Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system, including the brain and the spinal cord. Some studies suggest that a vital B-vitamin, biotin, might help reduce the impact of the disease.

Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) use diet to help manage their symptoms. Many foods contain biotin, including brewer's yeast, nuts, egg yolks, Swiss chard, liver, and many others.

One important group of vitamins are the B-vitamins, which help the body turn food into energy, support the nervous system, and maintain the skin, hair, eyes, and liver. They are vital during pregnancy.

People sometimes refer to biotin as vitamin B-7 or vitamin H. It is one of the B-complex vitamins and is essential for human health.

The United States Food and Nutrition Board has not set a recommended daily allowance (RDA) for biotin, but the board has established an adequate intake (AI) level of 30 micrograms (mcg) per day for adults.

In this article, we look at the possible benefits of biotin in the treatment of MS.

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Among other foods, biotin is present in nuts.

Biotin is thought to help manage presentations of progressive MS due to supporting nerve cell metabolism.

MS develops when the immune system targets and damages myelin, a substance that covers and protects the nerve cells. Biotin activates key enzymes, helping the body to produce more myelin.

Enzymes are proteins that carry out crucial functions in the body.

Healthy levels of myelin allow nerve cells to communicate with each other more efficiently. This communication between the nerve cells may reduce the level of disability in people with MS.

Producing more myelin may also slow the progression of the disease.

Studies into the use of biotin as a treatment for MS have been inconclusive so far.

Several studies have found that high doses of biotin, up to 10,000 times the daily adequate intake, can reduce symptoms in people with progressive MS. In addition, people who took these high doses of biotin did not develop any significant adverse reactions.

One study found that people with MS who had taken high doses of biotin reported reduced pain and improved energy levels.

A French study showed that people with MS who received biotin as a treatment found that their vision had improved.

Scientists in Canada also documented an improvement in vision, as well as a reduction in partial paralysis. In another study, 91 percent of participants showed clinical improvement.

However, not all of the research has shown a positive link. A 2017 study showed no long-term improvement for participants and the symptoms of a third of those involved actually worsened.

A 2018 study found inflammation and relapse in participants with progressive MS who had received high doses of biotin.

In December 2017, a committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) withdrew the license for high-dose biotin within Europe, advising that the data from studies was not sufficient to confirm its benefits and safety as a treatment for MS.

This review of research from 2018 offers a good summary regarding the use of biotin as a treatment for progressive MS.

Other health benefits and precautions of biotin

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Taking large doses of biotin may affect tests for other conditions.

In standard doses, biotin has links to healthy skin, hair, and nails.

However, biotin can interact with other elements, and this may have skewed the results of important medical tests.

This skewing may have led to unreliable readings in some individuals who are taking biotin supplements.

In 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about biotin and its interference with medical tests.

This can lead to people not getting the right diagnosis or treatment. Biotin's interference with medical tests has led to serious problems, including at least one death.

For example, biotin has been known to interfere with thyroid testing, suggesting that some people had Graves' disease, a serious thyroid condition, when they did not.

Biotin also interferes with the test to diagnosis heart problems, covering up the signs of a heart attack. This can lead to people not getting the right medications.

Reports in The New England Journal of Medicine have suggested that taking biotin supplements may interfere with hormone levels, thyroid levels, and prostate tests.

In order to ensure accurate readings, some experts recommend that a person who is receiving treatment with biotin should stop taking it 3 days before a blood test.

MS is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse over time.

When MS attacks myelin, it damages this layer and the nerves underneath. Scar tissue develops, which slows or stops the nerves transmitting signals to each other. This interferes with communication between the brain and the rest of the body, resulting in the nervous system problems that are characteristic of MS.

Risk factors may include:

  • age, as the disease tends to appear between the ages of 20 to 40 years
  • family history
  • tobacco use
  • the presence of another autoimmune disease

According to the National Institute for Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS), women are around twice as likely as men to have MS, and it is more common among people who live in temperate climates. This means climates that do not get extremely hot or extremely cold, but are somewhere in the middle.

Symptoms

MS produces different symptoms in different people.

Some individuals may experience only mild symptoms, while others may eventually lose the ability to walk or communicate. The rate of progression also varies between individuals.

Symptoms include:

  • vision, coordination, and balance problems
  • weakness in the hands and feet, or on one side of the body
  • fatigue
  • pain
  • hearing loss
  • a tingling sensation or numbness
  • slurred speech
  • bladder or bowel problems

People with MS may also develop emotional and cognitive difficulties, such as depression, forgetfulness, loss of concentration, and impaired judgment.

There is currently no cure for MS, but various treatments are available, and scientists are making progress in this area.

DMTs

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Treatment programs can help to slow or stop the progression of MS.

A growing number of new drugs — known as disease-modifying therapy (DMT) — are becoming available.

These appear to reduce the numbers of flares and slow the progression of the relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS).

A doctor may recommend one of these new medications from the earliest stages, as they appear to be most effective if a person uses them in this way.

These include:

  • injectable medications, such as interferon beta-1a (Avonex)
  • oral medications, such as teriflunomide (Aubagio) and siponimond (Mayzent)
  • infusions, such as alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)

Treatment during a flare

Steroid injections can relieve inflammation and reduce the severity of symptoms during a flare.

Other medications can help with complications such as bladder or bowel problems, dizziness, and emotional changes.

Plasma exchange

If medications do not work, plasma exchange, or plasmapharesis, is another option. The procedure replaces plasma, a key constituent in blood.

Progressive MS

For people with progressive forms of MS no treatment is currently available, but clinical trials are underway into the safety and effectiveness of a new drug, idebenone.

Those who experience intermittent episodes of symptoms might find that some disease-modifying drugs can help in the early stages.

People with MS need to work closely with their physician to find an appropriate treatment.

Other therapies

Physical therapy, muscle relaxants, anti-depressants, and other medications targeted at specific symptoms can help to manage the symptoms of MS.

Self-care practices, such as exercising, getting plenty of rest, and trying to reduce stress, can also help people with MS maintain a good quality of life.

Eating a balanced diet, especially one containing healthy oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can also help people preserve health in light of an MS diagnosis. However, an individual should speak to their doctor before starting to use omega-3 or any other supplement.

Scientists have suggested that people with high vitamin D levels may be less likely to develop MS. However, there is no evidence that vitamin D supplements will help.

Researchers are hopeful that newer techniques might offer a solution, such as stem cell therapy and myelin repair.

Some people have tried biotin as a therapy for MS, but research has produced mixed results.

A person should speak to their doctor before trying biotin or any other supplement for MS.

Q:

Are there any other natural treatment options for MS?

A:

Many people are interested in natural treatment options for MS. The American Academy of Neurology studied the evidence behind these alternative treatments, and found that cannabis products may be effective for certain kinds of muscle symptoms and pain. Gingko biloba might help people with MS feel less fatigued, but doesn’t improve memory or trouble concentrating.

Other natural treatment options, such as fish oil, bee sting therapy, acetyl-L-carnitine, or glucosamine supplements aren’t effective for MS or don’t have enough evidence to support their use.

The treatments that your doctor prescribes have been well-studied in clinical trials. Talk to your doctor before you add natural treatment options, and make sure you keep taking your prescribed medications.

Zara Risoldi Cochrane, PharmD, MS, FASCP Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.