What is Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)?
Riboflavin, more commonly known as vitamin B2, is an essential nutrient that individuals can only obtain through food or supplements. The body needs riboflavin to produce flavin mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) enzymes. The body can’t function without these enzymes, as they contribute to normal growth and development. FMN and FAD also play a role in energy metabolism, cell respiration, and metabolizing nutrients. The body also needs FAD to convert tryptophan into vitamin B3. FAD performs a similar function, as the body needs it to convert vitamin B6 into its active form (pyridoxal 5’-phosphate).
Approximately 80 flavoenzymes need FMN and FAD to function properly, including participating in redox reactions. Redox reactions are essential for generating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy and metabolizing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Redox reactions also support antioxidant levels. The glutathione redox cycle depends on FAD to produce reduced glutathione from an oxidized state. Without sufficient riboflavin, free radicals overwhelm antioxidants and cause oxidative stress.
Vitamin B2 Foods
Individuals can obtain riboflavin from several food sources, including:
- Beef liver
- Chicken liver
- Whey protein
- Whole milk
Many of the richest vitamin B2 foods come from animal sources. Vegetarians and vegans can obtain vitamin B2 from almonds, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, avocado, and kale. However, vegan-friendly vitamin B2 foods contain significantly less B2 than animal sources. Taking a vitamin B2 supplement can ensure adequate intake of this essential nutrient.
Vitamin B2 Deficiency Symptoms
Most individuals obtain adequate amounts of vitamin B2 from dietary sources. However, one study found that otherwise healthy individuals often have suboptimal vitamin B2 levels. Individuals with certain medical conditions are at a greater risk of developing a vitamin B2 deficiency. These include individuals with alcohol dependency, hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, and lactose intolerance. Individuals who practice veganism are also at an increased risk of developing a vitamin B2 deficiency. Individuals with physically demanding jobs, such as athletes and laborers, often require more riboflavin. Vegetarian athletes are also at risk.
Potential Riboflavin Benefits
Riboflavin as an Antioxidant
Riboflavin acts as an antioxidant in several ways. It participates in redox reactions to increase the availability of other antioxidants like glutathione. Boosting antioxidant levels also combats oxidative stress. Oxidative stress accelerates the rate of cellular aging, damages cell health, and contributes to the development and worsening of many degenerative diseases. Riboflavin can mitigate oxidative damage by scavenging free radicals.
Riboflavin and the Immune System
Riboflavin interacts with several types of white blood cells in the immune system. It enhances the immune system’s ability to protect itself against infectious foreign invaders by activating neutrophils and macrophages. Riboflavin also promotes the proliferation of neutrophils and monocytes. Both of these white blood cells act as phagocytes, meaning they defend the body by surrounding and consuming pathogens.
Vitamin B2 for Migraines
Scientists have yet to uncover the cause of migraine headaches. However, a significant body of research has found individuals who experience migraines also have diminished mitochondrial function, particularly in relation to energy metabolism. Researchers believe riboflavin may be the key to reducing migraine frequency, as it plays a pivotal role in mitochondrial energy production. Multiple studies reported that riboflavin dramatically reduced migraine frequency, with one study reporting a greater than 50% reduction.
Potential Riboflavin Side Effects
Most individuals can take riboflavin without experiencing adverse effects. All B vitamins are water-soluble, meaning the body excretes any excess through the urine. High doses of riboflavin may cause diarrhea and bright yellow urine.
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