Riboflavin and Calcium: The Milk Link

Widespread nutrient deficiencies are frequently reported in the literature, and often multiple nutrient deficiencies are present in large numbers of those individuals under study. Nutrient deficiencies are common in the developing World because many of the people living there do not have access to resources, and as a result food is often limited in quantity and quality. However, Western nations fare even worse when it comes to nutrition because the Western diet is devoid of meaningful levels of many essential nutrients. In addition, Wester foods contain many anti-nutrients that increase requirement for particular essential vitamins, minerals or fatty acids. Within Western populations subgroups of individuals are particularly at risk of developing nutrient deficiencies because of the low quality of their diets. One such group, the elderly, have been extensively studied with regard their diet and nutrient intakes. The elderly are at particularly high risk because nutrient absorption decreases with ages and this exacerbates the problems of a poor diet.

The riboflavin and calcium status of elderly patients living in private care facilities in the united states of America has been reported previously1. All subjects consumed foods that provided over the recommended daily amount (RDA) for riboflavin, as estimated from food histories, with mean intake being 50 % above the recommended amount. Urinary riboflavin excretion was high and erythrocyte glutathione reductase normal suggesting that riboflavin nutriture was adequate in these subjects. However, in contrast, only 4 of the 24 subjects had adequate calcium intakes, and many of the elderly subjects were therefore at risk of calcium deficiencies. Interestingly, those who derived their riboflavin intake mainly from milk, were the subjects who had the best calcium intakes, while those who derived riboflavin intakes from other sources had the poorest calcium intakes. The authors calculated that calcium intakes dropped below 80 % of the RDA in those subjects who derived less than 40 % of their riboflavin intake from milk.

Milk is a good sources of many vitamins and minerals. Most of the population of the Worlds is deficient in lactase, the enzyme required to digest the lactose sugar in milk. Only Western Europeans and their descendants in Australia and North America retain the ability to digest lactose. For these people milk is a good source of nutrition. The results from this study demonstrate the association between particular nutrients and how certain foods can provide better nutrition that alternatives. Of course, those not drinking milk may have had greater intakes of other nutrients, but this was not measured. Those subjects taking a multivitamin containing riboflavin had increases in their urinary excretion of the vitamin that matched the increased intake. These results also confirm the ease with with riboflavin intakes are able to saturate plasma, and show that excess intakes above about 2 mg are not retained in the body (here). Milk is therefore likely be able to supply most of the riboflavin needs for sedentary individuals not under undue stress.


1Alexander, M., Emanuel, G., Golin, T., Pinto, J. T. and Rivlin, R. S. 1984. Relation of riboflavin nutriture in healthy elderly to intake of calcium and vitamin supplements: evidence against riboflavin supplementation. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 39: 540-546

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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