Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, is a vitamin found in food and
used as a dietary supplement. As a supplement it is used to prevent
and treat riboflavin deficiency and prevent migraines. It may be
given by mouth or injection.
It is nearly always well tolerated. Normal doses are safe during
Riboflavin is in the vitamin B group. It is required
by the body for cellular respiration. Food sources include eggs,
green vegetables, milk, and meat.
Riboflavin was discovered in 1920, isolated in 1933, and first made in
1935. It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential
Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health
Riboflavin is available as a generic medication and over
the counter. In the United States a month of supplements costs less
than 25 USD. Some countries require its addition to grains.
1 Medical uses
2 Side effects
4.1 Food sources
4.2 Dietary recommendations
5.1 Signs and symptoms
5.1.2 Other animals
7 Industrial uses
8 Industrial synthesis
12 See also
14 Further reading
15 External links
A solution of riboflavin.
Corneal ectasia is a progressive thinning of the cornea; the most
common form of this condition is keratoconus. Collagen cross-linking
by applying riboflavin topically then shining UV light is a method to
slow progression of corneal ectasia by strengthening corneal
As of 2017 a system is marketed by
Terumo in Europe that is used to
remove pathogens from blood; donated blood is treated with riboflavin
and then with ultraviolet light.
In humans, there is no evidence for riboflavin toxicity produced by
excessive intakes, in part because it has lower water solubility than
other B vitamins, because absorption becomes less efficient as doses
increase, and because what exceeds the absorption is excreted via the
kidneys into urine. Even when 400 mg of riboflavin per
day was given orally to subjects in one study for three months to
investigate the efficacy of riboflavin in the prevention of migraine
headache, no short-term side effects were reported. Although toxic
doses can be administered by injection, any excess at
nutritionally relevant doses is excreted in the urine, imparting a
bright yellow color when in large quantities.
Riboflavin functions as a coenzyme, meaning that it is required for
enzymes (proteins) to perform normal physiological actions.
Specifically, the active forms of riboflavin flavin mononucleotide
(FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) function as cofactors for
a variety of flavoproteine enzyme reactions:
Flavoproteins of electron transport chain, including FMN in Complex I
and FAD in Complex II
FAD is required for the production of pyridoxic acid from pyridoxal
(vitamin B6) by pyridoxine 5'-phosphate oxidase
The primary coenzyme form of vitamin B6 (pyridoxal phosphate) is FMN
Oxidation of pyruvate, α-ketoglutarate, and branched-chain amino
acids requires FAD in the shared E3 portion of their respective
Fatty acyl CoA dehydrogenase requires FAD in fatty acid oxidation
FAD is required to convert retinol (vitamin A) to retinoic acid via
cytosolic retinal dehydrogenase
Synthesis of an active form of folate (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) from
5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate by Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase
is FADH2 dependent
FAD is required to convert tryptophan to niacin (vitamin B3)
Reduction of the oxidized form of glutathione (GSSG) to its reduced
form (GSH) by
Glutathione reductase is FAD dependent
For the molecular mechanism of action see main articles Flavin
mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD)
Food and beverages that provide riboflavin without fortification are
milk, cheese, eggs, leaf vegetables, liver, kidneys, legumes,
mushrooms, and almonds.
The milling of cereals results in considerable loss (up to 60%) of
vitamin B2, so white flour is enriched in some countries such as US by
addition of the vitamin. The enrichment of bread and ready-to-eat
breakfast cereals contributes significantly to the dietary supply of
vitamin B2. Polished rice is not usually enriched, because the
vitamin’s yellow color would make the rice visually unacceptable to
the major rice-consumption populations. However, most of the flavin
content of whole brown rice is retained if the rice is steamed
(parboiled) prior to milling. This process drives the flavins in the
germ and aleurone layers into the endosperm. Free riboflavin is
naturally present in foods along with protein-bound FMN and FAD.
Bovine milk contains mainly free riboflavin, with a minor contribution
from FMN and FAD. In whole milk, 14% of the flavins are bound
noncovalently to specific proteins. Egg white and egg yolk contain
specialized riboflavin-binding proteins, which are required for
storage of free riboflavin in the egg for use by the developing
Riboflavin is added to baby foods, breakfast cereals, pastas and
vitamin-enriched meal replacement products. It is difficult to
incorporate riboflavin into liquid products because it has poor
solubility in water, hence the requirement for riboflavin-5'-phosphate
(E101a), a more soluble form of riboflavin.
