B complex vitamins are a group of eight water-soluble vitamins that play an essential role on numerous physiological processes of the body. These B vitamins are among the building blocks of good health. While they’re all categorized as B vitamins, there are several major differences between them.
This article will focus on vitamin B5, which is more commonly known as pantothenic acid. Continue reading to learn more about the importance of this particular B vitamin, its uses and side effects, and how you can safely integrate it into your diet.
What Is Pantothenic Acid?
The popularity of pantothenic acid or vitamin B5 pales in comparison to that of the other B vitamins, probably because it’s easily obtained from a well-balanced diet, so a deficiency of it is quite rare.1 Being a lesser-known vitamin does not take away from its worth, though. Pantothenic acid is still essential for your health, as it helps perform a number of functions that sustain life itself, including:2
• Breaking down fats and carbohydrates for energy
• Producing red blood cells
• Manufacturing sex and stress-related hormones
• Synthesizing cholesterol
As with other forms of vitamin B, pantothenic acid is not stored in the body because it’s water-soluble. The excess pantothenic acid that your body did not use will be flushed out through your urine, which means that you have to obtain it from your food every day.3 While a deficiency in vitamin B5 rarely occurs, it’s still entirely possible, especially if you have dietary restrictions that may keep you from eating foods rich in this nutrient. Some of the common signs of pantothenic acid deficiency include:4
Upper respiratory infections
The Best Dietary Sources of Pantothenic Acid
Pantothenic acid is sensitive to heat and humidity, so consuming processed foods that have been subjected to high-temperature manufacturing methods may not be enough to replenish your body’s level of this vitamin.
Fortunately, pantothenic acid can be obtained from a wide variety of fresh and organic foods. In fact, this vitamin is named after the Greek word “pantos,” which means “everywhere,” as it’s found in numerous animal- and plant-based products.5 Some of the foods that are rich in pantothenic acid include:6,7,8
• Meat and dairy: Beef, duck, chicken, eggs, plain yogurt and animal organs like liver and kidney
• Mushrooms: Shitake and cremini
• Seafood: Lobster, shellfish and wild-caught Alaskan salmon
• Fruits: Avocado, strawberry and grapefruit
If you can’t obtain vitamin B5 from dietary sources, then you should consider taking dietary supplements to ensure that your body doesn’t run low in this vitamin as well as other nutrients.
Uses and Health Benefits of Pantothenic Acid
Pantothenic acid performs vital functions that may help keep your overall well-being in optimal condition. One of these functions is its ability to support the synthesis of hormones in the adrenal glands, which may help you cope with stressful situations — one reason why it’s also known as the “anti-stress” vitamin.9
Pantothenic acid also plays a role in the production of coenzyme A, which is responsible for many biochemical reactions, including the synthesis and oxidation of fatty acids, as well as the uptake of drugs and toxins in the liver.10 In addition to its uses, pantothenic acid may also provide the following health benefits:11,12
• Healthy digestive tract: Pantothenic acid may help maintain a healthy digestive tract by assisting the body in using other vitamins, especially vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin).
• Lower cholesterol levels: Several studies suggest that a derivative of pantothenic acid, known as pantethine, may help lower the bad cholesterol levels in the body and/or reduce triglycerides in the blood.
• Healthier and clearer skin: Preliminary research shows that pantothenic acid has moisturizing effects on the skin. It may also help promote wound healing, relieve facial acne and reduce acne-related skin problems.
• Improved hair health: Pantothenic acid plays a role in the nourishment of hair follicles, helping support proper hair growth and reducing hair loss.
• Reduced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is linked to a deficiency in pantothenic acid. Studies suggest that supplementing with vitamin B5 may help alleviate the symptoms of this autoimmune disorder.
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, pantothenic acid may also help maintain good eye health, proper liver function and a healthy nervous system.
Studies Focus on the Effects of Pantothenic Acid Deficiency
Considering the abundance of pantothenic acid in different food sources, it’s not surprising that researchers are probing into the clinical effects of vitamin B5 deficiency.
In one study, participants were given low pantothenic acid diets to induce vitamin B5 deficiency, while another study involved the administration of a pantothenic acid metabolic antagonist. The results of these studies show that low levels of pantothenic acid in the body may indeed cause adverse effects, including gastrointestinal complaints and neurobiological symptoms.
Another study published in the American Journal of Medicine shows that low levels of pantothenic acid are responsible for burning feet syndrome, which was common in Asia during World War II. Other forms of vitamin B were tested to treat this syndrome, but only vitamin B5 proved to be effective.13
These studies underscore the importance of pantothenic acid for supporting good health, so make sure that you increase your body’s levels of it through a well-balanced diet or a dietary supplement.
What’s the Adequate Dosage for Pantothenic Acid?
Unlike other vitamins, pantothenic acid does not have a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). However, physicians do recommend a daily Adequate Intake (AI) for this vitamin, which is usually 5 milligrams (mg) for adults and 6 mg for pregnant and/or lactating women. You may also be prescribed a different dosage depending on your age, weight and health condition.14
Overdosing is not a major concern for pantothenic acid, as excess amounts of it are usually filtered by the body and flushed out through urination. This doesn’t mean that it’s OK to take it in high doses, though, since doing so may still put you at risk of side effects.15 To avoid overdosing, make sure that you consult your physician before taking pantothenic acid.
Take Note of the Side Effects and Possible Interactions of Pantothenic Acid
Pantothenic acid is generally safe, but when taken in very high doses, it may cause diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, fluid retention and joint pain.16 Plus, it may put you at risk of bleeding, so make sure that you do not exceed the daily AI without the supervision of a medical professional.
This vitamin may also interact with other medications, including blood-thinning drugs, antibiotics and medications for Alzheimer’s disease. In case you’re prescribed with any of the mentioned medicines, consult your doctor before you start supplementing with pantothenic acid.17
Don’t Forget to Balance the Other B Vitamins Too
Keep in mind that the B vitamins work hand in hand to support your overall well-being. Each of them plays a key role in your metabolism, energy production and other physiological processes. If you’re low in one these B vitamins, the efficiency of the others may also be compromised.
Unfortunately, taking pantothenic acid on its own for a long period of time may cause an imbalance of other valuable B vitamins. This is exactly why I encourage you to obtain the entire B complex of vitamins through your diet. If you’re planning to take a dietary supplement, it’s best to take a vitamin B complex instead of individual B vitamins.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Pantothenic Acid
Q: What does pantothenic acid do?
A: Pantothenic acid supports a variety of important body functions, such as:18
• Converting fats and carbohydrates into energy
• Synthesizing cholesterol and coenzyme A
• Producing red blood cells
• Producing sex and stress-related hormones
• Assisting the metabolism of other vitamins
Q: Is pantethine the same as pantothenic acid?
A: While both pantethine and pantothenic acid are sold as dietary supplements, it’s important to note that they are not the same. Pantethine is only a derivative of pantothenic acid and is therefore not a vitamin.19
Q: How much pantothenic acid is too much?
A: Taking 10 to 20 mg of pantothenic acid per day is considered excessive, and may cause diarrhea. Keep in mind that the daily adequate intake for this vitamin is only 5 mg for adults and up to 6 mg for pregnant and breastfeeding women.20
Q: What are the health benefits of pantothenic acid?
A: Having adequate levels of pantothenic acid may help maintain a healthy digestive system, lower bad cholesterol levels, alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, support wound healing, and enhance skin and hair health. As with other B vitamins, pantothenic acid is also good for maintaining normal eyesight, proper liver function and a healthy nervous system.21