Riboflavin: The Yellow Vitamin You Need for Optimal Health


Riboflavin is a water-soluble B vitamin, also known as vitamin B2. It was first observed in milk by the English chemist Alexander Wynter Blyth in 1872. It was isolated from cow’s milk whey in 1879 and was initially called lactochrome because of its yellow color. Riboflavin was then synthesized in 1935 and formally named riboflavin in 1936. In 1922, German chemist Richard Kuhn and Austrian chemist Theodor Wagner-Jauregg discovered its role in nutrition, thus leading to its use in food fortification and in the treatment of nutritional deficiencies.

Riboflavin health benefits

It plays several important roles in the body, including:
  1. Energy production: Vitamin B2 helps the body to convert food into energy by participating in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
  2. Eye health: Riboflavin is required for the proper functioning of the eyes, specifically the maintenance of healthy vision. It helps to protect the eyes from oxidative stress and is necessary for the conversion of vitamin A to its active form.
  3. Skin, hair, and nail health: It is important for the maintenance of healthy skin, hair, and nails. It helps to protect the skin from oxidative stress and UV radiation.
4. Nervous System: Riboflavin is important for the proper functioning of the nervous system, as it is necessary for the production of certain neurotransmitters and chemicals that transmit signals in the brain and nervous system.
5. Red blood cell production: It is required for the production of red blood cells.
6. Anemia prevention: Riboflavin helps the body absorb iron, which is important for the formation of red blood cells.
7. Pregnancy support: Adequate intake of riboflavin is important for pregnant women, as it helps the baby’s growth and development.
It is important to note that Riboflavin is water-soluble, meaning that the body doesn’t store it, so it’s necessary to consume it regularly.

Foods rich in Riboflavin

It can be found in a variety of foods, including:
  • Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, cheese.
  • Dry-roasted soybeans.
  • Edamame.
  • Fish & animal products: Liver, eggs, oysters, shellfish, lean meats, salmon, and oily fish – mackerel, eel, and herring
  • Vegetables and fruits: Mushrooms, beans, broccoli, avocados, dried peas, and dark leafy green vegetables, such as asparagus and spinach.
  • Seeds & grains: whole grains, wild rice, millet, sunflower seeds.
Fortunately, vitamin B2 is not lost during cooking, unlike many other vitamins. However, it is destroyed by strong light and baking soda, so it’s important to store it in a way that preserves its nutritional content.

Recommended daily intake

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, varies depending on age, sex, and life stage.
  • 0 – 6 months: 0.3* milligrams per day (mg/day)
  • 7 – 12 months: 0.4* mg/day
  • 1 – 3 years: 0.5 mg/day
  • 4 – 8 years: 0.6 mg/day
  • 9 – 13 years: 0.9 mg/day
Adolescents and Adults
  • Males age 14 and older: 1.3 mg/day
  • Females age 14 to 18 years: 1.0 mg/day
  • Females age 19 and older: 1.1 mg/day
Pregnant and breastfeeding women may require slightly more.
It’s worth noting that the RDI is the amount of a nutrient that is sufficient to meet the needs of nearly all (97-98%) healthy individuals in each life stage and gender group. However, some people may require more or less depending on their individual needs and health conditions.

Riboflavin deficiency

A deficiency can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
  1. Fatigue and decreased energy levels.
  2. Sore throat: is a common symptom of Riboflavin deficiency
  3. Mouth sores: can appear in the corners of the mouth, lips, and tongue.
  4. Inflammation of the tongue and mouth, and cracks in the corners of the mouth.
  5. Anemia: Riboflavin is required for the production of red blood cells, and a deficiency can lead to anemia.
  6. Skin problems: dry, scaly, and itchy skin as well as other skin problems.
  7. Reduced immune function.
  8. Nervous system problems: such as numbness, tingling, and loss of balance.
It’s important to note that a deficiency of Riboflavin is relatively rare, as it is found in a wide variety of foods. However, some people, such as alcoholics, people with malabsorption disorders, and those who follow restrictive diets, may present low riboflavin levels and may require higher dietary riboflavin intakes.
If you suspect that you have a deficiency of Vitamin B2, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional, who can diagnose the problem and recommend the appropriate dose of riboflavin supplementation.

Riboflavin excess

Consuming too much riboflavin is not considered to be harmful, as the body excretes any excess through urine. However, high doses of supplements can cause some mild side effects such as:
  1. Nausea, stomach upset, and diarrhea.
  2. Urine discoloration: urine turns a bright yellow color, this is not harmful but it is noticeable.
  3. Sensitivity to light: Consuming very high doses of Riboflavin can cause sensitivity to light and temporary burning, itching, or redness of the eyes.
It’s important to note that these side effects are usually caused by excessive intake of supplements, and not by consuming too much Riboflavin from food sources.
It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any Vitamin B2 supplement, especially if you are pregnant or have a health condition. They can recommend the appropriate dosage for you based on your individual needs and health status.

Fun facts

Here are some fun facts about riboflavin:
  1. The name “riboflavin” comes from the Latin “flavus” meaning “yellow,” and “ribose,” a sugar that is a component of the vitamin. This is because riboflavin is a yellow-green pigment that gives certain foods a yellow color.
  2. Vitamin B2 is also known as “lactoflavin” because it was first isolated from milk.
  3. Milk is now typically sold in cartons or opaque plastic containers to block light and preserve Riboflavin.
  4. Riboflavin is yellow or orange-yellow, so it is used as a food coloring.

Why is Riboflavin important for sports performance?

Riboflavin is important for sports performance for several reasons:
  1. Energy metabolism: It plays a key role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, which are the main energy sources for the body during physical activity.
  2. Red blood cell production: Riboflavin is required for the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout the body. This is important for sports performance as it allows the muscles to work efficiently and prevent fatigue.
  3. Antioxidant properties: It has antioxidant properties, meaning that it can help to protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. This is important for sports performance as intense physical activity can increase the production of free radicals, which can lead to muscle soreness and inflammation.
  4. Nervous system function: Allows the body to respond quickly and efficiently to changes in the environment.
  5. Hydration: Helps in the metabolism of fluids in the body and in maintaining the balance of electrolytes, prevents dehydration and maintains optimal hydration levels during physical activity.
Athletes and sportspeople may require more Riboflavin than sedentary individuals. However, it is important to have a balanced diet that provides enough, and if needed, consult with a healthcare professional or a sports nutritionist to determine the appropriate intake.

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