Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) Benefits, Side Effects, Deficiency, Info

Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, is one of 8 B vitamins. It can be found in certain foods such as milk, meat, eggs, nuts, enriched flour, and green vegetables. Riboflavin is important for body growth and red blood cell production and helps maintain a strong immune system by protecting the body from free-radical damage. It also help the body to convert food (carbohydrates) into fuel (glucose), which is "burned" to produce energy. Riboflavin also help the body metabolize fats and protein, and is necessary for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and liver. It help the nervous system function properly.

In addition to producing energy for the body, riboflavin also works as an antioxidant by fighting damaging particles in the body known as free radicals. Free radicals can damage cells and DNA, and may contribute to the aging process, as well as the development of a number of health conditions, such as heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants such as riboflavin can fight free radicals and may reduce or help prevent some of the damage they cause.

Without riboflavin, the other B vitamins, especially niacin (vitamin B3) and pyridoxine (vitamin B6), cannot do their job, and a host of chemical processes necessary to keep the body alive would come to a grinding halt.

Riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin, and although small amounts of it are stored in your kidneys and liver, vitamin B2 must, nevertheless, be replaced daily, as the bulk of it is eliminated from the body through urination, exercise, sweating, etc. This, of course, is a further rationalization for taking supplemental doses of Vitamin B2, aka riboflavin.

Most healthy people who eat a well-balanced diet get enough riboflavin. However, elderly people and alcoholics may be at risk for riboflavin deficiency because of poor diet. Symptoms of riboflavin deficiency include fatigue; slowed growth; digestive problems; cracks and sores around the corners of the mouth; swollen magenta-colored tongue; eye fatigue; swelling and soreness of the throat; and sensitivity to light (see "Riboflavin Deficiency" for more info).


Riboflavin is used for preventing low levels of riboflavin, cervical cancer, and migraineheadaches. It is also used for treating riboflavin deficiency, acne, muscle cramps, burning feet syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, and blood disorders such as congenital methemoglobinemia and red blood cell aplasia. Some people use riboflavin for eye conditions including eye fatigue, cataracts, and glaucoma.

It is also used for preventing migraine headaches. Taking high-dose riboflavin (400 mg/day) seems to significantly reduce the number of migraine headache attacks. However, taking riboflavin does not appear to reduce the amount of pain or the amount of time a migraine headache lasts.

Other uses include increasing energy levels; boosting immune system function; maintaining healthy hair, skin, mucous membranes, and nails; slowing aging; boosting athletic performance; promoting healthy reproductive function; canker sores; memory loss, including Alzheimer's disease; ulcers; burns; alcoholism; liver disease; sickle cell anemia; and treating lactic acidosis brought on by treatment with a class of AIDS-medications called NRTI drugs.

Riboflavin Benefits

Riboflavin is a well absorbed water soluble vitamin, which has a key role to play in maintaining health. Some of its major health benefits are given below:

  • Helps in the production of energy: It plays a major role in the production of energy by assisting in the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

  • Helps in RBC production: Vitamin B2 is essential for the formation of fresh red blood cells and antibodies in humans.

  • Regulates growth and reproduction: Riboflavin has an important role in ensuring proper growth and in the development of reproductive organs and the growth of body tissues such as skin, connective tissue, eyes, mucous membranes, nervous system and the defense system. In addition it also ensures healthy skin, nails and hair growth.

  • Regulates thyroid activity: Vitamin B2 can regulate thyroid activity.

  • Prevents disease conditions: Vitamin B2 can help to prevent many common diseases conditions like migraine headaches, cataracts, acne, dermatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and eczema.

  • Prevents acne: Riboflavin helps to improve the mucus secretion of skin and might clean up the skin pustules.

  • Increases immunity: Riboflavin also helps to enhance the natural immunity by strengthening the antibody reserves and by reinforcing the defense system against infections.

