for a mere $3. This is a pretty hefty dosage, compared to the 35 mcg to 60 mcg per day recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine as the Adequate Intake (AI) level. However, it has not been clearly established that this level is truly adequate. Studies of biotin in diabetics have included supplements totaling 16,000 mcg per day, and amounts of up to 5,000 mcg daily have not revealed adverse affects in persons without biotinidase deficiency, and up to 20,000 were well tolerated by people with biotinidase deficiency. (Biotinidase is an enzyme required to utilize and recycle biotin.)
[Update 2018: I currently sprinkle a bit of biotin powder from a 5,000 mcg Radiance Platinum vegan capsule in my morning shake. One capsule lasts me 2-3 weeks. I purchased the bottle of 60 at CVS a couple years ago. You can also purchase biotin online at]

Take note holiday revelers: alcohol can cause a reduction of B vitamins, including biotin. Alcohol can cause depression (perhaps by reducing your biotin level) so if you are going to imbibe, make sure you get sufficient nutrition to replace what you lose!

Oh, another important thing to consider: antibiotics can also cause a reduction in biotin, since part of your biotin supply is manufactured by friendly bacteria in your intestines. Antibiotics kill off these little B-vitamin factories, and few doctors tell you to replace them after a course of antibiotics by taking acidophilus or consuming a good brand of yogurt for several days. (Some brands are unreliable for providing sufficient live bacteria. Back in the 1960s, Alta Dena was recommended as the most reliable provider. Their website lists places where you can purchase Alta Dena products.)

Although biotin deficiency is considered uncommon, there are several circumstances in which you may benefit from extra biotin in your diet or in a supplement. As always, consult with your medical practitioner before adding using this or any other supplement. Particular caution should be taken by diabetics and epileptics.

Enjoy your holidays, and perhaps add some biotin to your health regime.

Further Reading:

Micronutrient Information Center: Biotin - Linus Pauling Institute's web page on this B vitamin.

Biotin - Wiki

How Biotin Works - article by Jennifer Brett, N.D., which discusses effects of alcohol and antibiotics on biotin levels.

Biotin-responsive depression during hyperalimentation. - PubMed abstract of a case report.

Biotinidase - Wiki describing this enzyme and the effects of biotinidase deficiency, a hereditary disorder.


Anonymous said...

I read the exact opposite in a bunch of comments awhile back that it actually CAUSES depression? Now I'm going to have to do a lot more research since I have read that Vitamin B is good for combating depression.

Randi said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous. It's possible for the same nutrient to relieve a problem or make it worse. For example, I took the highly recommended B6 for the nausea of pregnancy many years ago, and it made it awfully worse. Notice how many times medication warnings say the stuff can give you exactly the symptom you're trying to relieve. The human body is a complicated machine, and each one is different. It's usually best to get labwork or some other medical diagnosis to pinpoint a problem before trying to remedy it. (I say usually because medical advice is not always correct.) Also, it's possible - especially with B vitamins, to avoid too much of a good thing. Taking a single B vitamin can create an imbalance of other B vitamins, and B vitamin suppliments with several B vitamins may not be the right balance for you. It's tricky to find what's just right for you, no matter how many other people something may work for. That's why it's recommended to get your B vitamins from food (such as brown rice) or to take a good quality acidophilus - those good bacteria manufacture B vitamins in your intestines.

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