Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B12, is one of the 8 B complex vitamins essential for your health. It’s a water-soluble vitamin, which plays a significant role in several important bodily functions. Riboflavin also helps metabolize glucose (the form of sugar used by the body to produce energy) and support the production of red blood cells. Also, it acts like an antioxidant that prevents free radicals from causing damage.
Riboflavin is naturally found in a wide variety of foods included in the American diet. Vitamin B2 is found in dairy products, plants, and grains. As a result, vitamin B2 deficiency is rare in the United States. If this occurs, it can cause many health problems.
Vitamin B2 along with other B Complex vitamins is important for maintaining optimal health and nutrition. It plays a vital role in the breakdown of nutrients found in foods, including fats, proteins, and carbohydrates – to generate energy. Riboflavin is considered very beneficial in treating and preventing some medical conditions, including:[i]
- Cardiovascular disease
- Types of cancer
According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), riboflavin shows lots of promise as a possible treatment for migraines. Migraines are known to be caused by imbalances in the brain chemicals or changes in the brainstem.[ii] Vitamin B2 seems to help overcome the imbalances by enhancing energy production and respiration within the brain cell’s mitochondria.
Studies show riboflavin is helpful in the prevention of cancer. This is because vitamin B2 helps protect cellular DNA from getting damaged by cancer-causing agents such as cigarette smoke.[iii] Researchers believe that some cancers like cervical cancer and esophageal cancer can be avoided by stabilizing the structure of cell DNA.
Cataracts are prevalent among the elderly. It’s a condition where the eye lens starts to cloud over. People who consume vitamin B2 in the diet appear to have reduced risks of cataracts.[iv] Riboflavin also plays a major role in the synthesis of niacin, with rising levels of niacin corresponding to a reduction in risks of cataracts.
Homocysteine is an amino acid present in the blood. Increased hormone levels are associated with a series of adverse medical conditions, including heart attacks, dementia, and stroke.[v] Riboflavin supplements taken every day reduces levels of homocysteine by 40%.[vi]
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) Deficiency
Riboflavin deficiency is a considerable risk when a diet is poor since the body continuously excretes vitamin B2, so it isn’t stored. It’s highly likely that an individual who lacks enough vitamin B2 might also lack other vitamins. There are different types of vitamin B2 deficiency
- Vitamin B2 deficiency happens when an individuals diet lacks enough riboflavin
- Secondary riboflavin deficiency happens for different reasons, probably because the intestines can’t properly absorb the vitamin or the body can’t use it or because vitamin B2 is being eliminated too quickly.
Also known as ariboflavinosis, riboflavin deficiency signs include:
- Hair loss (alopecia)
- Enlarged blood vessels in the eyes
- Tongue inflammation (“magenta tongue”)
- Cracked mouth corners (“angular stomatitis)
- Sores or cracks on the lips
- Weakness and fatigue
- Sore throat
As mentioned earlier, vitamin B2 deficiency doesn’t occur alone, and it’s highly likely there’s depletion of other B complex vitamins. While riboflavin deficiency isn’t common in the United States, there are some conditions that increase a person’s risk including:
- Alcohol abuse – people who drink excess alcohol, aren’t likely to get enough riboflavin in their diets.
- Anorexia – since calories are quickly reduced, individuals with anorexia aren’t able to get enough nutrition.
Other risk factors include:
- Lactose intolerance
- Adrenal insufficiency and hypothyroidism
- Birth control pills
Possible Side Effects
If you don’t get sufficient riboflavin in your diet, the doctor might recommend either a B complex supplement or a daily multivitamin. You should only use the supplements as prescribed by a qualified health physician. Most of the supplements provide 25 milligrams to 100 milligrams of riboflavin; a minimal amount is absorbed in the intestines. The remaining riboflavin is removed from the stool.
Even the smallest doses of vitamin B2 can cause urine to turn bright yellow, a condition known as flavinuria. Doses over 100 milligrams might cause a burning sensation on your skin, blurriness, light sensitivity, numbness, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and itchiness.
Although it’s not possible to overdose on riboflavin (considering the low absorption levels and high rates of excretion), that should not in any way suggest that there won’t be any adverse effects. Although very rare, induced light sensitivity could increase the risks of eye damage from direct exposure to sunlight. That said, there are no known toxic effects, which are associated with high vitamin B2 intake, either injected or oral use.
