Vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin) is a water soluble, B complex vitamin (a group of vitamins that were initially thought to be the singular vitamin B) that was first noticed in 1879 when a fluorescent yellow-green coloured pigment was found in milk. However, no one knew what this pigment actually did. In 1920 researchers heated food stuffs containing vitamin B (which we now know as the eight B complex vitamins) and found that the heat destroyed the beriberi preventing effect (now known as vitamin B1). However, it did not destroy the growth promoting effect as quickly which prompted further research into the B vitamins. In the 1930s Otto Warburg isolated the yellow-green substance discussed above and discovered that it was actually made of two parts; a protein part and a non-protein part. Following on from this two scientists, Richard Kuhn and Paul Karrer, isolated the non-protein part and it became labelled vitamin B2.
The main function of vitamin B2 is to work with the other B complex vitamins to help your body’s cells break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats and use them for energy. It is therefore essential for healthy growth but it has a number of other functions too which include:
– Assisting in the metabolism of other vitamins.
– Production of red blood cells.
– Promoting healthy skin.
– Promoting healthy vision.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B2 is 1.3mg for men and 1.1mg for women. As you can probably guess from the beginning of this article, milk is the single richest source. Other dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and ice cream also contain high levels of vitamin B2. Enriched whole grain products are another great source of this vitamin. However, when storing these foods you need to take care. Although vitamin B2 is not very sensitive to heat (compared with other water soluble vitamins), it is sensitive to light. Therefore, make sure that you keep these foods in a dark place where they are not exposed to intense lighting.
Not getting enough vitamin B2 is uncommon but has a number of adverse effects. A deficiency can make the skin become greasy, scaly or dry leading to cracks, inflammation and soreness. It can also cause significant damage to the eyes and has been linked with the development of cataracts (when the clear lens of the eye becomes cloudy).
It is very difficult to consumed too much vitamin B2 orally. Since it is a water soluble vitamin any excess is excreted in the urine. However, it is possible to overdose on this vitamin if taken via injection. The effects of overdosing are not believed to be toxic but the symptoms can include itching and numbness.
Vitamin B2 is found in many dietary staples including bread and milk. Therefore, you should easily be able to get enough from diet alone. If you struggle try drinking an extra glass of milk each day and switching over to whole grain bread, cereal, pasta and rice. Vitamin B2 is very important for healthy growth and whilst a deficiency is rare, I highly recommend that you take a second look at your diet and ensure that it contains enough of this valuable vitamin.
History of Vitamins (The Vitamins & Nutrition Center)
Riboflavin Information (World of Scientific Discovery)
Vitamin B2 Information (How Stuff Works)
Vitamin B2 Information (Life Clinic)