Paraaminobenzoic acid is a constituent of folic acid and is essential for hair growth

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PABA nutrient supplement for hair growth

Most commonly found as the main ingredient in sunscreen, Para-aminobenzoic acid or PABA for short, is also useful for protein metabolism and red blood cell production. Some people refer to PABA as vitamin Bx, but it is actually neither a vitamin nor an essential nutrient for humans. PABA is in fact, a non-protein amino acid, which is structurally part of the make up of folic acid.

PABA nutrient supplements

PABA is an essential nutrient for some bacteria, and it varies in its activity from other B vitamins. Although humans lack the ability to synthesize folate from PABA, it is often sold as a health or nutrient supplement.

Available as a nutritional supplement, it can be somewhat acidic, causing intestinal discomfort when used in large doses. A compound derived from the potassium salts in PABA, called Potaba®, is said to be better tolerated, but it is available only by prescription. PABA is best utilized when taken in conjunction with Vitamin C and other B vitamins, especially Folic Acid.

Foods rich in PABA

PABA is abundant in foods such as bran, liver, kidney, brewer’s yeast, mushrooms, leafy green vegetables, yogurt, whole grains, wheat germ and molasses. Once ingested, PABA is absorbed through the small intestine, where it then enters the portal circulation, the system whereby deoxygenated blood leaving the capillaries of the gastrointestinal tract enters the portal vein, which leads to the liver instead of back to the heart. Some PABA is then metabolized in the liver. PABA is also produced naturally in the body by friendly intestinal bacteria.

PABA as sunscreen

Probably the best known use for PABA is as an ingredient in sunscreen. PABA is proven to protect the skin by blocking out the damaging ultra violet rays. After many reports that PABA in sunscreens was causing sometimes severe skin reactions however, many manufacturers have opted to take it out of their products. Lotions containing sunscreen higher than SPF 8 have been shown to interfere with the body’s ability to manufacture vitamin D Some adverse reactions such as nausea, skin rashes and vomiting have also been indicated, but it is more likely these symptoms occur when taking high oral doses of PABA.

PABA for hair growth

For the past decade or so, PABA has been widely linked to hair growth and as a restorative agent for graying hair. Past studies do in fact suggest that PABA darkens hair in a minority of elderly people, however, recent research suggests that these results may be linked to people who are already deficient in B vitamins. In past trials 200 to 600 mg of PABA every day for several months, often accompanied by other B vitamins, showed some success.1 One other study however, did not have the same results, so the jury is still out on whether PABA is useful in this capacity.

PABA and Peyronie’s disease

PABA has shown promise in cases of Peyronie’s disease, a condition that affects the penis and the ability to have an erection. In one study using 32 patients suffering form Peyronie’s disease, results show that after three months of treatment with a daily dose of 12 grams of Potaba ® (the potassium based compound), 44 percent of patients experienced an improvement in penile discomfort, while a further 56 percent reported a decrease in plaque size. The study also showed that 58 percent of patients saw an improvement in penile angulation.

Although the preliminary results are encouraging, researchers say additional information is still needed to confirm these findings.

PABA for curing sceleroderma

In studies of patients with scleroderma, a life-threatening disease that causes multiple organs in the body to shut down, significant improvements in symptoms were reported with Potaba ®. In severe cases of scleroderma there can be dramatic tissue damage including hardening of the skin, shrinking of muscles, and injuring of tendons, causing patients to lose mobility in their joints.

In one noteworthy study, 90 percent of the 224 patients who were treated with 12 grams of Potaba ® daily, reported mild to marked softening of their skin. In comparison, the placebo group experienced only a 20 percent improvement in skin texture.4 Researchers also report that no adverse side effects were noticed. Further studies show that improvements in several patients suffering from Dermatomyositis, an acquired muscle disease characterized by a rash often preceded by muscle weakness, were seen with 15 to 20 grams daily of Potaba ®.5

PABA for vitiligo treatment

PABA has also been used to treat a skin condition known as vitiligo, which can cause skin discoloration and chronic itchy hives that generally affect the elbows, knees and buttocks.

PABA for infertility treatment

One 1942 study of PABA looked at its effectiveness in cases of infertility. Results of this isolated trial showed that 75 percent of the 16 infertile women who took part in the study, were able to conceive after taking 100 mg of PABA four times daily for seven months.6

Symptoms of PABA deficiency

Although not very common, when sufficient supplies of PABA are not available to the body, symptoms such as fatigue, graying hair, depression, irritability and nervousness may occur. As well, constipation, digestive problems and skin eruptions such as weeping eczema have been noted. Sulfa drugs such as antibiotics may interfere with the intestinal production of PABA and may be one cause for deficient resources.

Recommended dose of PABA

There are typically no daily requirements listed for PABA, however, recommended doses usually amount to between 50 to 100 mg, three times a day. If antibiotics are also being used, it is wise to increase the amount of PABA, however some studies have also reported that antibiotics may loose their effectiveness when used in conjunction with PABA. As well, some medical practitioners suggest to restore hair color a time released dose of 1,000 mg, per day for six days, accompanied by 400 mcg of folic acid, should get good results.

Para-aminobenzoic acid is available as either PABA or Aminobenzoate Potassium (Potaba ®), the potassium salt form of the compound. PABA supplements are available in either capsules, tablets or in extended release tablets ranging from 100 to 500 mcg. Potaba®. ranges from 60 to 500 mg in capsule or tablet form or in a powdered form holding 2 grams per packet.

Excess of PABA

Too much PABA on the other hand, can be irritating to the liver and cause nausea, vomiting, fever, skin rashes and ironically, in some cases, vitiligo. As well, anorexia has been reported in some PABA deficient patients.

No serious side effects have been reported with doses of 300 to 400 mg per day, however, PABA in doses of 8 grams or more is considered toxic and has been reported to cause blood sugar levels to drop drastically.7 Use of over 20 grams of PABA per day in small children has resulted in death.8As well. nausea, fever, skin rashes and vomiting are common with doses in this toxic range. In rare cases, liver damage can occur, which is why over the counter supplements containing single large doses of PABA have been banned

  1. Gaby AR “The story of PABA”, Nutr Healing, 1997; March:3–4, 11.
  2. Zarafonetis CJD, “Darkening of gray hair during para-amino-benzoic acid therapy”, J Invest Dermatol, 1950;15:399–401.
  3. Zarafonetis CJD, “Treatment of Peyronie’s disease with potassium para-aminobenzoate”, J Urol, 1959;81:770–2.
  4. Clegg DO, Reading JC, Mayes MD, et al, “Comparison of aminobenzoate potassium and placebo in the treatment of scleroderma”, J Rheumatol 1994;21:105–10.
  5. Grace WJ, Kennedy RJ, Formato A, “Therapy of scleroderma and dermatomyositis”, NY State J Med, 1963;63:140–4.
  6. Sieve BF, “The clinical effects of a new B-complex factor, para-aminobenzoic acid, on pigmentation and fertility”, South Med Surg, 1942(March);104:135–9.
  7. Kantor GR, Ratz JL, “Liver toxicity from potassium para-aminobenzoate”, J Am Acad Dermatol, 1985;13:671–2.
  8. Worobec S, LaChine A, “Dangers of orally administered para-aminobenzoic acid”, JAMA, 1984;251:2348.