The Concise Guide to Vitamin B5: Why You Need It and Where to Find It

Christina Neagu August 16, 2018

Also known as pantothenic acid, vitamin B5 is an essential nutrient for human health. The name “pantothenic acid” comes from the Greek word “pantothen,” which means “everywhere.” And, indeed, vitamin B5 is nearly everywhere around you. Most of the foods you eat have a certain amount of pantothenic acid. That’s because this nutrient is essential for all forms of life, so it’s present in almost all plants and animals.

The human body needs vitamin B5 for many processes. In essence, this vitamin helps the body turn food into energy.

Let’s learn more about the role of this essential nutrient in the body and discover which foods are rich in pantothenic acid and how much of it you need per day.

What Is Vitamin B5?

Pantothenic acid is a type of vitamin B. The other vitamins in the B-complex group are

  • B1 (thiamin),
  • B2 (riboflavin),
  • B3 (niacin),
  • B6,
  • B7 (biotin),
  • folic acid, and
  • vitamin B12.

You need a small number of vitamins to stay healthy. The body can’t produce vitamins, so you need to get them from food or supplements. If you lack a vitamin, you may become vitamin deficient, and vitamin deficiency can cause disease.

There are two types of vitamins: water soluble and fat soluble. Vitamin B5 is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning it dissolves in water, and the body easily absorbs it. However, the body doesn’t store vitamin B5, so you need to take it every day.

As a chemical substance, pantothenic acid is an unstable, hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air) and viscous (thick and sticky) oil that dissolves in water.

Most of the pantothenic acid in your diet is in the form of coenzyme A or phosphopantetheine. The digestive enzymes in the intestine transform coenzyme A and phosphopantetheine into pantothenic acid. Also, the bacteria in your gut produce some pantothenic acid. Then, from the intestine, this acid reaches the bloodstream. The blood carries it throughout the body. In the tissues, however, most pantothenic acid is in the form of coenzyme A.

Though pantothenic acid is the name doctors, pharmacists and researchers commonly use to refer to vitamin B5, it has many other names. These include the following:

  • Calcium D-pantothenate
  • Calcium pantothenate
  • D-calcium pantothenate
  • D-panthenol
  • D-pantothenic acid
  • D-pantothenyl alcohol
  • Dexpanthenol
  • Panthenol

The Role of Vitamin B5 in the Body

Pantothenic acid is essential in human metabolism. Metabolism refers to the chemical reactions in our body that keep us alive and provide energy.

Specifically, pantothenic acid helps the body synthesize coenzyme A, which is essential in many biochemical reactions. The body needs coenzyme A, and its derivatives, to break up the fat, carbohydrates and proteins in food and produce energy. Coenzyme A also helps the body make essential fats, steroid hormones, vitamin A and vitamin D, neurotransmitters, melatonin, and a component of the blood. In addition, coenzyme A helps protect the body’s cells from damage.

As well as being essential for most metabolic processes, vitamin B5 may play other important roles in the body. Research studies have suggested that pantothenic acid might be useful in the treatment of a number of medical conditions. But, according to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, pantothenic acid is not recognized as a treatment for any disease. Despite this, some doctors prescribe this vitamin for alopecia, osteoarthritis, psychiatric diseases, diabetic neuropathy and many other conditions.

Here is a summary of some research studies that have investigated the use of pantothenic acid in the treatment of medical conditions.

  • Some studies have suggested that pantothenic acid might help skin wounds heal faster, though researchers need more work to be sure.
  • Other studies have provided some evidence that a derivative of vitamin B5, pantethine, can lower cholesterol. As pantethine is not a vitamin, you can’t take it from supplements. Only doctors can prescribe it. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, researchers need more studies to gather evidence that pantethine can reduce cholesterol.
  • Studies on mice that were vitamin B5 deficient have shown that pantothenic acid could reverse graying of the fur. Unfortunately, in humans, there’s no evidence that vitamin B5 supplements could prevent graying of the hair or restore the natural hair color.
  • A study published in 2014 suggests that taking vitamin B5 supplements may help reduce acne.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there is some evidence that pantothenic acid could be used to treat several conditions, but the evidence is insufficient so far. Some studies say vitamin B5 in combination with other vitamins could be used to treat ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder), but other studies don’t agree. In addition, some research suggests that taking a chemical similar to pantothenic acid, called dexpanthenol, could help treat constipation. The same substance might be useful for reducing eye pain after some type of eye surgery, as well as alleviating sore throat after surgery.

No matter if future research will confirm that vitamin B5 can treat some diseases or not, this vitamin is essential because it keeps us alive. It plays a vital role in the conversion of food into energy, as well as in fat metabolism, the production of hormones, the functioning of the nervous system and the formation of red blood cells.

Symptoms of Vitamin B5 Deficiency

As its name suggests, pantothenic acid is in almost all foods. It is present naturally in both animal- and plant-derived foods, as well as in fortified foods (like breakfast cereals). This means that if you have a balanced diet, you’re probably getting enough vitamin B5 to fulfill your dietary needs.

According to the National Institutes of Health, most people in the United States get enough vitamin B5 from their food. They get about 6 milligrams a day, which is an adequate amount in general. But this is only an estimate, because there’s not enough data on pantothenic acid intake in the U.S.

Vitamin B5 deficiency in the United States is very rare. Doctors have observed it in severe cases of malnutrition, as well as in certain studies where the participants received semisynthetic diets that lacked this vitamin.

