Biotin Supplement Needed During Pregnancy
A deficiency of biotin (one of the B-complex vitamins) may occur in as many as 50% of pregnant women, and this deficiency may increase the risk of birth defects, according to a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2002;75:295–9).
In this study, laboratory evidence of biotin deficiency was found both in the early (first trimester) and late (third trimester) stages of pregnancy, and was corrected by supplementation with 300 micrograms of biotin per day for 14 days. Researchers had already suspected that biotin deficiency is common during pregnancy, but previous studies had used only an indirect method of determining biotin status.
The main role of biotin in the body is to assist in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Severe biotin deficiency results in impaired functioning of the immune system, as well as a scaly dermatitis that resembles seborrhea (a condition characterized by reddened, oily scales on the face and scalp).
Prior to this study, it had been generally believed that biotin deficiency is rare, because biotin is found in a wide variety of foods and is also manufactured by intestinal bacteria. Only a few cases of severe biotin deficiency have been reported, all of which were caused by the consumption of excessive amounts of raw egg white, which contains a compound that inhibits the absorption of biotin. However, the new study indicates that a more subtle form of biotin deficiency occurs during pregnancy, possibly as a result of the increased demand for nutrients placed on the mother by the growing fetus.
Animal studies have demonstrated that biotin deficiency can cause birth defects. For that reason, some researchers have recommended that pregnant women use a prenatal multiple vitamin-and-mineral formula that contains biotin. Although additional research is needed to determine whether biotin supplements can prevent birth defects in humans, taking a biotin-containing prenatal formula seems a reasonable step for pregnant women, since the vitamin is considered safe and has not been associated with adverse side effects.
Biotin supplements have also been used for several other health conditions. Preliminary studies have suggested that biotin in large amounts (such as 5 to 16 mg per day) can help control blood sugar levels or improve nerve damage in diabetics. In a study of individuals with dry, splitting nails, supplementation with 2.5 mg of biotin per day improved the quality of the nails in 63% of those treated. Improvement was seen after an average of two months, although some individuals did not see results until they had taken biotin for four months.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the Medical Editor for Clinical Essentials Alert, is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). Currently he is the Endowed Professor of Nutrition at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, Kenmore, WA.
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