What is pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 18 March 2015.
Tagged: healthy eating, metabolism, nutrition, vitamins

What is pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)?

Formerly known as vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is essential to almost all forms of life yet there is still much to discover in understanding this vitamin. It is not one of the ‘Big Four’ B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and is not used to fortify drinks or cereals so you won’t hear much about it even though it’s vital to good health and growth in children.

What does pantothenic acid do in the body?

Pantothenic acid is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrate, fat and protein for energy. It is needed for the production of key players in the body including:

  • Fatty acids
  • Amino acids
  • Vitamins A and D
  • Steroid hormones

How much pantothenic acid do I need?

The Adequate Intakes (*AIs) for pantothenic acid per day are:


1.7 mg for infants (0-6 months)

2.2 mg for infants (7-12 months)


3.5 mg for children (1-3 yrs)

4 mg for children (4-8 yrs)

Older children

4 mg for girls (9-18 yrs)

5 mg for boys (9-13 yrs)

6 mg for boys (14-18 yrs)


4 mg for women (19 to 70+ years)

5mg for pregnant women

6mg for breastfeeding women.


6 mg for men (19 to 70+ years)

Note: mg = milligrams

Source: NHMRC 2006, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia New Zealand

*There are no RDIs as there are with better-known vitamins so an Adequate Intake (AI) figure is given instead.


Safe upper limit for pantothenic acid

An upper limit hasn’t been established for this vitamin but 1000 mg a day is considered a prudent maximum intake.

List of my 20 best food sources for pantothenic acid

Commonly, whole grains, chicken, beef, potatoes and tomatoes are major contributors to pantothenic acid in Western diets.

Here’s a list of 20 of the richest food sources of pantothenic acid:

  1. Yeast extract / spread
  2. Liver (particularly lamb and chicken liver)
  3. Kidney
  4. Brans such as rice bran and wheat bran
  5. Chicken
  6. Peanuts
  7. Atlantic salmon
  8. Soft mould-coated cheese e.g. Brie, Camembert
  9. Eggs
  10. Canned evaporated milk
  11. Wheatgerm
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Wholewheat breakfast biscuits, flakes and cereals
  14. Crab
  15. Cashews
  16. Beef
  17. Malted milk base e.g. Actavite, Milo, Horlicks
  18. Pecans
  19. Bread, both wholemeal and white
  20. Sunflower seeds

Source: FSANZ NUTTAB 2010 database

Easy ways get your recommended day's intake of 4-6 mg

Food Amount (mg)
60g lamb or chicken liver, grilled 4.5
120g grilled Atlantic Salmon (3.6mg), served with salad using half an avocado (0.8mg) and toasted bread roll on the side (1.5mg) 6.0
Mini cheese platter with 50g soft white cheese (1.5mg), 100g fresh bread (1.5mg), 30g each of pecans (0.5mg) and raw cashew nuts (0.6mg) and 30g dried apricots (0.2mg). 4.3
Two poached eggs (2.2mg) served with 100g stir-fried mushrooms (2.2mg) 4.4
2 wholewheat breakfast biscuits (1mg) topped with 25g unprocessed wheat bran (0.65mg) and 150ml milk (1.25mg). Served with a drink of chocolate beverage base using 20g malted base (0.35mg) and 150ml milk (1.25mg). 4.5

Source: FSANZ  NUTTAB 2010 database

Deficiency signs

Naturally occurring pantothenic acid deficiency is very rare in humans and is only seen in experimentally induced cases or in malnourished individuals. Interestingly, during World War II, some prisoners in Asia experienced ‘burning feet’ syndrome whereby they had numbness, tingling and painful burning in their feet. This was a result of pantothenic acid deficiency.

Here are the tell tale sign of pantothenic acid deficiency:

  • headaches
  • unsettled sleep
  • nausea / vomiting
  • low blood sugar levels
  • increased insulin sensitivity
  • moodiness
  • unsteady walking
  • fatigue
  • listlessness
  • tingling of hands and feet
  • cramping
  • numbness.

Interesting facts

Most of what we know regarding the effects of pantothenic acid deficiency comes from experimental research in animals.

Rats that were fed a pantothenic acid deficient diet ended up with grey hair, yet no connection has been found with this vitamin in determining the colour of human hair.

Pantothenic acid is one of the constituents claimed to be responsible for the health benefits of royal jelly but remember royal jelly contains bee pollen and may trigger life threatening allergic reactions in susceptible people.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Nutrition for Life  is a new update on all the things you've read or heard about. Think insects, collagen, vegan eating, Keto dieting, vitamin B12, fast food and cafe culture.  It has plenty of colour pictures and is easy to dip in and out of. Grab your copy NOW!