Pantothenic acid is also known as vitamin B5, and it was first identified in 1933. It is part of the B vitamin complex, which are a group of similar chemicals that are often found together in foods, and carry out a wide range of functions within the body. B vitamins are water-soluble, and pantothenic acid is no exception. What this means is that it cannot be stored in the body, so it is necessary to maintain a regular intake of these substances in order to prevent the onset of a deficiency and the symptoms that could result from this.
Pantothenic acid has a wide range of functions within the body, most notably in the production of coenzyme A. While the vast majority of people will never have heard of this substance, it is actually extremely important in the breaking down of sugars to produce energy, a process that is known as respiration. This means that without a sufficient intake of pantothenic acid, you will find that tiredness, fatigue and a general lack of energy is likely to develop. So, although it is essential to have pantothenic acid as part of the diet, there are also a wide range of other benefits that this vitamin can offer you, when it is taken on a regular basis as part of the diet.
- Nutrient absorption from food. We have already seen that pantothenic acid is necessary for the conversion of food into energy, but it plays other roles in nutrient absorption too. It helps to maintain the health of the digestive system, which allows large molecules such as starch and proteins to be broken down into simple sugars and amino acids. These can then be absorbed into the bloodstream and used in a variety of reactions within the body. The presence of pantothenic acid in the diet also encourages a greater absorption of vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, all of which are needed to stay healthy.
- Production of substances in the body. Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, is an essential part of the reactions that synthesise an extremely wide range of substances. These include haemoglobin, which is the protein that is found in red blood cells and transports oxygen around the body. Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, are also synthesised in larger amounts when there is plenty of pantothenic acid present. This is important because these two neurotransmitters help to prevent the onset of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
- Improved immune system. When it comes to fighting off infections, you need to make sure that your immune system is strong enough to deal with any invading bacteria or viruses. Pantothenic acid strengthens the immune system, allowing it to work more effectively, which is especially useful if you have been experiencing a lot of stress recently. It helps to regulate the amount of the stress hormones, such as cortisol, bringing the levels down and helping you to feel better more quickly. The improvements to the immune system also mean that cuts and bruises will heal more rapidly.
- Heart health. If you are at all concerned about the rising cases of cardiovascular disease, which includes both heart attack and stroke, then you may want to think about increasing your intake of pantothenic acid. Research has shown that it lowers the overall level of cholesterol in the blood, which considerably reduces the risk, but it also raises the level of the good cholesterol. This means that it will be easier for you to maintain a healthy blood pressure and you are less likely to damage the lining of the arteries.
- Reduced acne. Acne is generally associated with teenagers, but it is still reasonably common among adults (especially women, because the changes in hormone levels that occur every month promote the development of spots). Pantothenic acid helps to break down the oils that block pores, and because it also increases the absorption of zinc, this will lead to improvements in the condition of the skin. Stress also plays a role in acne, which means that this vitamin reduces the symptoms of the condition both directly and indirectly.
Pantothenic acid deficiency is extremely rate, because it is found in almost every type of food, although admittedly in small amounts. Eating sufficient quantities to reach the recommended daily intake of this vitamin is very easy, since it is present in so many things. Meat is the richest source, but if you are vegetarian, you are able to obtain large quantities from wholegrain foods. However, you should try to choose varieties that have been processed as little as possible. This is because much of the pantothenic acid is found in the outer layers of the grains, which are often lost during the milling process. Many vegetables also contain this important nutrient, with foods such as broccoli and avocado being particularly rich sources.
Some multivitamin supplements contain pantothenic acid, although it is rare that supplementation would be needed, due to its natural abundance. When used as part of a supplement, it is generally in the form of pantothenol or calcium pantothenate. This is because these forms are more chemically stable and will last longer in tablet form.