It’s also important to note that vitamin B2 supplement interacts with other medications, and riboflavin supplements might interfere with the effectiveness of drugs such as tetracycline and anticholinergic medications. At times your doctor might recommend supplementation if patients are using drugs, which might impact the absorption of vitamin B2.
Dosage And Preparation
The national academies of sciences, engineering, and medicine set the recommended dietary intake (RDI) for riboflavin. The RDA describes the amount of nutrients a person can get every day based on sex and age. For riboflavin, the RDA for men and women is 1.3 per day mg and 1.1 mg per day, respectively.[vii]
Where To Get Your Riboflavin
You can get your RDA for riboflavin from foods and also supplements. However, we strongly recommend that you get your recommended intake from foods because you also get to enjoy other health benefits. With riboflavin supplements, you get riboflavin, nothing else.
Foods Rich In Riboflavin
Vitamin B2 is found in different types of foods, especially tree nuts and dairy. Following is a list of the best dietary food sources of riboflavin.
- Almonds: one ounce has 0.29 mg
- Hard-boiled eggs: one large egg has 0.26 mg
- Skim milk: one cup has 0.22 mg
- Cooked spinach: half a cup has 0.21 mg
- Roasted chicken: 3 ounces has 0.16 mg
- Ground beef: 3 ounces has 0.15 mg
- Asparagus: 6 spears has 0.15 mg
- Salmon: 3 ounces has 0.13 mg
- Cheddar cheese: one ounce has 0.11 mg
You can also get riboflavin from grains and fortified cereals. For instance, one cup of puffed wheat cereal has 0.22 milligrams of riboflavin, whereas two slices of wheat bread have 0.12 milligrams. Cooking does not damage riboflavin, so you never have to worry about losing nutritional benefits whether the food is steamed, boiled, or fried. Because riboflavin breaks down if exposed to sunlight, it’s best to store riboflavin-rich foods in dark containers.
Other sources of riboflavin include:
- Yeast extract
- Wheat bran, enriched bread, and whole-grain bread
- Cruciferous veggies like watercress, dandelion greens, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli
- Sweet potatoes
- Peas, navy beans, lima beans
- Fortified cereals
- Liver, kidneys, beef, chicken, poultry, meat, and fish
Riboflavin supplements are available as liquids, effervescent, capsules, and tablets. Riboflavin injections are administered intramuscularly. Also, there are prescription eye drops utilizing injectable riboflavin form for eye injections.
Riboflavin supplements might be found at nearly every health food store, grocery store, or drug store. Also, they can be purchased online in liquid, capsule, and tablet forms. When shopping for riboflavin supplements, always buy brands approved and tested by certifying agencies such as ConsumerLab, NSF International, or U.S. Pharmacopeia to guarantee safety and high quality.
What is the main health benefit of riboflavin?
What foods are high in vitamin B2?
What does riboflavin do?
What are the symptoms of riboflavin deficiency?
Can too much riboflavin be harmful?
How much riboflavin should you take daily?
- [i] National Institutes of Health. Riboflavin — Health Professional Fact Sheet. Updated March 6, 2020.
- [ii] Condo M, Posar A, Arbizzani A, Parmeggiani A. Riboflavin Prophylaxis in Pediatric and Adolescent Migraine. J Headache Pain. 2009;10(5):361-365. doi:10.1007/s10194-009-0142
- [iii] Powers HJ. Riboflavin (vitamin B-2) and health. Amer J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(6):1352-1360. doi:10.1093/ajcn/77.6.1352
- [iv] Weikel KA, Garber C, Baburins A, Taylor A. Nutritional modulation of cataract. Nutr Rev. 2014;72(1):30-47. doi:10.1111/nure.12077
- [v] Mcnulty H, Dowey LRC, Strain JJ, et al. Riboflavin Lowers Homocysteine in Individuals Homozygous for the MTHFR677C→T Polymorphism. Circulation. 2005;113(1):74-80. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.105.580332
- [vi] Kennedy DO. B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy–A Review. Nutrients. 2016;8(2):68. doi:10.3390/nu802006
- [vii] National Institutes of Health. Riboflavin — Health Professional Fact Sheet. Updated March 6, 2020.