  • Helps in the Repair of tissues: Riboflavin plays an important role in the repair of tissues, healing of wounds and other injuries.

  • Protects the nervous system: Vitamin B2 can help in treating various nervous system conditions such as numbness Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, anxiety and epilepsy among others. It is thought that riboflavin when used along with vitamin B6 was effective to Carpal Tunnel syndrome.

  • Essential for the normal growth: Riboflavin is associated with protein and hence it is essential for normal growth.

  • Ensures healthy eyes: Vitamin B2 plays a major role in ensuring healthy cornea and perfect vision.

  • Helps to slacken the progression of AIDS: Studies have shown that riboflavin can slow down the progression of AIDS.

  • Helps in the absorption of minerals: It helps in the absorption of minerals such as iron, folic acid and other Vitamins such as B1, B3 and B6.

  • Helps to protect the digestive tract: It plays a major role in maintaining the mucous membranes in the digestive system.

  • Healthy development of the fetus: Though there are no proofs to substantiate the claims that Vitamin B2 is essential for the healthy progression of pregnancy, it is regarded as an essential ingredient of the mother's diet along with Vitamin A.

Remember to have a well balanced diet plan to ensure the supply of riboflavin, which needs to be replenished daily.

Specific Riboflavin Health Benefits

  • Neonatal jaundice: Riboflavin supplementation is included in the treatment of neonatal jaundice with phototherapy.

  • Riboflavin deficiency (ariboflavinosis): Studies suggest that riboflavin is beneficial in patients with riboflavin deficiency (ariboflavinosis). Ariboflavinosis may cause weakness, throat swelling/soreness, glossitis (tongue swelling), angular stomatitis/cheilosis (skin cracking or sores at the corners of the mouth), dermatitis (skin irritation), or anemia. Particular groups may be especially susceptible to riboflavin deficiency, including the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, the poor, and those with alcohol dependency. Patients with suspected riboflavin deficiency should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare professional.

  • Anemia: Some research suggests that riboflavin may play an adjunct role in the treatment of iron deficiency anemia and sickle cell anemia; levels of riboflavin may be low in these conditions. Correction of riboflavin deficiency in individuals who are both riboflavin deficient and iron deficient appears to improve response to iron therapy.

  • Anorexia / bulemia: Levels of important nutrients are often low in individuals with anorexia or bulimia, with up to 20-33% of patients deficient in vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B6 (pyridoxine). Dietary changes alone, without additional supplements, can often bring vitamin B levels back to normal. However, extra B2 and B6 may be required. Nutritional and medical guidance for such patients should be under the direction of a qualified healthcare professional.

  • Cataracts: Vitamin B2, along with other nutrients, is important for normal vision. Some early evidence shows that riboflavin might help prevent cataracts -- damage to the lens of the eye, which can lead to cloudy vision. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, people who took a niacin and riboflavin supplement had fewer cataracts than people who took other vitamins and nutrients. However, researchers don't know whether that was due to riboflavin, niacin, or the combination of the two. And levels above 10 mg per day of riboflavin can actually promote damage to the eye from the sun. More research is needed to see if riboflavin can really help in preventing cataracts.

  • Cognitive function: Adequate nutrient supplementation with riboflavin may be required for the maintenance of adequate cognitive function. Treatment with B-vitamins including riboflavin has been reported to improve scores of depression and cognitive function in patients taking tricyclic antidepressants. This may be related to tricyclic-caused depletion of riboflavin levels.

  • Depression: Adequate nutrient supplementation with riboflavin may be required for the maintenance of adequate cognitive function. Treatment with B-vitamins, including riboflavin, has been reported to improve depression scores in patients taking tricyclic antidepressants. This may be related to tricyclic-caused depletion of riboflavin levels.

  • Esophageal cancer (prevention and treatment): Riboflavin supplementation has been studied in the prevention and treatment of esophageal cancer, mostly in China, with mixed results. No clear conclusion can be drawn at this time.

