Riboflavin, or Vitamin B2, is one of 8 essential B vitamins. Vitamin B2, like all of the B vitamins, must be obtained from the diet because humans cannot synthesize it. PLP plays a vital role in the function of approximately 100 different enzymes in the body. Riboflavin, again like all of the B vitamins, helps the body to convert carbohydrates into individual glucose molecules, which is “burned” to produce energy (ATP). These B vitamins, commonly referred to as B complex vitamins, also participate in the metabolism of fats and protein. All the B vitamins are water-soluble, and the body does not store them.
Riboflavin is also needed to help the body change pyridoxal (vitamin B6) and folate (vitamin B1) into forms it can use.
Additionally, riboflavin works as an antioxidant by fighting damaging particles in the body known as free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells and DNA, and may contribute to the aging process, as well as the development of inflammation possibly leading to a number of health conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.
Most healthy people who eat a well-balanced diet with a sufficient daily intake get enough riboflavin. However, elderly people and alcoholics may be at risk for riboflavin deficiency.
Symptoms of riboflavin deficiency include fatigue; digestive problems; cracks and sores around the corners of the mouth (the medical terms for this include angular cheilitis, perlèche, cheilosis or angular stomatitis); swollen magenta-colored tongue; eye fatigue; swelling and soreness of the throat; and sensitivity to light.
Some early evidence shows that riboflavin might help prevent damage to the lens of the eye, called cataracts, which can lead to cloudy vision. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, people who took a niacin and riboflavin supplement had fewer cataracts than people who took other vitamins and nutrients. On the other hand, levels above 10 mg per day of riboflavin can actually promote damage to the eye from the sun. In addition, several studies suggest that people who get migraines may reduce how often they get migraines and how long they last by taking riboflavin. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study of people who experience migraine headache, it was demonstrated that taking 400 mg of riboflavin a day decreased by half the number of migraine attacks.
The best sources of riboflavin include brewer’s yeast, almonds, organ meats, whole grains, wheat germ, mushrooms, soybeans, milk, yogurt, eggs, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and spinach. Processed flours and cereals are often fortified with supplemental riboflavin.
Riboflavin is destroyed by light, so food and supplements should be stored away from light to protect the riboflavin content. Riboflavin is not destroyed by heat, and it usually stays intact during the cooking process, but riboflavin can be lost in water when foods are boiled or soaked.