Mrs M.C.R., a jovial 52-year-old Hungarian, came to see me four months ago, complaining of numbness and tingling in her hands and feet, hair loss, lethargy, and a scaly, ruddy rash around her eyes, nose, mouth and genital area. Because the problem had been with her for a number of years and was getting worse, yet no one seemed to be able to help her, she was also becoming depressed. In fact, having undergone some standard blood tests - with unremarkable findings - she had been summarily diagnosed by her GP as suffering from 'clinical depression' and was given antidepressants, which did not help.
Her background is interesting and includes a very unusual occupation, which is worth recounting. Originally, she had come from the village of Bata in central Hungary, where they have a deep-rooted tradition of painting intricate designs onto Easter eggs. Painted eggs are even sent as a declaration of love.
Ever since she was a child, Mrs M.C.R. has painted eggs, usually using emptied eggshells. Her egg-emptying technique is to prick a hole in one end and then suck out the liquid contents. She has done this with all the eggs she's painted so, since childhood, she has consumed vast quantities of raw egg.
Tests were done to check for food allergies (eggs) and chemical sensitivities (paints). Other tests looked at her female hormone levels (hair loss), checked for diabetes (tingling in the extremities) and probed for 'leaky-gut syndrome' (skin rash). But they all revealed nothing remarkable.
She then underwent a test for white blood cell pyruvate carboxylase activation, which is a way of checking biotin levels. This indicated a pronounced biotin deficiency, which is very rare. Biotin is a water-soluble B-complex vitamin, and a protein in raw egg white called 'avidin' binds to biotin and prevents its absorption. But when egg white is cooked, the avidin is rendered unable to bind to biotin and prevent its uptake (Mock OM, Biotin, in Shils M et al., eds. Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th edn. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1999: 459-66).
I suggested that she should increase her consumption of food sources that are rich in biotin, such as liver, yeast and egg yolk (in cooked eggs), and also take a 30-mcg biotin supplement daily (1 mg = 1000 mcg). I also told her to empty the eggs she decorated only by blowing out their contents.
Biotin is not known to be toxic, but possible interactions with other supplements, medications (such as anticonvulsants) or herbs would need to be ruled out by a competent professional.
Gradually, over the next three months, Mrs M.C.R.'s symptoms improved. Although she stopped losing her hair, what hair she had already lost unfortunately did not regrow. Nevertheless, all of her other symptoms - the ugly red rashes, the lethargy and her depression as well as the peripheral neuropathy in hands and feet - completely disappeared.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath, homoeopath and herbalist. He can be contacted at The Diagnostic Clinic, London, tel: 020 7009 4650