Riboflavin: Evolving Clinical Indications


The B vitamins are a group of related vitamins that maintain cell health and provide energy.

The B vitamins are a group of related vitamins that maintain cell health and provide energy. Each B vitamin has a unique role—and comes from unique sources. B12, for example, is a meat and dairy sourced vitamin, whereas other B vitamins are usually found in fruits and vegetables.

In an article published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the authors discuss the latest insights into this vitamin’s essential role in cell biology.

Humans absorb riboflavin in the intestine using a specific carrier-mediated process. To a certain extent, the gut is able to self-adjust, increasing absorption when low quantities of riboflavin are present, and decreasing absorption in the situations of over-supplementation.

Riboflavin deficiency has serious health repercussions. Patients may present with hair loss, corneal vascularization, anemia, or erythoid hypoplasia. Orally, they may develop cheilosis (caling and fissures at the corners of the mouth), glossitis, angular stomatitis (inflammation at the corners of the lips), or sore throat.

Riboflavin deficiency inflames the intestinal mucous membranes and disturbs carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. As the deficiency progresses, patients may develop swollen tongue, seborrheic dermatitis, anemia, and impaired nerve function.

Riboflavin deficiency usually occurs in individuals whose have dietary deficiencies, such as in an individual who eats a rice-based diet with little protein.

In the clinical situation in developed nations, deficiency is usually related to long-standing infections, liver disease, and alcoholism. Individuals who are on kidney dialysis also have elevated risk.

In developed nations, young women and the elderly are at greatest risk of deficiency.

Riboflavin supplementation has improved outcomes in some patients who have migraine headache, perhaps due to improved mitochondrial function. It has an obvious role in anemia, as it aids erythropoiesis and mobilizes ferritin. Adequate riboflavin intake may prevent cataracts, and may reduce the complications of diabetes by reducing oxidative stress. Current research is underway to determine if riboflavin supplementation has a role in blood pressure reduction and cancer prevention or treatment.


Thakur K, Tomar SK, Singh AK, Mandal S, Arora S. Riboflavin and health: A review of recent human research. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017;57(17):3650-3660.

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