Pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, is a member of the water-soluble B vitamin family. It is an essential ingredient of two substances, coenzyme A and acyl carrier protein, which are needed to metabolize carbohydrates and fats. The same coenzymes play a part in production of certain hormones, vitamin D, red blood cells, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Pantothenic acid is necessary for proper growth and development. Studies of Mexican infants whose diets are deficient in micronutrients have shown that those who receive dietary supplements containing pantothenic acid do not show the growth retardation that appears in control groups.
There is not an RDA for pantothenic acid, since deficiency is not known to occur in normal circumstances. Although a daily intake is required for good health, some of this vitamin is found in nearly every food. The standard for the minimum amount of pantothenic acid is the Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Dietary Intake. That value is 2 mg for infants less than six months old, 3 mg for infants six to 12 months old and children one to three years old, 3–4 mg for children four to six years old, 4–5 mg for children seven to 10 years old, and 4–7 mg for everyone over 11 years of age. This recommended intake is a minimal amount necessary to prevent deficiency, and may not be the optimal amount needed for good health.
Pantothenic acid and pantethine are both available as supplements, and do appear to function somewhat differently. Pantethine can be used to lower serum cholesterol and triglycerides. It is more expensive and less effective than using niacin (vitamin B3) for the same purpose, but does not have the potential side effects that niacin does. Generally a dose of 300 mg taken three times a day is recommended for this purpose. Pantethine may be a good cholesterol-lowering alternative for people with diabetes, who cannot take niacin due to the potential side effects on blood sugar regulation. Taking supplements of pantothenic acid does not affect cholesterol, as in this form it is immediately converted into coenzymes.
One very small study indicated that large daily doses of pantothenic acid (2 g of calcium pantothenate) were helpful to relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Consult a healthcare provider regarding use of supplements for this purpose.
Panthenol is a derivative of pantothenic acid and is frequently an ingredient of shampoos and other hair care products. Experiments with rats have shown that a deficiency of pantothenic acid can cause hair to turn gray and fall out. Neither oral nor topical use of any form of pantothenic acid has been shown to prevent or treat gray hair or balding in humans. Some skin care products contain another form of pantothenic acid, called panthoderm, which may be helpful in treatment of minor skin injuries.
Other claims for pantothenic acid that remain unproven are that it improves immune function, decreases allergies, and acts as an anti-aging substance.
Judith Turner, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,