Riboflavin Deficiency: What You Need To Know
Riboflavin is another one of the B-group vitamins that we love here at Athletic Greens. It’s important to understand more about this important vitamin and to take steps to avoid riboflavin deficiency, which is surprisingly common.
Riboflavin is another name for vitamin B2. Primarily, it works behind the scenes in many crucial bodily processes.
These include energy production, metabolism of other vitamins, ‘recycling’ of antioxidants and healthy methylation, which is necessary for correct gene expression.
All in all, then, it’s clear that riboflavin is a pretty big deal for our health. But how does it work in the body, exactly?
That’s explained below, along with more info on why riboflavin deficiency needs to be avoided and how you can go about ensuring there’s enough of it in your daily diet.
What Is Riboflavin And How Does It Work For Health?
Bear with me for a few sentences while we get the geeky stuff out of the way!
Riboflavin is basically the raw material for two important coenzymes, which are organic molecules that bind with a protein molecule to form the active enzyme.
Specifically, with riboflavin, we are talking about the coenzymes flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) and flavin mononucleotide (FMN). These carry electrons (sub-atomic particles) through chains of reactions (called ‘redox’ reactions) which produce energy - and ultimately power the body.
In very simple terms, then: without riboflavin your body can’t properly convert food into energy. Not only that, but this very helpful vitamin also ensures other tiny - but critical - processes work.
The metabolism of folate and the ‘recycling’ of glutathione - a ‘master’ antioxidant that protects us from excess free radical damage – both depend on riboflavin.
As a water-soluble vitamin, it’s excreted rather than stored by the body. It therefore requires regular replenishment. It’s found naturally in a wide range of foods, including brewer’s yeast, liver and offal, almonds, wheat germ, mushrooms, egg yolks and a variety of grains, nuts, and vegetables.
However, this fact doesn’t prevent many people from experiencing riboflavin deficiency and its associated health risks.
The Main Effects Of Riboflavin Deficiency
Because riboflavin is involved in many behind-the-scenes bodily processes, it’s a challenge to summarize its benefits. But in doing so, we begin to understand why riboflavin deficiency is such a problem.
In essence, riboflavin plays an important part in the following:
✔ Energy production – it plays a key role in how every cell in the body converts carbohydrates, fats, and protein into energy.
✔ Maintaining healthy antioxidant status - specifically, it helps to regenerate glutathione, the body’s ‘master’ antioxidant.
✔ The cytochrome P450 system – this is a detox pathway that allows the body to get rid of environmental toxins and medications.
✔ Activating other vitamins – vitamins B6 and K, folate, niacin, and iron are all activated with the use of riboflavin.
So, bearing in mind these important roles in human health, we begin to understand why riboflavin deficiency creates health problems.
For instance, it has been linked to:
→ Preeclampsia in pregnant women
This is a potentially fatal condition related to high blood pressure in the third trimester of pregnancy.
→ Low energy levels
A riboflavin deficiency may lead to problems with energy production at a cellular level.
Other Possible Effects Of Riboflavin Deficiency
Other possible negative health effects of riboflavin deficiency are easy to deduce when we consider some of the therapeutic and disease applications of the vitamin.
→ Preventing cataracts
People with higher intakes of riboflavin have demonstrated a reduced risk of forming age-related cataracts, according to a 1995 study.
→ Providing assistance in cases of MTHFR gene mutation
This is a potentially serious condition causing an inability to properly utilize folate and problems with effectively eliminating toxins from the body.
Riboflavin supports healthy methylation (a part of gene expression) and lowers levels of homocysteine, which is an inflammatory by-product of methylation.
In healthy individuals, this is naturally converted into other, useful molecules but when there are problems with methylation (such as in MTHFR gene mutations), homocysteine levels may become elevated.
This is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Riboflavin keeps these processes functioning optimally.
→ For preventing migraine
Riboflavin is involved in complex processes of metabolism in the brain. When these processes encounter problems, they may cause migraine.
High doses of riboflavin have shown success for migraine prevention.
→ Offering support for cancer patients
Riboflavin, in combination with other nutrients like niacin and coenzyme Q10, has been shown to reduce the oxidative stress from certain cancer treatments like Tamoxifen.
→ Supporting the health of alcoholics
Alcoholics are at greater risk of riboflavin deficiency and, in fact, all B-vitamin deficiencies. Increasing doses of riboflavin may benefit their health.
As well as these potential uses of riboflavin, it may be of use in lowering blood pressure (especially in people with MTHFR issues) and it may also help to increase iron absorption in people suffering from anemia.
For anyone experiencing the types of health issues described, riboflavin deficiency would deprive them of the potential benefits that optimal levels of riboflavin could provide.
How To Avoid Riboflavin Deficiency
The accepted daily dose of riboflavin is between 10 and 100 mg, in divided doses. Periods of illness or increased athletic training require a temporarily higher intake.
Riboflavin is nearly always well tolerated and is safe in pregnancy at normal doses.
Who Should Supplement With Riboflavin?
Riboflavin’s benefits for health have been researched extensively and are well understood. Its application in migraine headaches, pregnancy complications, cataracts, and cardiovascular disease is particularly well supported.
As we expand our understanding of MTHFR gene mutation, the important role of riboflavin in optimizing methylation will likely emerge too. This should help to reduce the risk of diseases associated with MTHFR mutations.
Most people supplement with riboflavin as part of a more general B-vitamin complex or multivitamin energy boost. It is rarely seen on its own.
This is partly because riboflavin works well with the other B vitamins included in Athletic Greens, as they are complementary to each other. This can result in a feeling of greater overall energy and wellbeing – and it can work surprisingly quickly for acute tiredness and fatigue: sometimes within a day!
Riboflavin works especially well with Vitamin b12 in people who are low in iron, as it may help increase iron absorption. It also works well alongside liver herbs such as milk thistle, globe artichoke, and dandelion root for people who consume a lot of alcohol. Both liver function AND replenishing B vitamins is especially important for these people to maintain good health.
Most people do not consume enough riboflavin in their diets and therefore may be suffering from some degree of riboflavin deficiency. Being water soluble, it must be replenished on a regular basis. Hence its inclusion in Athletic Greens.
With the recommendation to take Athletic Greens first thing in the morning, people are able to get a good dose of riboflavin before they start on their morning coffee (caffeine may interfere with the absorption of B vitamins).