Riboflavin is also used as
a food coloring and as such is designated in Europe as the E number
Institute of Medicine
Institute of Medicine (IOM) updated Estimated Average
Requirements (EARs) and Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for
riboflavin in 1998. The current EARs for riboflavin for women and men
ages 14 and up are 0.9 mg/day and 1.1 mg/day, respectively;
the RDAs are 1.1 and 1.3 mg/day, respectively. RDAs are higher
than EARs so as to identify amounts that will cover people with higher
than average requirements. RDA for pregnancy is 1.4 mg/day. RDA
for lactation is 1.6 mg/day. For infants up to 12 months the
Adequate Intake (AI) is 0.3-0.4 mg/day. and for children ages
1–13 years the RDA increases with age from 0.5 to 0.9 mg/day.
As for safety, the IOM sets Tolerable upper intake levels (ULs) for
vitamins and minerals when evidence is sufficient. In the case of
riboflavin there is no UL, as there is no human data for adverse
effects from high doses. Collectively the EARs, RDAs, AIs and ULs are
referred to as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs).
European Food Safety Authority
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) refers to the collective set
of information as Dietary Reference Values, with Population Reference
Intake (PRI) instead of RDA, and Average Requirement instead of EAR.
AI and UL defined the same as in United States. For women and men ages
15 and older the PRI is set at 1.6 mg/day. PRI for pregnancy is
1.9 mg/day, for lactation 2.0 mg/day. For children ages
1–14 years the PRIs increase with age from 0.6 to 1.4 mg/day.
These PRIs are higher than the U.S. RDAs. The EFSA also reviewed
the safety question and like the U.S., decided that there was not
sufficient information to set as UL.
For U.S. food and dietary supplement labeling purposes the amount in a
serving is expressed as a percent of Daily Value (%DV). For riboflavin
labeling purposes 100% of the Daily Value was 1.7 mg, but as of
May 27, 2016 it was revised to 1.3 mg to bring it into agreement
with the RDA. A table of the old and new adult Daily Values is
provided at Reference Daily Intake. The original deadline to be in
compliance was July 28, 2018, but on September 29, 2017 the FDA
released a proposed rule that extended the deadline to January 1, 2020
for large companies and January 1, 2021 for small companies.
Signs and symptoms
Mild deficiencies can exceed 50% of the population in Third World
countries and in refugee situations. Deficiency is uncommon in the
United States and in other countries that have wheat flour, bread,
pasta, corn meal or rice enrichment regulations. In the U.S., starting
in the 1940s, flour, corn meal and rice have been fortified with B
vitamins as a means of restoring some of what is lost in milling,
bleaching and other processing. For adults 20 and older, average
intake from food and beverages is 1.8 mg/day for women and
2.5 mg/day for men. An estimated 23% consume a
riboflavin-containing dietary supplement that provides on average
10 mg. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducts
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey every two years and
reports food results in a series of reports referred to as "What We
Eat In America." From NHANES 2011–2012, estimates were that 8% of
women and 3% of men consumed less than the RDA. When compared to the
lower Estimated Average Requirements, fewer than 3% did not achieve
the EAR level. Anyone choosing a gluten-free or low gluten diet
should, however, as a precaution take a multi-vitamin/mineral dietary
supplement which provides 100% DV for riboflavin and other B
vitamins.[according to whom?]
Riboflavin deficiency (also called ariboflavinosis) results in
stomatitis including painful red tongue with sore throat, chapped and
fissured lips (cheilosis), and inflammation of the corners of the
mouth (angular stomatitis). There can be oily scaly skin rashes on the
scrotum, vulva, philtrum of the lip, or the nasolabial folds. The eyes
can become itchy, watery, bloodshot and sensitive to light. Due to
interference with iron absorption, even mild to moderate riboflavin
deficiency results in an anemia with normal cell size and normal
hemoglobin content (i.e. normochromic normocytic anemia). This is
distinct from anemia caused by deficiency of folic acid (B9) or
cyanocobalamin (B12), which causes anemia with large blood cells
(megaloblastic anemia). Deficiency of riboflavin during pregnancy
can result in birth defects including congenital heart defects and
The stomatitis symptoms are similar to those seen in pellagra, which
is caused by niacin (B3) deficiency. Therefore, riboflavin deficiency
is sometimes called "pellagra sine pellagra" (pellagra without
pellagra), because it causes stomatitis but not widespread peripheral
skin lesions characteristic of niacin deficiency.
