Food & function

Riboflavin as a photosensitizer. Effects on human health and food quality.

PMID 22406738


Riboflavin, vitamin B₂, and flavins (as riboflavin building blocks or degradation products) are efficient photosensitizers inducing oxidative damage to light-exposed tissue and food by substrate-dependent mechanisms, for which protection is offered by specific nutrients. Phenolic and N-heterocyclic amino acids and their peptides and proteins deactivate triplet-excited state riboflavin in diffusion controlled processes, efficiently competing with deactivation by oxygen, resulting in direct (so called Type I) protein degradation through electron transfer or proton-coupled electron transfer. In light-exposed tissue, such often long lived protein radicals may as primary photoproducts initiate lipid and vitamin oxidation. In contrast, for lipid systems, oxygen deactivation of triplet-excited state riboflavin, resulting in formation of singlet oxygen, is under aerobic conditions faster than direct deactivation by lipids, which otherwise under anaerobic conditions occurs as hydrogen atom transfer from polyunsaturated lipids to triplet riboflavin. Singlet oxygen adds to unsaturated lipids and forms lipid hydroperoxides as primary lipid oxidation products or oxidizes proteins (Type II mechanism). Carotenoids seem not to deactivate triplet riboflavin, while chromanols like vitamin E and plant polyphenols are efficient in such deactivation yielding protection of proteins and lipids by these phenols. Indirect protection against the triplet reactivity of riboflavin is further important for polyphenols as riboflavin singlet excited state quenchers in effectively preventing riboflavin intersystem crossing to yield the reactive triplet state. Riboflavin photosensitization becomes critical for degradation of proteins, unsaturated lipids, and folate, thiamine, ascorbate and other vitamins during light exposure of food during storage. For skin, eye and other tissue exposed to high intensity light, dietary polyphenols like flavonoids are important in direct protection against photosensitized oxidation, while dietary carotenoids may yield protection through inner-filter effects, through scavenging of radicals resulting from Type I photosensitization, and through quenching of singlet oxygen formed in Type II photosensitization. Both carotenoids and polyphenols accordingly counteract the degenerative effect induced by riboflavin exposed to light, although by different mechanisms.

Related Materials

Product #



Molecular Formula

Add to Cart

Riboflavin, United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Reference Standard