Pantothenic acid, aka vitamin B5, is part of the pantheon of B vitamins found in your average multivitamin or B complex formula. What makes it unique, what does it do in your body, and what are its natural food sources? We have all of these answers and more.
What Is Pantothenic Acid?
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) is a water-soluble vitamin needed for the synthesis of coenzyme A in the body, which is vital to the activity of several proteins like the acyl-carrier protein needed for fatty acid synthesis. Long story short, pantothenic acid is vital to all forms of life and is found everywhere, in both animal and plant foods. For this reason a pantothenic acid deficiency is very rare (but we’ll discuss that in the next section).
As far as medicinal applications of pantothenic acid, it may help to heal skin wounds and lower cholesterol levels (with its derivative, high-dose pantethine), and it has shown no toxicity when taken as a dietary supplement.
The Symptoms of Pantothenic Acid Deficiency
Deficiencies in pantothenic acid are incredibly rare, and when seen they are usually associated with severe malnutrition, as in cases of prisoners of war from World War II who experienced numbness and burning pain in their feet, symptoms which were only alleviated by vitamin B5 supplements. If you suspect a malabsorption disorder that might be causing a pantothenic acid deficiency, seek medical advice from a health care provider immediately.
The symptoms of pantothenic or vitamin B5 deficiency are:
- Nausea or stomach pains
- Sleep disorders
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Muscle cramps
- Burning feet
- Upper respiratory tract infections
The Food and Nutrition Board of the United States Institute of Medicine suggests that an adequate intake of pantothenic acid for adults is at least 5 milligrams per day. As this vitamin is in just about everything we eat, there are nearly endless food sources to choose from (we’ve included a list below).
What Does Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) Do?
As one of the eight B vitamins our body uses to convert the food we eat (carbs, fats, and proteins) into energy, pantothenic acid contributes to the health of our:
- Nervous system and liver functioning
- Eyes, skin, and hair
- Digestive tract functioning
- Red blood cell creation (needed for oxygen transport)
- Hormone production
Curious about the other B vitamins? Here is a more specific breakdown of the eight B vitamins:
- Thiamin (vitamin B1): Thiamin converts glucose (sugar) to energy and aids in nerve function. Found in high concentration in whole grains, a thiamin deficiency is usually seen in areas where white rice is a dietary staple.
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): Also involved in energy production, riboflavin plays a role in skin and vision health. Located in dairy foods like yogurt and cottage cheese, it’s also in leafy green veggies, organ meats, yeast, and eggs. Riboflavin deficiency is very rare.
- Niacin (vitamin B3): Used in converting fat, carbs, and alcohol into energy, niacin also supports healthy skin and digestion. Found in grains, meats, and nuts, large doses of niacin can cause drug-like adverse effects, including itching, nausea, or liver damage. Deficiency is most commonly caused by overconsumption of alcohol.
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): Used in metabolizing macronutrients like carbs, fats, and protein into energy, pantothenic acid also works to produce our red blood cells and steroidal hormones. Found widespread in organic foods, deficiency is very rare, but can cause intestinal distress and exhaustion.
- Pyridoxine (vitamin B6): Pyridoxine contributes to metabolism, red blood cell formation, brain formation, and immune functioning, and is found in meats, nuts, and fruits. Women on birth control pills, heavy drinkers, the elderly, and those with thyroid disease are more susceptible to a B6 deficiency.
- Biotin (vitamin B7): Required for fat synthesis and amino acid metabolism (needed for new muscle growth), biotin can be found in egg yolks, peanuts, cauliflower, mushrooms, and poultry, making deficiency rare.
- Folate (vitamin B9): Also known as folic acid when listed in supplements for pregnant women, folate is extremely necessary to fetal development, and is recommended for breastfeeding women as well. Folic acid is fortified in most baking flours and cereals, and naturally found in legumes, poultry, and leafy green vegetables.
- Cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12): Needed for brain functioning, metabolism, and red blood cell creation, B12 works closely with folate. Found largely in animal products, deficiency is most common in vegans and the breastfed babies of vegan mothers. Side effects of a deficiency include vision loss, heart palpitations, fatigue, depression, and memory loss.
Without pantothenic acid and the rest of our B complex vitamins, human functioning grinds to a halt, so which foods are good sources of vitamin B5?
The Best Food Sources of Pantothenic Acid
The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that adults and children over 4 years old consume 10 milligrams of pantothenic acid each day—this is the recommended daily intake amount as opposed to the adequate minimum of 5 milligrams. Food sources of pantothenic acid are abundant and include:
- Animal meats (fish, shellfish, red meat, and poultry)
- Organ meats (liver and kidney)
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, and Greek yogurt)
- Legumes (beans, peas, and lentils)
- Sweet potatoes
- Cruciferous veggies (from the cabbage family)
- Whole-grain cereals
- Nuts and seeds (walnuts, cashews, and sunflower seeds)
Medicinal Uses of Pantothenic Acid
Because dietary intake of pantothenic acid is needed every day for healthy human functioning, oral medicinal uses of pantothenic acid include a wide array of ailments and conditions. Those include:
- Skin conditions like acne, eczema, dandruff, diaper rash, poison ivy, and wound healing
- Mental and mood disorders like ADHD, insomnia, depression, and irritability
- Digestive issues such as colitis and celiac disease
- Nerve disorders like neuralgia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis
- Diabetic nerve pain, leg cramps, and low blood sugar
- Heart failure, low blood pressure, headaches, and dizziness
- Genetic and autoimmune diseases like muscular dystrophy and rheumatoid arthritis
- Yeast infections, cystitis, premenstrual syndrome, and enlarged prostate
- Various other conditions like alcoholism, baldness, asthma, allergies, convulsions, carpal tunnel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome
Be Fine with B5
Pantothenic acid is one-eighth of the battalion of B vitamins we need for daily life and overall health. It’s in such a wide variety of foods that deficiencies are almost unheard of. On the other hand, extra oral supplementation of vitamin B5 has been used to help treat a variety of ailments, and could help you as well.