Pantothenic acid also known as vitamin B5, is one of eight B vitamins that help convert food into energy. The name comes from the Greek word “pantos”, meaning “in all places”, because pantothenic acid is found in all living cells.
The best sources of vitamin B5 – as with so many of the B vitamins – are yeast, wheat germ and organ meats, but dairy, eggs, green vegetables, peas, and beans are also excellent. In addition, many breads and cereals are fortified with pantothenic acid, providing nutrition even for those on carbohydrate-restricted diets.
Pantothenic acid not only converts food into energy, but it helps synthesize HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) – which leads to the formation of sex and stress-related hormones like cortisol. It also helps reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. Vitamin B5 also aids in forming red blood cells, improves mental performance, and increases energy. In a few instances, pantothenic acid has been studied for its wound-healing abilities, and may in the future lead to pain and symptom relief for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Finally, pantothenic acid plays an important role in the body’s use of vitamin D in bone formation.
First isolated in 1933 then synthesized in 1940, pantothenic acid supplements (alone or in combination with other B vitamins) are recommended at the rate of between 3 and 12 milligrams (mg) per day, with 5 mg being the optimum. Individuals who may be lacking in pantothenic acid include heavy drinkers, women on birth control, people whose food intake is inadequate – i.e., the elderly, cancer treatment patients, and post-surgical patients, for example – and people whose digestive tracts don’t function properly (as in the case of inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD).
The symptoms of vitamin B5 deficiency include irritability, stomach distress, vomiting, exhaustion, insomnia, depression, burning feet and upper respiratory infections.
At very high doses, pantothenic acid may cause diarrhea and increase the risk of bleeding, from a wound or during surgery, for example. In addition, the possibility of pantothenic acid interacting with prescriptions means that users should consult their doctors.