DEAR PHARMACIST

Biotin deficiency can be fatal


Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.

Q: Please write about biotin deficiency, this is what killed my husband. No one detected it and I want to alert everyone.

— J.P., Fort Lauderdale

A: I'm sorry about your loss. Today, I will write about it. Together we will be preventing more deaths. The problem is that physicians and consumers think of biotin only as a "beauty" vitamin to improve nail strength and hair growth. It's also known as vitamin H, or B7.

The sad part is, thousands of medications are "drug muggers" of biotin, meaning they prevent absorption or diminish our ability to make it in the body. Here are signs that suggest biotin deficiency:

Nerve pain: Numbness, tingling, prickly sensations, pain or any other "paresthesia." It can occur by itself, or as part of kidney disease, insulin resistance or diabetes.

Skin conditions: Eczema, psoriasis, seborrheoeic dermatitis, flaking, itching, scaly, dry or inflamed skin, sores in or around the mouth, burning mouth/tongue, all of these problems suggest biotin (or another B vitamin) deficiency.

Poor immunity: Results in more frequent bacterial or viral infections, anywhere, even in your eye (conjunctivitis).

Cognitive problems: The brain needs biotin to make neurotransmitters that keep you feeling mentally alert, happy and attentive. Low biotin can cause fatigue and depression.

High cholesterol: Animal studies have shown that biotin (along with chromium) can reduce cholesterol and triglycerides. Low biotin increases risk for fatty liver.

Anorexia: You're not hungry if you have biotin deficiency. Sounds like a dream right, but it can actually contribute to depression, lethargy and weakness.

Anemia: The hemoglobin cells lose their ability to tote oxygen, leaving you feeling winded, short of breath, inattentive and fatigued with little exertion. Prolonged anemia raises risk for heart failure.

Cardiac Arrhythmia: Biotin deficiency can absolutely cause you to suffer palpitations, skipped beats and other electrical disturbances that can cause a fatal heart attack.

You must get as irritated as I do when reading Internet posts from so-called experts saying that biotin deficiency is "rare" or that we get enough from foods. I believe biotin deficiency is extremely common.

Biotin is made by yeast and bacteria, the same friendly microorganisms in our intestinal flora. Keep in mind, all medications strip away our probiotics, reducing our biotin stash. Antibiotics are huge drug muggers as are estrogen-containing hormones, acid blockers, antacids, anti-convulsants, steroids, anti-virals, breast cancer drugs, anti-inflammatories and certain analgesics; also people who smoke, drink alcohol, coffee or take alpha lipoic acid run out of biotin quickly.

Biotin supplements are sold over-the-counter but, of course, ask your doctor if it's right for you. About 1,000 to 5,000 mcg per day should help. Your body washes away excess biotin.

Food sources include organ meats, nuts, cashews, dairy, liver, scrambled eggs, cauliflower, leafy greens, legumes and seafood.

I covered biotin in Chapter 6 of my book "Drug Muggers."

For more information, visit DearPharmacist.com.

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