Riboflavin deficiency prolongs recovery from malaria, despite
preventing growth of plasmodium (the malaria parasite).
In other animals, riboflavin deficiency results in lack of growth,
failure to thrive, and eventual death. Experimental riboflavin
deficiency in dogs results in growth failure, weakness, ataxia, and
inability to stand. The animals collapse, become comatose, and die.
During the deficiency state, dermatitis develops together with hair
loss. Other signs include corneal opacity, lenticular cataracts,
hemorrhagic adrenals, fatty degeneration of the kidney and liver, and
inflammation of the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract.
Post-mortem studies in rhesus monkeys fed a riboflavin-deficient diet
revealed about one-third the normal amount of riboflavin was present
in the liver, which is the main storage organ for riboflavin in
Riboflavin deficiency in birds results in low egg hatch
Overt clinical signs are rarely seen among inhabitants of the
developed countries. The assessment of
Riboflavin status is essential
for confirming cases with unspecific symptoms where deficiency is
Glutathione reductase is a nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate
(NADPH) and FAD-dependent enzyme, and the major flavoprotein in
erythrocyte. The measurement of the activity coefficient of
erythrocyte glutathione reductase (EGR) is the preferred method for
assessing riboflavin status. It provides a measure of tissue
saturation and long-term riboflavin status. In vitro enzyme activity
in terms of activity coefficients (AC) is determined both with and
without the addition of FAD to the medium. ACs represent a ratio of
the enzyme’s activity with FAD to the enzyme’s activity without
FAD. An AC of 1.2 to 1.4, riboflavin status is considered low when FAD
is added to stimulate enzyme activity. An AC > 1.4 suggests
riboflavin deficiency. On the other hand, if FAD is added and AC is
< 1.2, then riboflavin status is considered acceptable.
Tillotson and Bashor reported that a decrease in the intakes of
riboflavin was associated with increase in EGR AC. In the UK study of
Norwich elderly, initial EGR AC values for both males and females
were significantly correlated with those measured 2 years later,
suggesting that EGR AC may be a reliable measure of long-term
biochemical riboflavin status of individuals. These findings are
consistent with earlier studies.
Experimental balance studies indicate that urinary riboflavin
excretion rates increase slowly with increasing intakes, until intake
level approach 1.0 mg/d, when tissue saturation occurs. At higher
intakes, the rate of excretion increases dramatically. Once
intakes of 2.5 mg/d are reached, excretion becomes approximately
equal to the rate of absorption (Horwitt et al., 1950) (18). At such
high intake a significant proportion of the riboflavin intake is not
absorbed. If urinary riboflavin excretion is <19 µg/g
creatinine (without recent riboflavin intake) or < 40 µg per
day are indicative of deficiency.
Riboflavin is continuously excreted in the urine of healthy
individuals, making deficiency relatively common when dietary
intake is insufficient.
Riboflavin deficiency is usually found
together with other nutrient deficiencies, particularly of other
water-soluble vitamins. A deficiency of riboflavin can be primary -
poor vitamin sources in one's daily diet - or secondary, which may be
a result of conditions that affect absorption in the intestine, the
body not being able to use the vitamin, or an increase in the
excretion of the vitamin from the body. Subclinical deficiency has
also been observed in women taking oral contraceptives, in the
elderly, in people with eating disorders, chronic alcoholism and in
diseases such as HIV, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and chronic
heart disease. The Celiac Disease Foundation points out that a
gluten-free diet may be low in riboflavin (and other nutrients) as
enriched wheat flour and wheat foods (bread, pasta, cereals, etc.) is
a major dietary contribution to total riboflavin intake. Phototherapy
to treat jaundice in infants can cause increased degradation of
riboflavin, leading to deficiency if not monitored closely.
Treatment involves a diet which includes an adequate amount of
riboflavin containing foods. Multi-vitamin and mineral dietary
supplements often contain 100% of the Daily Value (1.3 mg) for
riboflavin, and can be used by persons concerned about an inadequate
diet. Over-the-counter dietary supplements are available in the United
States with doses as high as 100 mg, but there is no evidence
that these high doses have any additional benefit for healthy people.
