Vitamin B5: It's Everywhere, It's Everywhere!
by Don V. Richards
Vitamin B5 is a lot like that fictional superhero "Chickenman," whose on-the-air slogan was "He's everywhere, he's everywhere!" Vitamin B5 is also called pantothenic acid. The word "pantothenic" comes from the Greek "pantothen," meaning "from everywhere." That's a reference to the fact that small quantities of Vitamin B5 are found in almost every food.
That's good news because Vitamin B5 is an essential nutrient - that is, it's absolutely necessary for life itself. It's believed by some scientists that Vitamin B5 supplementation can help reduce stress and anxiety, speed wound healing, and help with arthritis pain. Some research supports these claims, but some does not. Studies are ongoing.
Vitamin B5 is necessary, like the other B vitamins, for the conversion of food substances - fats, proteins, and carbohydrates -- into fuel and energy for your cells. Unless this process takes place, you'll die. Vitamin B5 is also a necessary component of Coenzyme A, itself needed for this same process. Coenzyme A is also an essential component in the body's synthesis of essential fats, certain neurotransmitters (chemicals needed for nervous system functioning), melatonin (needed for healthy sleep), and hemoglobin (an essential ingredient of red blood cells).
Pantothenic acid is water soluble instead of fat soluble, so it cannot be stored by the body - and any amount that isn't immediately used is excreted in the urine. It also cannot be synthesized by the body - so an intake of B5 is necessary on a regular basis for all of us just for normal health.
Vitamin B5 deficiency is very rare because the vitamin can be naturally found in so many foods. But B5 deficiency disease can occur in cases when diets are very poor. Pantothenic acid deficiency was known among prisoners of the Japanese during World War 2 in Japan, Burma, and the Philippines, for example. Sufferers reported symptoms of tingling and and burning sensations in the feet, accompanied by a general numbness. Participants in a modern study designed to test for pantothenic acid deficiency reported insomnia, gastrointestinal pain, headache, fatigue, numbness, and tingling of the extremities. The cure is simple: Restore a normal level of Vitamin B5 by administering supplements or changing the diet.
Pantothenic acid has been shown in animal tests to speed wound healing, and it had a similar effect on cultured human skin cells in the laboratory when those cells were given an artificial wound - it caused more new skin cells to migrate, and also increased the speed of their migration, and both effects are likely to lower wound healing times. However, the results haven't been replicated in human studies yet, so more research is needed.
One study found that application of pantothenic acid reversed hair graying in laboratory rats. As a result, many soap companies started to incorporate B5, or one of its derivatives, in their shampoos. But there's no evidence yet that the nutrient has a similar effect on human beings.
Vitamin B5 also is a critical ingredient for the the body's synthesis of red blood cells, sex hormones, and stress-related hormones. Pantothenic acid is also needed for proper functioning of the human digestive tract. Without Vitamin B5, the body cannot optimally utilize Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), another necessary nutrient in the B complex family.
A Vitamin B5 derivative called pantethine has been shown by several studies to bother lower the levels of "bad" cholesterol and raise the levels of "good" cholesterol in the human bloodstream. 300 mg of pantethine, taken three times a day for a total of 900 mg daily, was found significantly more effective than a placebo in these tests. Pantethine was also tested on diabetic patients undergoing hemodyalisis with similar beneficial effects, and no negative side effects were noted.
Some studies suggest that a lack of pantothenic acid might cause some of the painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It was discovered that people with the disease had lower levels of Vitamin B5 in their bloodstreams than non-sufferers, and those with the least pantothenic acid had the worst symptoms. Research in 1980 showed that 2,000 mg of a type of Vitamin B5 called calcium pantothenate gave relief from arthritis symptoms. Studies continue in this area.
Pantothenic acid is part of the B complex family of vitamins. When supplementing with Vitamin B5, it's a good idea to take a B complex supplement instead of just Vitamin B5 on its own. It's believed that there is a synergistic effect with the B complex vitamins, in which the total benefits exceed the sum of the benefits of each individual vitamin. Get them seriously out of balance, and you won't get the full effect.
The recommended daily dosage of Vitamin B5 for adults is 5 mg for adults, 6 mg for pregnant women, and 7 mg for breastfeeding women. But remember, some of the special benefits discussed above only kick in with doses somewhat larger than the minimums. But extremely high doses can trigger diarrhea and may increase the danger of bleeding due to other injuries.
You should be able to get enough Vitamin B5 without supplementation just by eating a varied, healthy diet. Foods rich in pantothenic acid include milk, yogurt, legumes, mushrooms, yeast, egg yolk, broccoli, liver, kidney, fish, shellfish, royal jelly, chicken, avocado, and sweet potatoes, along with whole grains - but remember that highly processed grains, like white bread, and canned foods, have less of the nutrient, in some cases 75 percent less.
If you do want to supplement, you should know that there is no established toxic dose for Vitamin B5 -- as no deaths due to pantothenic acid overdose are known to science. Long before toxicity could be reached, other symptoms arise and essentially warn the subject that he's had enough of the nutrient. At 10,000 to 20,000 mg per day, diarrhea generally occurs, and nausea and heartburn have also been noted at unusually high doses. Supplementation even at 1,200 mg per day is "generally well tolerated," according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
One warning, though: If you suffer from hemophilia, you probably shouldn't take Vitamin B5 supplements. It's possible that the vitamin will make it take even longer for bleeding to stop, should you become injured. As always in such cases, even if you're just a little bit unsure, consult a trusted physician.
Living in the 21st century has some disadvantages - our food is often highly processed and unhealthy, for example - but there's never been a time before now when people had such easy access to so much health information. Take advantage of the Information Age - read, learn, and take charge of your own diet and your own health today.
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