Pantothenic acid is sometimes known as vitamin B5, and it is part of the B vitamin complex. These are all water soluble chemicals, which means that they cannot be stored in the body for future use. As a result, it is necessary to meet the recommended daily intake of both pantothenic acid and the other B vitamins every day. Unlike many vitamins, pantothenic acid is actually found in an extremely wide variety of foods, making a deficiency very unlikely to occur. It is actually present in both meats (the richest sources) and vegetables, which means that the majority of people should be able to meet the daily requirement without any trouble.
However, in rare cases it is possible to develop a pantothenic acid deficiency. This can occur during pregnancy, when the requirement for most nutrients is higher, but also in some other situations. People who consume large volumes of alcohol are unlikely to absorb enough of the vitamins and nutrients that they need for the body to continue functioning correctly. If you are suffering from a condition that affects the digestive system, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or irritable bowel syndrome, then this will also affect the absorption of your digested food and can lead to a range of deficiencies, including pantothenic acid. The symptoms of pantothenic acid deficiency include:
- Fatigue. Pantothenic acid is used by the body to make a little known substance called coenzyme A. While you are unlikely to have heard of this unless you have studied advanced biology, it is an extremely important chemical. Your body cells break down sugars to release energy in a process called respiration, and coenzyme A is one of the substances that is needed for this process to occur. Without pantothenic acid, you will not be able to produce coenzyme A, and therefore you will be short of energy, leading to the onset of fatigue. Fatigue often leads to disinterest in what is going on around you, and a general feeling of apathy.
- Insomnia. Insomnia usually results from high levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, being present in the blood. When there is a regular intake of pantothenic acid, it helps to reduce the level of cortisol and other related hormones, meaning that you are able to deal with the stress more effectively, and often feel calmer as a result. This is an important regulatory role of pantothenic acid, and not having the vitamin means that you will suffer from stress more easily. Insomnia, which will be the result, can lead to a wide range of other medical problems, particularly if it continues over a long period of time.
- Cramps and numbness. Pantothenic acid has a wide range of different functions within the body, one of which is the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Neurotransmitters are necessary for the nervous system to pass messages properly from one nerve cell to the next. This means that, without acetylcholine, nervous signals will not be transmitted, which leads to numbness, sensations such as pins and needles (which is known medically as paraesthesia) and problems with muscle contraction. Acetylcholine is widely found throughout the nervous system, which means that a regular supply of pantothenic acid is needed to synthesise the large amounts that are being used.
- High blood cholesterol. Pantothenic acid is one of the substances that help to control the level of cholesterol that is found in the blood. It does this in two main ways – it increases the amount of HDLs (high density lipoprotein, which is beneficial to the body) and reduces the LDLs (low density lipoproteins, which build up on the lining of the blood vessels and is one of the major contributing factors to heart disease). A deficiency of pantothenic acid means that there will be an increase in the amount of “bad” cholesterol present, which leads to a much greater risk of stroke and heart attack. In some cases, high cholesterol has actually been treated through the use of pantothenic acid.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. This is often considered to be the most severe form of arthritis, and it is a degenerative condition that affects joints throughout the body. It begins with pain, swelling and stiffness, and will generally progress, leading to deformities of the joints. Research has demonstrated that the majority of people who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis have lower than average concentrations of pantothenic acid in their blood. If the disease is partially caused by a deficiency in pantothenic acid, then simply increasing your intake of the substance could prevent its onset. Whether this deficiency is in fact the case is not yet established, but we do know that by increasing the intake of pantothenic acid, the symptoms can be reduced considerably.
- Hypoglycaemia. This is more commonly known as low blood sugar, and it usually occurs because the cells in the body are responding too strongly to insulin. This is the opposite problem to what is seen in type 2 diabetes, where the cells do not respond to the presence of the hormone. Pantothenic acid reduces the sensitivity of the insulin receptors slightly, which means that your blood glucose is maintained at a suitable level. If the blood glucose drops too low, a range of symptoms will be noticeable. These included sweating, shaking feelings of anxiety, and heart palpitations (changes in the heart rate). Hypoglycaemia can be extremely dangerous if left untreated, and having an adequate supply of pantothenic acid reduces the chances of it occurring.
Although the effects of pantothenic acid deficiency can be extremely severe, it is highly unlikely to occur because this is a vitamin that is found in the vast majority of foods. Simply following a healthy, balanced diet that has plenty of variety should be sufficient to prevent any deficiencies from developing.