Para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA, is a relatively little known, but nevertheless important nutrient; commonly, though not strictly accurately, classified as one of the B-complex vitamins. The confusion is perhaps understandable because PABA plays an important role in the manufacture in the body of one of the most important B-complex vitamins, folic acid.
The many vital benefits of folic acid have been well documented, the most important probably being the prevention of serious birth defects, particularly spina bifida; as well as protection against stroke, cardiovascular disease and even certain cancers. Indeed, adequate supplies of folic acid are regarded as so crucial to health that staple foods such as bread are routinely enriched with it. But the typical Western diet is nevertheless believed by many nutritionists to be severely deficient. PABA's role in encouraging the synthesis of the body's vitamin may therefore be regarded as sufficient in itself to make it a vital nutrient in its own right.
But there is far more to para-aminobenzoic acid than this. The nutrient has also been classified as a general anti-oxidant, helping counteract the ageing and degenerative effects of damaging free radical activity; and as an anti-inflammatory which may be beneficial in the alleviation of the symptoms of the menopause and osteoarthritis.
The anti-inflammatory properties of PABA also make it a particular favourite of nutritional practitioners in combatting malfunctions of the immune system such as thyroiditis, and a potentially fatal condition known as scleroderma, in which fibrous tissue grows through the skin, cutting off the blood supply to the body's vital organs.
Moderate supplements of PABA were an old, but now unfashionable, treatment for the skin condition, vitiligo, in which the skin loses it's natural pigmentation, resulting in unsightly and embarrassing blotches. Nutritional therapists, however, continue to regard and use PABA as an effective alternative therapy for the condition.
PABA is also believed by some therapists to have a role in the relief of fatigue; perhaps through its role in the formation of the red blood cells which are vital for the transport of oxygen around the body, and to help alleviate depression.
In the context of skin care, PABA also helps absorb potentially damaging ultra-violet light and has previously been used as an ingredient in commercial sunblocks. There is some evidence, however, that internal supplementation with at least 1,000 mg of the nutrient may also help prevent sun damage. For this reason, too, PABA is regarded as cosmetically beneficial to the appearance in smoothing the skin and reducing wrinkles, as would any effective proprietary sunscreen.
Another cosmetic benefit claimed for PABA is that it may restore the colour of grey hair. Sadly, however, although general vitamin B-complex deficiencies have indeed been associated with premature greying, there appears to be little hard evidence that taking extra PABA may reverse this process. For the more serious conditions detailed above, nutritional therapists recommend supplementary doses of anything between 400 mg and 12 g per day. No significant side effects have been reported with doses of 15 g or less; though some gastric upsets have been reported. Doses at this level, however, are recommended only for conditions for which the sufferer will almost certainly be receiving conventional medical treatment and are best not undertaken without qualified supervision.
For most people, however, the good thing about PABA is that it is not only readily available from the foods which comprise a healthily balanced diet, but can also be manufactured by the body.
So in ordinary circumstances, and if you're in reasonably good health, you probably don't need a separate daily supplement of PABA. But like all the B complex vitamins, PABA in any case functions best in the presence of a good supply of all the others, and so it's frequently found in proprietary multi-vitamin preparations. The better quality ones commonly include around 30-50mg; a small amount to be sure, but worth having as an insurance policy when you're aiming for optimum holistic nutrition, and particularly when you bear in mind the nutrient's crucial role in the synthesis of folic acid.
As always when taking a multi-vitamin, however, this should be coupled with a comprehensive multi-mineral supply to ensure the maximum effectiveness of both.
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Steve Smith is a freelance copywriter specialising in direct marketing and with a particular interest in health products. Find out more at http://www.sisyphuspublicationsonline.com/LiquidNutrition/Information.htm