One of two water-soluble vitamins, vitamin B is actually more a family of vitamins, rather than an individual micronutrient.
Its members are thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12).
Today, we shall focus on riboflavin, or vitamin B2.
Riboflavin is naturally found in our skin, eyes, red blood cells, brain, muscles and aortic tissues.
As our body is unable to make riboflavin, we need to consume it daily via food like fish, dairy pro-ducts (milk and cheese), breads, dark green vegetables, fruits, cereals and grains.
Interestingly, our intestinal microbiota is also a source of riboflavin for our body as several bacteria, as well as a number of fungi and plants, can produce riboflavin.
Riboflavin is often used in the pharmaceutical, food and feed industries.
It is commercially produced via microbial fermentation, using microbes like Bacillus subtilis and Ashbya gossypii, which tend to overproduce riboflavin.
In the body
Once consumed, riboflavin is released from proteins in food through the action of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
It is then absorbed in the stomach and small intestines via diffusion.
In the intestines, riboflavin is converted into its active forms: flavin mononucleotide (FMN) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD).
Any excess riboflavin that is not converted into FMN and FAD will be rapidly excreted by the kidneys.
In fact, you can check your urine to see if you are taking too much riboflavin; excessive amounts will cause your urine to turn bright yellow (the normal colour is pale yellow).
However, this is a harmless condition.
Numerous studies have been done to test the toxicity levels of riboflavin, and the results generally conclude that it has minimal to no adverse effects, and can, in fact, be used in total parenteral nutrition safely.
Both FMN and FAD play indispensable roles in energy production by metabolising macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats and proteins, into glucose, with the help of flavocoenzymes (coenzymes derived from riboflavin).
They also possess antioxidant properties, thus enabling them to neutralise free radicals and alleviate oxidative injuries caused by several diseases.
FAD works with the enzyme glutathione reductase to produce reduced glutathione, one of the body’s most important and potent antioxidants.
Another FAD-dependent enzyme, xanthine oxidase, catalyses the oxidation of hypoxanthine and xanthine into uric acid, which functions as a water-soluble antioxidant in the bloodstream.
Due to its essential antioxidant properties, riboflavin plays an important role in combating oxidative stress and reperfusion oxidative injuries within our body.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body.
The higher levels of free radicals in such a situation can lead to cell and tissue damage, resulting in ageing and degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Meanwhile, reperfusion oxidative injury is tissue damage due to increased levels of free radicals and inflammatory cytokines, which can lead to stroke-induced brain damage and cortical contusion injury.
Riboflavin might also be of help in the fight against antibiotic resistance.
Like humans, the micronutrient is essential to the survival of certain pathogenic bacteria like Escherichia coli (which causes diarrhoea, urinary tract infections and pneumonia), Salmonella typhimurium (typhoid fever and gastroenteritis) and Mycobacterium tuberculosis (tuberculosis).
As these bacteria can make their own riboflavin, they do not have an effective system to absorb it from external sources.
This means that finding or developing a drug to block their riboflavin production pathway could be one way of killing them without using antibiotics, thus helping to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
Too little riboflavin
Due to the vast amount of riboflavin-dependent enzymes, riboflavin deficiency is associated with increased oxidative stress, which can lead to a wide variety of problems within the body.
It can affect blood production, leading to anaemia and erythroid hypoplasia; the endocrine system, disturbing overall growth; and the digestive system by disrupting the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
It can also cause migraines, hair loss, cataracts, cheilosis (painful inflammation and cracking of the corners of the mouth, which is also known as perleche and angular stomatitis), glossitis (a swollen and inflamed tongue) and sore throat.
Conversely, the above conditions might be manageable and preventable with sufficient riboflavin.
Also known as ariboflavinosis, riboflavin deficiency is commonly found in Asian and African developing countries.
It can be caused by inadequate dietary intake, endocrine abnormalities, deficiencies of other vitamin B complexes and/or mutations in riboflavin transporters.
It frequently occurs in people with liver disease, alcoholism and chronic diarrhoea, as well as those on haemodialysis.
Certain groups of people, like athletes, children, the elderly, and pregnant or breastfeeding women, might also lack riboflavin due to their physiological condition.
Considering the multiple roles riboflavin has in us humans, further research into this vitamin is certainly important to further unlock its hidden potential and explore any still-unknown benefits.
The next time you buy any food products or supplements, do check out the nutrition label – you might be surprised to see the amount of vitamins in it, especially vitamin B2!
Dr Lee Tze Yan is a lecturer in molecular medicine at the Perdana University School of Liberal Arts, Science and Technology and Dr Chin Voon Kin was a research assistant in medical microbiology at Universiti Putra Malaysia. This article is courtesy of Perdana University. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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