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Pantothenic acid, also called vitamin B5, belongs to the group of B-complex water-soluble vitamins. Every living organism needs pantothenic acid to survive. Humans do not make this vitamin and must obtain it from the food they eat.
Pantothenic acid is essential to all cells. It helps regulate the chemical reactions that produce energy from the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. It is also involved in the synthesis of cholesterol, some fatty acids, and some steroid hormones.
Pantothenic acid was discovered in 1936 and soon afterward was recognized as a vitamin essential to growth. Pantothenic acid is found in all living things. Its name is derived from the Greek word ‘pantos,’ which means ‘everywhere.’
Pantothenic acid joins with another molecule to form coenzyme A (CoA). Coenzymes are small molecules that regulate enzyme reactions. CoA is involved in many essential metabolic reactions that produce energy and synthesize new molecules. Without pantothenic acid, there would be no CoA, and life would cease. Some of the activities that require CoA, and thus indirectly pantothenic acid, include:
- converting fats, carbohydrates, and proteins from food into energy that the body can use
- synthesizing heme, the molecule in red blood cells that picks up oxygen in the lung and carries it throughout the body
- synthesizing essential fatty acids, cholesterol, and steroid hormones needed to build new cells
- synthesizing acetylcholine, a neuro transmitter that carries electrical impulses between nerve cells
- stimulating chemical reactions in the liver that help rid the body of certain drugs and toxins (poisons).
Pantothenic acid is available in multivitamins, B-complex vitamins, and as a single-ingredient dietary supplement. Often pantothenic acid is found in dietary supplements in the form of calcium pantothenate or dexopanthenol, both more stable forms of pantothenic acid that the body can use. Diet supplement manufacturers suggest that pantothenic acid can treat or prevent certain health conditions. None of these uses have been proved by independent, well-controlled
(Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale.)
research studies. Some of the unsubstantiated uses for which the dietary supplement pantothenic acid is advertised include:
- stimulating wound healing
- improving athletic performance
- lowering cholesterol
- preventing osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
As of 2007, very few clinical trials were underway involving pantothenic acid. Individuals interested in participating in a clinical trial at no cost can check for new trials at <http://www.clinicaltrialsgov>.
Normal pantothenic acid requirements
The United States Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences has developed values called Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for vitamins and minerals. The DRIs consist of three sets of numbers. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) defines the average daily amount of the nutrient needed to meet the health needs of 97-98% of the population. The Adequate Intake (AI) is an estimate set when there is not enough information to determine an RDA. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is the average maximum amount that can be taken daily without risking negative side effects. The DRIs are calculated for children, adult men, adult women, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women.
The IOM has not set RDA values for pantothenic acid because of incomplete scientific information. Instead, it has set AI levels for all age groups. AI levels for pantothenic acid are measured by weight (milligrams or mg). No UL levels have been set for this vitamin because large doses of pantothenic acid do not appear to cause any side effects.
The following are the daily AIs of pantothenic acid for healthy individuals:
- children birth-6 months: 1.7 mg
- children 7-12 months: 1.8 mg
- children 1-3 years: 2 mg
- children 4-8 years: 3 mg
- children 9-13 years: 4 mg
- children 14-18 years: 5 mg
- adults age 19 and older: 5 mg
- pregnant women: 6 mg
- breastfeeding women: 7 mg
Sources of pantothenic acid
Pantothenic acid is found small quantities in a wide variety of foods. Good sources include liver, kidney, fish, shellfish, egg yolk, broccoli, lentils, and mushrooms. Pantothenic acid is unstable. Much of it is lost during cooking, canning, freezing, and processing. Frozen meats and processed grains, for example, can lose up to half their pantothenic acid content.
The following list gives the approximate pantothenic acid content of some common foods.
- liver, beef, cooked, 3.5 ounces: 5.3 mg
- chicken, dark meat, cooked 3.5 ounces: 1.3 mg
- chicken, light meat, cooked 3.5 ounces: 1.0 mg
- salmon, baked, 3.5 ounces: 1.4 mg
- tuna, canned, 3 ounces: .18 mg
- egg, 1 large, cooked: .61 mg
- milk, nonfat, 1 cup: .80 mg
- yogurt, 8 ounces: 1.35 mg
- broccoli, steamed, 1/2 cup: .40 mg
- sweet potato, cooked 1/2 cup: .68 mg
- lentils, cooked, 1/2 cup: .64 mg
- corn, cooked 1/2 cup: .72
- bread, whole wheat, 1 slice: .16 mg
Pantothenic acid deficiency
Pantothenic acid deficiency is so rare that it has only been seen in humans in severely malnourished prisoners of war in Asia after World War II and in research volunteers who were given a pantothenic-free diet. The main symptoms these groups experienced were burning, tingling, and numbness in the feet and fatigue. This symptoms disappeared when pantothenic acid was added to their diet.
Large doses of pantothenic acid taken over a long period are well tolerated. The only negative side effect reported is mild diarrhea.
There are no known interactions between pantothenic acid and drugs or herbal supplements. Using oral contraceptives may mildly increase the body’s need for pantothenic acid.
No complications are expected related to pantothenic acid. Deficiency occurs only with severe starvation. Excess intake is well tolerated.
Parents should have few concerns about pantothenic acid. Healthy children get enough of this vitamin in their diet and are unlikely to need or benefit from supplementation.
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Tish Davidson, A.M.