Like the other B-vitamins, riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2), plays a key role in the production of energy and the maintenance of metabolism. Its distinctive characteristic is its bright yellow fluorescent color, which can often be seen in the urine of those taking supplements of the vitamin, the excess of which is excreted through the kidneys. And because only small amounts of it are stored in the liver and kidneys, regular intake must be received through the diet.
Working together with an enzyme, riboflavin helps to break down homocysteine. Elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood are related to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and bone fractures. Vitamin B2 works with different enzymes to help in the creation of some of the other B-vitamins such as B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B1 (thiamine), and also aids the optimal utilization of iron and folic acid.
Riboflavin also works as an antioxidant by helping in the recycling of glutathione, a molecule that neutralizes the effects of dangerous free radicals that damage the body's cells and DNA, accelerating the aging process and increasing your risk of cancer. It is also useful to our cells by helping them in the most efficient use of oxygen and in encouraging healthy cell growth.
Recent studies have found that supplementing with vitamin B2 may help those who suffer from migraines. According to a study published in the European Journal of Neurology, 23 migraine sufferers were given 400 mg. of riboflavin every day for three months and recorded the frequency, duration and intensity of their migraines during this period. The results showed the number of migraines to be reduced by half, from an average of four per month to two, and were shorter in duration, though their intensity was unchanged.
Deficiency in riboflavin is not common, but is more apt to be found in alcoholics, women taking birth control pills, the chronically ill and the elderly. Some signs of riboflavin deficiency are swollen tongue, skin cracks, particularly around the corners of the mouth, weakness, sore throat, hair loss, blurred vision, cataracts, and light sensitivity.
The best dietary sources of riboflavin are meat, dark green leafy vegetables, whole or fortified grains, mushrooms and dairy products. The recommended daily allowance is 1.3 mg per day for adults. Though not sensitive to heat, acid or oxidation, riboflavin is easily destroyed by exposure to light, so be sure to buy dairy products such as milk or yogurt in opaque containers.