What Is Riboflavin?
Riboflavin is one of the members of the Vitamin B family, also known as Vitamin B2. It is a water soluble vitamin and has numerous benefits. It is obtained from a healthy diet and is present in a variety of foods such as eggs, cheese, meat and meat organs, and green leafy vegetables, as well as dietary supplements. As a supplement it may be administered orally or intravenously.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed riboflavin on their List of Essential Medicines, and regulatory authorities like the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have set the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for riboflavin at 1.7mg and 1.6mg respectively.
Facts About Riboflavin
- The word flavin in riboflavin is actually from the Latin word flavus, meaning yellow.
- Riboflavin is deactivated when exposed to ultraviolet and visible light.
- One of the reasons why milk is sold in cartons or opaque containers is to reduce the damage to riboflavin done by light.
- Riboflavin acts as an antioxidant in the body.
- Riboflavin works together with the other B vitamins in order to carry out some of its functions.
Foods Containing Riboflavin
Foods rich in riboflavin are:
- organ meats such as kidney and liver,
- lean meats (pork, veal, lean beef),
- green leafy vegetables,
- oily fish like mackerel and salmon,
- sesame seeds, and
- seafood such as clams and oysters.
Is Riboflavin Ever Bad For You?
No. Riboflavin is involved in the creation of energy (ATP)—which cells need to function—as well as numerous other metabolic functions in the body. The USFDA has recommended a value of 1.7mg as the Recommended Daily Value (RDV); however, even doses hundred times in excess of this value have shown no adverse effects. This may be due to the body’s mechanism as well as an attribute of the vitamin itself. Riboflavin is not as soluble as the other B vitamins; as a result, no more than 27mg of riboflavin is ever absorbed at one time. Any excess is excreted in the urine.
|Age/Gender/Circumstance||RDV of Riboflavin|
|Infants up to 12months||0.3 – 0.4mg|
|Children 1-13 years||0.5mg – 0.9mg|
|M/F youth 14-18 years||1.3mg (M) and 1.0mg (F)|
|Pregnant/Lactating 14-18 years||1.4mg (P) and 1.6mg (L)|
|M/F adult 19-50 years||1.3mg (M) and 1.1mg (F)|
|Pregnant/Lactating 19-50 years||1.4mg (P) and 1.6mg (L)|
Even with such low RDA values there are some persons who are at risk of not obtaining enough riboflavin, due either to their lifestyle or to certain disorders they may have.
Vegetarians who are athletes fall in this group, as meat and dairy—which are very good sources of riboflavin—are not a part of their diet. In addition, the strenuous exercise routine which is associated with being an athlete further depletes the already little riboflavin present.
Pregnant and lactating females who do not eat foods rich in riboflavin (lean meat and dairy products) run the risk of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy and birth defects when the baby is born. These babies may be born with outflow tract defects of the heart as a result of the riboflavin deficiency.
Another group at risk of riboflavin deficiency are persons with Infantile Brown-Vialetto-Van Laere Syndrome, a neurological disorder in which a certain gene (SLC52A3) mutates. This gene is responsible for encoding the intestinal riboflavin transporter.
It should be noted that The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has not established an upper tolerable limit, as to date there have been no adverse effects associated with excessive doses of riboflavin.
Benefits of Riboflavin
Riboflavin has many health benefits associated with its intake at or above the recommended daily value.
It has proven useful in the prevention and symptom relief of migraine headaches. Migraine is characterized by excruciating pain in a section of the head along with light and sound sensitivity. A 400mg dosage of riboflavin supplement is often prescribed to alleviate these symptoms, and studies have shown that at this dosage riboflavin is also beneficial in reducing the frequency of migraines, reducing the occurrence by 50 percent.
Riboflavin also helps in the treatment of eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and keratoconus. It is used in conjunction with ultraviolet therapy and entails treating the eye with a riboflavin eye drop which is followed by exposure to UV light.
Riboflavin is also used to help treat jaundice in newborn babies; the light which is used to break down the toxin bilirubin—which causes the jaundice—also destroys the riboflavin which is present. Therefore supplemental riboflavin has to be administered to compensate for the loss.
Anemia and high levels of homocysteine are both conditions which are successfully treated by administering riboflavin. It is integral in the formation of red blood cells and transport of oxygen. In addition, riboflavin plays a role in balancing the level of homocysteine, allowing the body to convert it into amino acids.
One of the primary functions of riboflavin is to enable the production of molecular energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for cellular function. It also plays an integral role in preventing thyroid disease and regulating adrenal function. In terms of weight management, riboflavin plays a functional role in regulating the hormones responsible for controlling one’s appetite, mood and overall bodily function.
Another very important function of riboflavin is its role in the production of antioxidants such as glutathione, which detoxifies the liver and destroys free radicals—the causative agents of many cancers. Riboflavin also aids in the maintenance of a healthy digestive tract, allowing for maximum absorption of other nutrients needed for a strong immune system.
Negative Impact of Riboflavin on the Body
There are no adverse effects associated with excessive intake of riboflavin, either from food sources or in supplement form, as the body will excrete majority of the unwanted portions in the urine. The only observable indication of a high intake of riboflavin is excessively yellow urine. Additionally, there are no interactions with other medications, therefore health concerns relating to reactions with other drugs are unfounded.
How to Minimize Exposure
Due to the fact that riboflavin has no adverse effect if taken in excess, and has many benefits associated with its intake, it is not necessary to minimize one’s exposure to such a very critical vitamin.
Should You Worry About Riboflavin?
A deficiency of riboflavin is definitely of concern, as the repercussions of such may be difficult to reverse.
Riboflavin, like all the other B vitamins, is integral to the correct functioning of the cell and is involved in many biological pathways. Riboflavin is needed for the synthesis of some other chemicals and the proper functioning of various enzymes. It is easily destroyed by light or processing, hence some foods have reduced amounts of riboflavin after being processed. It is highly recommended that foods rich in riboflavin be a part of one’s diet, as its deficiency results in a condition which has several unpleasant symptoms and additional complications associated with it. Due diligence should be taken to ensure one’s diet is providing enough of this very critical vitamin, either from foods or multivitamin supplements.