As well as extreme malnutrition, the other cause of vitamin B5 deficiency is a rare genetic mutation that leads to an inherited disorder called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration (PKAN).

The symptoms of vitamin B5 deficiency include the following:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tingling in the hands and feet

The Adequate Daily Intake of Vitamin B5

For all vitamins and essential nutrients, the Food and Nutrition Board sets the intake recommendations.

The RDA, or recommended dietary allowance, for a vitamin is how much of a vitamin the majority of healthy people need per day to meet their nutrient requirements.

When there’s not enough evidence to define the RDA for a vitamin, the Food and Nutrition Board uses the value of adequate intake (AI). The AI is the amount that should be right for most people.

The Food and Nutrition Board hasn’t defined an RDA for vitamin B5, but only the values of AI:

  • The adequate intake of vitamin B5 is 5 milligrams a day for teenagers (14–18 years) and adults (19–70 years).
  • Infants (birth to 12 months) need much less vitamin B5 than adults, between 1.7 and 1.8 milligrams a day, depending on age.
  • Children (1–13 years) need between 2 and 4 milligrams a day. The amount increases with age.
  • Pregnant women need 6 milligrams a day, while mothers who are breastfeeding need 7 milligrams a day.

What happens if you take more pantothenic acid than you need? If you are a healthy adult, you’ll most likely experience no negative effects. Vitamin B5 is safe for the majority of people. Amounts as high as 10 grams a day (that’s 2,000 times the adequate daily intake for adults!) seem to be safe for some people. If you take more than that amount, you might get diarrhea.

How to Get Vitamin B5

You can get this vitamin from food and dietary supplements.

Food

Pantothenic acid is naturally present in almost all foods. But not all are equally rich in this vitamin. Here is the amount of vitamin B5 (in milligrams, mg) in some foods:

  • Beef liver (3 ounces): 8.3 mg
  • Avocado: 2 mg
  • Sunflower seeds (1/4 cup): 2.4 mg
  • Chicken breast (3 ounces): 1.3 mg
  • Fresh tuna (3 ounces): 1.2 mg
  • Egg (one): 0.7 mg
  • Oats (1/2 cup): 0.4 mg

Other foods rich in vitamin B5 include the following:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Mushrooms
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Dairy products
  • Whole grains
  • Shellfish
  • Nuts

To find out the pantothenic acid content of other foods in your diet, check USDA’s Food Composition Databases.

Fortified Foods

Various fortified foods — from breakfast cereals to energy bars and drinks — have high amounts of vitamin B5. For example, some energy bars can have as much as 18 milligrams of B5 per serving. That’s almost four times the adequate daily intake for adults. Also, some energy drinks can have 10 milligrams of this vitamin per serving.

Vitamin B5 Supplements

Vitamin B5 is present in vitamin B5, B-complex vitamin, and some multivitamin supplements.

If you have a balanced diet, eat fortified foods and take multivitamin supplements, you might get more vitamin B5 than you need. But, as mentioned above, this vitamin is safe even in greater amounts than the adequate intake recommended. There are two main reasons why.

First, your body absorbs only about half of all the pantothenic acid you get from food.

Second, you might not get as much vitamin B5 as you think. Though most plant- and animal-sourced food contains this vitamin, food processing destroys a large part of it. For example, whole grain refining and processing can destroy between one-third and three-quarters of all vitamin B5 in whole grains. Also, freezing and canning result in a similar loss of this vitamin. So, if you eat a lot of processed, canned or frozen food, the amount of vitamin B5 you get will be lower than if you ate more fresh food.

Getting more vitamin B5 than you need is unlikely to be dangerous for your health. If you ingest more vitamin B5 than the body can use, your body will keep only the amount it needs and eliminate the rest.

How much vitamin B5 is too much is not clear. MedlinePlus says taking up to 10 milligrams a day as supplements is safe. Even a dose as large as 10 grams a day shouldn’t be bad for you. According to British NHS, the amount you shouldn’t exceed is 200 milligrams a day. As you see, recommendations vary, so avoid taking excessive doses of vitamin B5.

Summary and Conclusion

Pantothenic acid — or vitamin B5 — is a water-soluble vitamin. The body uses this essential nutrient to produce coenzyme A. This coenzyme plays a role in many biochemical reactions that keep our body alive.

Pantothenic acid is essential for almost all forms of plant and animal life. It is naturally present in most foods, so vitamin B5 deficiency is very rare. Only those with severe malnutrition or with a certain genetic disease might become vitamin B5 deficient.

The Food and Nutrition Board has set the adequate intake of vitamin B5 at 5 milligrams per day for adults. For children, as well as for expecting or breastfeeding mothers, the amount varies. Most Americans get about 6 milligrams a day from their food (according to estimates), which is enough.

If you regularly eat fortified foods and take supplements with vitamin B5, you might get more pantothenic acid than you need. But even in higher amounts, this vitamin is safe for you. That’s why the Food and Nutrition Board hasn’t set a tolerable upper intake level for vitamin B5, as it did for other substances, like boron. (The tolerable upper intake level is the maximum amount per day that is safe for you.)

Vitamin B5 is essential for life, but the body can’t store this vitamin. You need to take it every day, whether from food or supplements.

Christina Neagu
Christina Neagu
Cristina has a passion for science communication, nature, and wellness. Before becoming a professional editor and writer in 2012, she worked as an academic researcher for seven years and earned a PhD in earth sciences from Cardiff University, UK. When she's away from her desk, she likes to cycle, go for long walks, and visit all corners of Europe.
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The Ultimate Vitamin and Mineral Guide
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