As a chemical compound, riboflavin is a yellow-orange solid substance
with poor solubility in water compared to other B vitamins. Visually,
it imparts color to vitamin supplements (and bright yellow color to
the urine of persons taking a lot of it).
Fluorescent spectra of riboflavin
A solution of riboflavin in water (right) is yellow with chartreuse
fluorescence under fluorescent room lighting. The beaker prepared at
left holds a detergent in water, forming micelles that will show the
passage of a visible laser beam.
A 473 nm 200 mW blue laser beam is directed into the two beakers from
the left. The detergent shows the path of the beam by blue scattered
light. The light from the riboflavin solution is intense green
fluorescence showing along the path of this laser beam.
Because riboflavin is fluorescent under UV light, dilute solutions
(0.015-0.025% w/w) are often used to detect leaks or to demonstrate
coverage in an industrial system such a chemical blend tank or
bioreactor. (See the
ASME BPE section on Testing and Inspection for
Large cultures of Micrococcus luteus growing on pyridine (left) and
succinic acid (right). The yellow pigment being produced in the
presence of pyridine is riboflavin.
Various biotechnological processes have been developed for industrial
scale riboflavin biosynthesis using different microorganisms,
including filamentous fungi such as Ashbya gossypii, Candida famata
and Candida flaveri, as well as the bacteria Corynebacterium
ammoniagenes and Bacillus subtilis. The latter organism has been
genetically modified to both increase the bacteria's production of
riboflavin and to introduce an antibiotic (ampicillin) resistance
marker, and is now successfully employed at a commercial scale to
produce riboflavin for feed and food fortification purposes. The
BASF has installed a plant in South Korea, which is
specialized on riboflavin production using Ashbya gossypii. The
concentrations of riboflavin in their modified strain are so high,
that the mycelium has a reddish/brownish color and accumulates
riboflavin crystals in the vacuoles, which will eventually burst the
Riboflavin is sometimes overproduced, possibly as a
protective mechanism, by certain bacteria in the presence of high
concentrations of hydrocarbons or aromatic compounds. One such
organism is Micrococcus luteus (American Type Culture Collection
strain number ATCC 49442), which develops a yellow color due to
production of riboflavin while growing on pyridine, but not when grown
on other substrates, such as succinic acid.
Vitamin B was originally considered to have two components, a
heat-labile vitamin B1 and a heat-stable vitamin B2. In the 1920s,
vitamin B2 was thought to be the factor necessary for preventing
pellagra. In 1923[chronology citation needed],
Paul Gyorgy in
Heidelberg was investigating egg-white injury in rats; the curative
factor for this condition was called vitamin H (which is now called
biotin or vitamin B7). Since both pellagra and vitamin H deficiency
were associated with dermatitis, Gyorgy decided to test the effect of
vitamin B2 on vitamin H deficiency in rats. He enlisted the service of
Wagner-Jauregg in Kuhn’s laboratory. In
1933,[chronology citation needed] Kuhn, Gyorgy, and Wagner found that
thiamin-free extracts of yeast, liver, or rice bran prevented the
growth failure of rats fed a thiamin-supplemented diet.
Further, the researchers noted that a yellow-green fluorescence in
each extract promoted rat growth, and that the intensity of
fluorescence was proportional to the effect on growth. This
observation enabled them to develop a rapid chemical and bioassay to
isolate the factor from egg white in 1933[chronology citation needed],
they called it Ovoflavin. The same group then isolated the same
preparation (a growth-promoting compound with yellow-green
fluorescence) from whey using the same procedure (lactoflavin). In
1934[chronology citation needed] Kuhn’s group identified the
structure of so-called flavin and synthesized vitamin B2.
The name "riboflavin" (often abbreviated to Rbf or RBF) comes
from "ribose" (the sugar whose reduced form, ribitol, forms part of
its structure) and "flavin", the ring-moiety which imparts the yellow
color to the oxidized molecule (from Latin flavus, "yellow"). The
reduced form, which occurs in metabolism along with the oxidized form,
A 2017 review found that riboflavin may be useful to prevent migraines
in adults, but found that clinical trials in adolescents and children
had produced mixed outcomes.
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Pyridoxine#, Pyridoxal phosphate
‡Withdrawn from market
§Never to phase III
Pharmacy and pharmacology port