Riboflavin, or Vitamin B2, is a type of water-soluble micronutrient that contributes towards good health in animals and humans. It plays a vital role in the growth of the body and production of red cells. It is needed for healthy growth of skin, hair, nails and proper thyroid activity. Riboflavin is known to act like an antioxidant in some cases. It is also needed to activate Folic acid and Vitamin B6, and in the production of fuel for the body from food. It regenerates an antioxidant called Glutathione, which protects the cells of the body against damage.
Riboflavin deficiency usually occurs due to inadequate or un-healthy dietary habits. However, there are other causes to the deficiency as well. Inability of the body to use Riboflavin, impaired absorption in the intestine or increased excretion from the body are some of the other causes. Alcoholics and those with chronic liver disease are more prone to Riboflavin deficiency. Elderly people, especially those who do not have a high-vegetable diet, may also be susceptible. People who are on oral contraceptives or antidepressants have also been diagnosed with Riboflavin deficiency.
Being water-soluble, only an insignificant quantity of Riboflavin can be stored in the body. Due to the continuous excretion via urine, Riboflavin deficiency is common in cases of insufficient dietary intake on a daily basis. In general, however, Riboflavin deficiency rarely occurs alone and is accompanied by other vitamin deficiencies.
Riboflavin is essential for the normal growth, reproduction, development and repair of body tissues. The primary manifestation of Riboflavin deficiency is therefore in the mucous membranes and the skin. One of the most characteristic symptoms of Riboflavin deficiency is lesions of the skin. These lesions occur mostly at the corners of the mouth and cause the tongue to become red and sore. When the deficiency is more severe, sores develop at the corners of the mouth and the tongue becomes swollen. Ulcers of the mouth, weakness, dandruff, abnormal growth of blood vessels on the whites of the eyes (bloodshot eyes), low red blood cells count are some of the other complications arising out of Riboflavin deficiency. In some people it could cause poor digestion, insomnia and slower mental response. Some esophageal cancers have also been linked to Riboflavin deficiency.
Riboflavin deficiency has a significant effect on the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in the body. These three food elements need Riboflavin to be properly converted into energy by the body. The adrenal glands do not function as designed in the case of Riboflavin deficiency. It could also cause cataracts and vaginal itching.
Riboflavin deficiency can be diagnosed by a test done on the red blood cells. The activity level of an enzyme, Glutathione reductase, is measured. This is done by placing red blood cells in two test tubes, one of which contains “flavin adenine dinucleotide,” a riboflavin derivative. If the added derivative causes a 20% or lower stimulation of the enzyme, it is considered normal. Anything above 20% is an indicator of Riboflavin deficiency.
The treatment of Riboflavin deficiency is possible under the guidance of a physician. The usual course of treatment is in the form of Riboflavin supplements. Deficiency of Riboflavin may be prevented by consumption of a diet rich in vitamins. The inclusion of whole grains, milk and milk products, meat, and green vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli is recommended. The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Riboflavin for adult men is 1.3 mg/day and women 1.1 mg/day. This may increase in the case of pregnancy (1.4 mg) and lactation (1.6 mg). The RDA for infants is 0.3-0.4 mg per day and for children, 0.6-0.9 mg per day.
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