Vitamin B5 — Pantothenic Acid

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid), another of the B complex vitamins, is a yellow viscous oil found usually as the calcium or sodium salt—that is, calcium pantothenate. It is present in all living cells and is very important to metabolism where it functions as part of the molecule called coenzyme A or CoA. Pantothenic acid is found in yeasts, molds, bacteria, and plant and animal cells, as well as in human blood plasma and lymph fluid.

B5 is stable to moist heat and oxidation or reduction (adding or subtracting an electron), though it is easily destroyed by acids (such as vinegar) or alkalis (such as baking soda) and by dry heat. Over half of the pantothenic acid in wheat is lost during milling, and about one-third is degraded in meat during cooking. In many whole foods, vitamin B5 is readily available.

Sources: The name pantothenic acid comes from the Greek word pantos, meaning “everywhere,” referring to its wide availability in foods. Therefore, it is easily accessible in the diet, and deficiency is uncommon, except in those with a highly processed diet, since much of the available vitamin B5 activity is lost during refinement of foods. Good sources of pantothenic acid include the organ meats, brewer’s yeast, egg yolks, fish, chicken, whole grain cereals, cheese, peanuts, dried beans, and a variety of vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, green peas, cauliflower, and avocados. Vitamin B5 is also made by the bacterial flora of human intestines, another source for this important metabolic assistant or coenzyme.

Functions: Pantothenic acid as coenzyme A is closely involved in adrenal cortex function and has come to be known as the “antistress” vitamin. It supports the adrenal glands to increase production of cortisone and other adrenal hormones to help counteract stress and enhance metabolism. Through this mechanism, pantothenic acid is also thought to help prevent aging and wrinkles. It is generally important to healthy skin and nerves. Through its adrenal support, vitamin B5 may reduce potentially toxic effects of antibiotics and radiation.

As the coenzyme, pantothenic acid is important in cellular metabolism of carbohydrates and fats to release energy. As coenzyme A, it supports the synthesis of acetylcholine, a very important neurotransmitter agent that works throughout the body in a variety of neuromuscular reactions. Coenzyme A is vital in the synthesis of fatty acids, cholesterol, steroids, sphingosines, and phospholipids. It also helps synthesize porphyrin, which is connected to hemoglobin.

Uses: Pantothenic acid, found in a wide range of sources, is used in a wide variety of conditions. Again, it is known as the “antistress” vitamin and is used to relieve fatigue and stress and the many problems induced by stress, through its support of the adrenal glands. Allergies, headaches, arthritis, psoriasis, insomnia, asthma, and infections have all been treated with some effectiveness using vitamin B5, possibly through its adrenal support and adequate production of adrenocorticosteroids.

Vitamin B5 has also been used after surgery when there is paralysis of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to stimulate GI peristalsis. It has been helpful in many cases for people who grind their teeth at night, a problem called bruxism. Other conditions treated by this vitamin are nerve disorders such as neuritis, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis and various levels of mental illness and alcoholism. Of course, the effectiveness may vary in all these situations according to amount supplemented, length of time used, and individual responsiveness. Sound research to support the use of pantothenic acid in many of these treatments or for its energy-enhancing or antiaging effects is lacking, although some research has shown positive results from the use of calcium pantothenate in reducing arthritis symptoms of joint pain and stiffness.

Deficiency and toxicity: As with other B vitamins, there are no specific toxic effects from high doses of pantothenic acid. Over 1,000 mg. daily has been taken for over six months with no side effects; when 1,500 mg. or more is taken daily for several weeks, some people experience a superficial sensitivity in their teeth. However, it is possible that if B5 is taken without other B vitamins, it may create metabolic imbalance.

Fatigue is probably the earliest and most common symptom of pantothenic acid deficiency, though it is an unlikely vitamin deficiency because of the availability of B5 in many foods, plus the fact that it is also produced by our intestinal bacteria. A diet high in refined and processed foods or a reduction or destruction of intestinal flora, most commonly by antibiotic use, can lead to a vitamin B5 deficiency. Teenagers are more likely to experience a deficiency, because their diets often include high amounts of “fast foods” sugars, and refined flours (all low in B vitamins). And the problem may be compounded because the acne often associated with this type of diet is commonly treated with tetracycline antibiotics, which reduce the intestinal bacteria and thereby the production of pantothenic acid in the colon.

Studies of pantothenic acid deficiency in rats showed increased graying of the fur, decreased growth, and, in the extreme, hemorrhage and destruction of the adrenal glands. In humans, the decreased adrenal function caused by B5 deficiency can lead to a variety of metabolic problems. Fatigue is most likely; there may also be physical and mental depression, a decrease in hydrochloric acid production and other digestive symptoms, some loss of nerve function, and problems in blood sugar metabolism, with symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) being the most common. Pantothenic acid affects the function of cells in all systems, and a deficiency may reduce immunity, both cellular and antibody responses. Other symptoms of B5 deficiency include vomiting, abdominal cramps, skin problems, tachycardia, insomnia, tingling of the hands and feet, muscle cramps, recurrent upper respiratory infections, and worsening of allergy symptoms.

Requirements: The RDA for pantothenic acid is about 5 mg. for children and 10 mg. for adults. Many other sources feel the minimum needs are more likely to be about 25–50 mg., and 50–100 mg. is probably a good “insurance” range. Therapeutic ranges are more like 250–500 mg. daily and even higher, taken, of course, along with the other B complex vitamins. Individual needs vary according to food intake, degree of stress, and whether one is pregnant or lactating. Those people who eat a diet of processed foods, have a stressful lifestyle, or have allergies require higher amounts of pantothenic acid. For all of the problems discussed here, 250–500 mg. taken twice daily is a safe and beneficial amount.

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Written by Elson M. Haas MD

Explore Wellness in 2021