Pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, is a member of the water-soluble B vitamin family. It is an essential ingredient of two substances, coenzyme A and acyl carrier protein, which are needed to metabolize carbohydrates and fats. The same coenzymes play a part in production of certain hormones, vitamin D, red blood cells, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Pantothenic acid is necessary for proper growth and development. Studies of Mexican infants whose diets are deficient in micronutrients have shown that those who receive dietary supplements containing pantothenic acid do not show the growth retardation that appears in control groups.
There is not an RDA for pantothenic acid, since deficiency is not known to occur in normal circumstances. Although a daily intake is required for good health, some of this vitamin is found in nearly every food. The standard for the minimum amount of pantothenic acid is the Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Dietary Intake. That value is 2 mg for infants less than six months old, 3 mg for infants six to 12 months old and children one to three years old, 3–4 mg for children four to six years old, 4–5 mg for children seven to 10 years old, and 4–7 mg for everyone over 11 years of age. This recommended intake is a minimal amount necessary to prevent deficiency, and may not be the optimal amount needed for good health.
Pantothenic acid and pantethine are both available as supplements, and do appear to function somewhat differently. Pantethine can be used to lower serum cholesterol and triglycerides. It is more expensive and less effective than using niacin (vitamin B3) for the same purpose, but does not have the potential side effects that niacin does. Generally a dose of 300 mg taken three times a day is recommended for this purpose. Pantethine may be a good cholesterol-lowering alternative for people with diabetes, who cannot take niacin due to the potential side effects on blood sugar regulation. Taking supplements of pantothenic acid does not affect cholesterol, as in this form it is immediately converted into coenzymes.
One very small study indicated that large daily doses of pantothenic acid (2 g of calcium pantothenate) were helpful to relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Consult a healthcare provider regarding use of supplements for this purpose.
Panthenol is a derivative of pantothenic acid and is frequently an ingredient of shampoos and other hair care products. Experiments with rats have shown that a deficiency of pantothenic acid can cause hair to turn gray and fall out. Neither oral nor topical use of any form of pantothenic acid has been shown to prevent or treat gray hair or balding in humans. Some skin care products contain another form of pantothenic acid, called panthoderm, which may be helpful in treatment of minor skin injuries.
Other claims for pantothenic acid that remain unproven are that it improves immune function, decreases allergies, and acts as an anti-aging substance.
Almost every food contains some pantothenic acid. Meats, dairy, whole grains, eggs, and legumes are among the richest sources. Products made from grains that have been processed are among the few foods that are lacking in B5; it is not added back after processing since there are so many other sources of it.
In order to get the most value out of the pantothenic acid contained in natural sources, use fresh foods whenever possible. Cook with minimal amounts of water since the water-soluble vitamin content may be leached out. Frozen foods lose some of their water-soluble vitamin content as they thaw. Processing can also destroy a significant amount of the vitamin content of foods. Pantothenic acid is fairly heat-stable, and is not broken down by cooking although it is destroyed by extremes of pH as may be created by adding such things as baking soda or vinegar.
Oral supplements of both pantothenic acid and pantethine are available. The latter is quite expensive, and less stable than other types. Calcium pantothenate is one form of pantothenic acid made for oral use. Dexpanthenol is formulated for topical, intramuscular, or intravenous use. It is generally recommended that the B-vitamin family
Due to its wide availability in food sources, pure deficiency of pantothenic acid is unknown. It is possible, though, to have low levels in conjunction with other B vitamins under certain conditions. This category may include people with severe nutritional deficiencies; and those with conditions affecting absorption, such as sprue or removal of portions of the gastrointestinal tract. People who chronically abuse alcohol or other drugs, and those under excessive amounts of stress including debilitating illnesses or recovery from burns or surgery are also at higher risk of general vitamin deficiency. The elderly are more susceptible both to poor nutritional status and decreased vitamin absorption. Use of tobacco is also detrimental to B vitamin absorption. Athletes who have a strenuous, daily physical regimen and people with physically active occupations may require larger than average amounts of pantothenic acid.
Experimentally induced deficiency of pantothenic acid has caused fatigue, somnolence, headache, hyperreflexia of extremities, tingling, numbness, or burning in hands and feet, weakness, gastrointestinal problems, irritability, and increased numbers of infections.
People with hemophilia should not use dexpanthenol as it may prolong bleeding time. Anyone with a known or suspected obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract should also not use this product.
Taken in very large doses, pantothenic acid may cause diarrhea. Topical use of dexpanthenol may cause a skin reaction.
The effects of the medication levodopa may be decreased by supplemental pantothenic acid. This problem is not seen with combination carbidopa and levodopa products. These medications are often used to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Anyone taking medication for this condition should consult a health care provider before taking nutritional supplements.
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Rebecca J. Frey, PhD