Pantothenic acid (B5) is a water-soluble member of the B complex group of vitamins. It is also known as pantothenate and in some other countries, B3.
It has also been called an anti-stress vitamin because it is for anti-stress hormone production.
It is the naturally occurring constituent of the essential co-enzyme A, which is a highly active substance responsible for many important physiological functions in man. Pantothenic acid is a true vitamin because it is needed daily in the diet to maintain life and a healthy body.
Animals seem to have lost the ability to make this vitamin during their evolutionary process, making it necessary to obtain this nutrient regularly from food.
Once ingested, it is converted into an active co-enzyme, which cannot be made by any combination of chemical interaction within the body cells or tissues, although trace amounts are synthesised from friendly bacteria in the gut.
When isolated, pure pantothenic acid is a pale yellow viscous oil, soluble in water but sensitive to acids and heat.
A corresponding alcohol form (panthenol) is easily absorbed and readily converted to the more active acid form. This is used for the conversion to co-enzyme A and is required by the tissues and cells throughout the body.
The unpleasant acidic material used to provide pantothenic acid in supplement form is viscous and must be converted to a more stable form, calcium pantothenate. This is a white crystalline powder, which is acceptable to the body and retains all the original properties of the acid.
The actual proportion of active calcium in calcium pantothenate is very low, at 8.4% and this substance is of no use as a mineral supplement.
As the Greek origin of its name implies, pantothenic acid is available in all animal and plant tissue. Richest sources are brewer’s yeast, with 20 mg/100 grams and then liver, with 8 mg/100 grams.
Other good sources are:
- meat, poultry and fish (white and fatty)
- eggs, milk, cheese and yoghurt
- wholemeal bread, bran, wheatgerm, oats, maize and rice
- fresh citrus fruit and bananas
- dried fruit and nuts (fresh and roasted)
- potatoes, root vegetables, green leafy vegetables and pulses
- yeast extract
The ‘friendly’ bacteria that live and work happily in the human gut also provide a marginal source of material that can be converted into co-enzyme A. If that production is impaired by the use of antibiotics (which are destructive to any bacteria, friendly or not) a small but regular supply is lost.
intestinal tract. It is then converted into the active co-enzyme A within the tissues. Like other members of the B complex, pantothenic acid is water-soluble and must be obtained daily from the diet to ensure that good quantities of the nutrient are always available in the body.
It is not stored in the body, although small amounts of the nutrient can be found in the gut where it has been produced by friendly bacteria. On average, a minimum of 5 – 6 mg pantothenic acid is excreted from the body via the urinary tract.
Although this important nutrient is widely available in many different types of food, like most other vitamins, it is vulnerable to cooking and processing.
Processing white flour from wholegrain wheat completely destroys its B5 content. Roasting meat can cause up to 40% loss of the nutrient. If meat or poultry is frozen B5 and many other nutrients are also lost in the thawing process.
Being water-soluble, B5 can be lost during soaking, boiling and stewing. The water that is used for these purposes contains the leached off nutrients and can be used for gravy or sauces.
Acid and alkaline conditions during cooking are particularly damaging for pantothenic acid, so vinegar and sodium bicarbonate, for example, should be avoided to retain maximum levels of the nutrient.
No specific deficiency symptoms in man have been directly associated with pantothenic acid apart from the ‘burning feet’ syndrome. Symptoms include aching, throbbing feet that feel burning hot, sometimes progressing to stabbing sharp pain in the lower legs which spreads upwards to the knees. This unpleasant condition responds to supplementation with pantothenic acid.
It is thought that all other deficiency signs associated with vitamin B5 depletion may be partly due to poor dietary standards and general vitamin depletion.
Studies with human volunteers on pantothenic acid exclusion diets have documented the following physical symptoms:
- loss of appetite
- mild abdominal pain
- respiratory infections
- arm and leg cramps
Mental signs include:
Alcoholics are particularly prone to B5 deficiency, along with other B complex vitamins.
Pyridoxine (B6) is required for the production of anti-stress hormones and where the glands are involved in supplying corticosteroids to help control arthritis.
When the adrenal glands are involved with production of corticosteroids (cortisone), vitamin C is also required in fairly large amounts to prevent depletion of the gland.
Pantothenic acid is linked with the utilisation of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) as a co-enzyme involved with the release of energy from fats, carbohydrates and protein.