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Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) - Benefits, Deficiency Symptoms And Food Sources

Also Known as : Vitamin B2

Riboflavin is a water-soluble B-complex vitamin also known as vitamin B2. It was first recognized as a yellow-green fluorescent pigment in milk in 1879. The vitamin was synthesized and named riboflavin in 1935. Riboflavin gets its name from its color and its component sugar, ribose. Pigments that have fluorescent properties are designated as 'flavins'. Later it was found that the yellow-green fluorescent compound had a sugar 'ribose' attached to it, and hence the name riboflavin.

Riboflavin is absorbed from the small intestine, where it is phosphorylated (addition of phosphorus). It is not stored in our body in significant amounts, therefore, it must be supplied in the diet regularly. Small amounts of the vitamin are stored in the liver, kidney and heart.

Riboflavin is an orange-yellow crystalline substance, insoluble in fats and dissolves sparingly in water to give a characteristic greenish-yellow fluorescence. Riboflavin is stable to heat, oxidation and acids however, it is easily destroyed by visible light and the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Functions of riboflavin

Riboflavin is essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates, amino acids and lipids and also supports antioxidant protective function. It discharges these functions in the form of two coenzymes, riboflavin monophosphate or Flavin, Mononucleotide (FMN) and Flavin Adenine Dinucleotide (FAD). The conversion of riboflavin into its coenzyme forms requires energy in the form of ATP molecules. Riboflavin is first converted to FMN; most FMN is converted to FAD.

The flavin coenzymes FMN and FAD are versatile coenzymes that participate in a number of oxidation-reduction reactions. Both these coenzymes act as hydrogen acceptors. A series, of reactions takes place in the energy cycle (TCA cycle or Kreb's cycle) by which ATP is generated. Each step is catalysed by enzymes and the process involves transfer of hydrogen from one compound to another until eventually it reaches oxygen and forms water. FMN and FAD act as coenzymes for the enzymes that catalyse these reactions.

FMN and FAD are also coenzymes for dehydrogenase enzymes that catalyse the oxidation of fatty acids. FMN is also required for the conversion of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) to its active form. FAD is also required for the synthesis of the B-complex vitamin niacin from the amino acid tryptophan in our body.

Another enzyme called glutathione reductase requires FAD as coenzyme. This enzyme plays a major role in protecting organisms from reactive oxygen species that can cause oxidative damage to body tissues. Together with niacin-containing coenzymes, riboflavin helps to combat oxidative damage to the cell.

Benefits of Vitamin B2

Vitamin B2 helps prevent and is used to treat migraine headaches, cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis, and a number of skin disorders such as acne (acne rosacea), dermatitis, and eczema. In the treatment of anemia, adding Vitamin B2 to iron supplements has shown to increase its effectiveness. This vitamin is particularly helpful in counteracting the tendency towards glaucoma. An ample supply of vitamin B2 provides vigour and helps to preserve the appearance and feeling of youth.

Daily allowances of riboflavin

The minimum Recommended Dosage Allowance of Vitamin B2 are :-

  • Men - 1.7 mg.
  • Women - 1.3 mg.
  • Pregnant women - 1.6 mg.
  • Lactating women - 1.8 mg.

Because the body cannot absorb large amounts of vitamin B2 at one time, there known toxicity level for this vitamin.

Rich sources of riboflavin

High levels of Vitamin B2 are found in the following foods: cheese, egg yolks, almonds, organ meats, whole grains, wild rice, soybeans, milk, spinach, mushrooms, almonds, and poultry. Vitamin B2 is usually added to cereals and flour products. Keep these foods stored away from light to protect vitamin content.

Deficiency symptoms of riboflavin

Riboflavin deficiency has profound effects on the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. All three of these basic food elements require riboflavin if they are to be properly utilized by the body.

A deficiency of riboflavin results in clinical symptoms such as changes in lips, tongue, corners of the lips and eyes. The early symptoms include photophobia, burning and itching of the eyes, soreness and burning of lips, mouth and tongue. The lips become dry and chaffed, a condition called cheilosis; the tongue becomes red and shiny (glossitis) and develops fissures with yellowish color (fissured tongue). The angles at the corners of the mouth become ulcerated (angular stomatitis). Skin becomes scaly and greasy around the skin folds (seborrhoeic dermatitis).

The conjunctiva becomes red and inflammed, and eyelids appear swollen and become sticky. They also become abnormally sensitive to light and get easily fatigued. Blurring of vision, itching, watering, and soreness of the eye may occur as well. Extra blood vessels develop in the cornea of the eye and it looks red and bloody (corneal vascularisation).

The first signs and symptoms of deficiency are a sore throat and sores at the corners of the mouth. Worsening symptoms include a swollen tongue, seborrheic dermatitis, anemia and impaired nerve function.

Deficiency in newborns

Newborn infants suffering from jaundice are often given phototherapy. Since riboflavin is light sensitive, such infants may develop riboflavin deficiency unless sufficient supplements are provided.

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