  • Ethylmalonic encephalopathy: Although the exact pathogenesis of this disorder is unknown, some research suggests that riboflavin may lead to slight improvements in motor function, cognitive behavior, and diarrhea.

  • Migraine headache prevention: Several studies suggest that people who get migraines may reduce how often they get migraines and how long they last by taking riboflavin. One double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that taking 400 mg of riboflavin a day cut the number of migraine attacks in half. The study did not compare riboflavin to conventional medications used to prevent migraines, however, so more research is needed.

  • Preeclampsia: Limited study has reported an association between low riboflavin levels and an increased risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy). However, it is not clear if low riboflavin levels are a cause or consequence of this condition, or if additional supplementation is warranted in pregnant women at risk of preeclampsia/eclampsia (beyond the routine use of prenatal vitamins).

Riboflavin Deficiency

Riboflavin deficiency occurs when the chronic failure to eat sufficient amounts of foods that contain riboflavin produces lesions of the skin, lesions of smooth surfaces in the digestive tract, or nervous disorders. Though riboflavin deficiencies are rare, those who regularly consume alcohol may want to supplement this vitamin, as these substances decrease the amount of riboflavin your body is able to absorb. Also, the elderly, those who perform regular strenuous exercise, diabetics, and the lactose intolerant may not be able to absorb enough riboflavin from their diet to meet their needs, and may want to consider taking extra riboflavin.

Riboflavin Deficiency Causes and Symptoms

Although some riboflavin is produced by your intestinal bacteria, deficiencies can occur in certain situations. Alcoholics, elderly persons, the impoverished, people who rely on highly-processed foods and depressed individuals may not consume enough of the right foods to meet their riboflavin needs. In addition, you could become deficient if you take antibiotics for extended periods of time. When riboflavin deficiency is actually detected, it is often associated with low consumption of milk, chronic alcoholism, or chronic diarrhea.

Some conditions may increase your need for riboflavin. These include:

  • alcoholism

  • burns

  • cancer

  • diarrhea (continuing)

  • fever (continuing)

  • illness (continuing)

  • infection

  • intestinal diseases

  • liver disease

  • overactive thyroid

  • serious injury

  • stress (continuing)

  • surgical removal of stomach

The symptoms of riboflavin deficiency include:

  • swelling and fissuring of the lips (cheilosis)

  • ulceration and cracking of the angles of the mouth (angular stomatitisis)

  • oily, scaly skin rashes on the scrotum, vulva, or area between the nose and lips

  • inflammation of the tongue

  • red, itchy eyes that are sensitive to light

The nervous symptoms of riboflavin deficiency include:

  • numbness of the hands

  • decreased sensitivity to touch, temperature, and vibration

The following may also be symptoms of riboflavin deficiency:

  • red, itchy eyes

  • night blindness

  • cataracts

  • migraines

  • peripheral neuropathy

  • anemia (secondary to interference with iron absorption)

  • fatigue

  • malignancy (esophageal and cervical dysplasia)

Deficiency can be associated with developmental abnormalities, such as the following:

  • cleft lip and palate deformities

  • growth retardation in infants and children: results from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, which included an investigation of 324 infants with transverse limb deficiency (TLD), indicated that low maternal dietary intake of riboflavin is a risk factor for TLD

  • congenital heart defects: a study from the Netherlands indicated that a maternal diet that is high in saturated fats and low in riboflavin and nicotinamide may increase the risk for congenital heart defects

Riboflavin Deficiency Treatment

Riboflavin deficiency often occurs in conjunction with other B vitamin deficiencies, so you should discuss the treatment of other B vitamin deficiencies with your doctor if you are diagnosed with a riboflavin deficiency. A measurement of urinary riboflavin can confirm a riboflavin deficiency. To treat a deficiency, oral riboflavin doses of 2 to 10 mg are administered 3 times daily until signs and symptoms improve, and then the dose is reduced to 2 to 4 mg once daily until you completely recover. If oral supplements are ineffective, riboflavin injections can be given. Daily riboflavin requirements for adults vary from 1 to 1.6 mg, with the higher doses recommended for pregnant and lactating women.

Riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin, is considered nontoxic, and has no known adverse effects; Riboflavin should be taken with food, because only about 15% is absorbed when taken alone on an empty stomach; excess riboflavin is excreted in urine, giving the urine a fluorescent yellow-green tint.

Dosages of riboflavin for deficiency treatment are as follows:

  • Age < 3 years: not established

  • Age 3-12 years: 3-10 mg PO divided daily

  • Age >12 years: Administer as in adults

  • Adult dose: 6-30 mg PO divided daily for replacement when deficiency is suspected

As a photosynthesizing agent, riboflavin is destroyed by light. A combination of light, oxygen, and riboflavin can lead to formation of free radicals and, consequently, cataracts; patients with cataracts are advised to take no more than 10 mg of riboflavin daily.

Available Forms

Riboflavin is generally included in multivitamins and B-complex vitamins, and comes separately in 25-, 50-, and 100-mg tablets.

Food Sources

The best sources of riboflavin include brewer's yeast, almonds, organ meats such as liver, lean meats, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, wheat germ, wild rice, mushrooms, soybeans, nuts, legumes, dairy products such as milk and yogurt, eggs, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach. Breads and cereals are often fortified with riboflavin. Fortified means the vitamin has been added to the food.

Riboflavin is destroyed by light, so food should be stored away from light to protect its riboflavin content. While riboflavin is not destroyed by heat, it can be lost in water when foods are boiled or soaked. During cooking, roasting, and steaming preserves more riboflavin than frying or scalding.

Riboflavin Side Effects & Safety Precautions

Side Effects

Riboflavin does not seem to cause any serious side effects. Very high doses may cause itching, numbness, burning or prickling sensations, yellow or orange urine, and sensitivity to light.

It is not known whether an overdose of riboflavin is dangerous. If you suspect and overdose, call a doctor or a poison control center for advice.

Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction:

  • hives;

  • difficulty breathing;

  • swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Riboflavin may cause your urine to become a yellow-orange color. This effect is harmless.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.


Riboflavin is SAFE for most people. In some people, riboflavin can cause the urine to turn a yellow-orange color. When taken in high doses, riboflavin might cause diarrhea, an increase in urine, and other side effects.

Riboflavin is SAFE for pregnant or breast-feeding women when taken in the amounts recommended. The recommended amounts are 1.4 mg per day for pregnant women and 1.6 mg per day in breast-feeding women. Not enough is known about the safety of taking larger doses during pregnancy or breast-feeding.

Riboflavin is generally considered SAFE, even at high doses. However, because doses above 10 mg per day may cause eye damage from the sun, people who take high doses should wear sunglasses that protect their eyes from ultraviolet light.

Taking any one of the B vitamins for a long period of time can result in an imbalance of other important B vitamins. For this reason, you may want to take a B complex vitamin, which includes all the B vitamins.

There are no restrictions on food, beverages, or activities while you are taking riboflavin unless otherwise directed by your doctor.

Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.

Possible Interactions

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use vitamin B2 supplements without first talking to your health care provider.

Anticholinergic Drugs -- used to treat a variety of conditions, including gastrointestinal spasms, asthma, depression, and motion sickness. These drugs may make it hard for the body to absorb riboflavin.

Tetracycline -- Riboflavin interferes with the absorption and effectiveness of tetracycline, an antibiotic. All vitamin B complex supplements act in this way. You should take riboflavin at a different time during the day from when you take tetracycline.

Tricyclic Antidepressants -- Tricyclic antidepressants may reduce levels of riboflavin in the body. They include:

  • Imipramine (Tofranil)

  • Desimpramine (Norpramin)

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)

  • Nortriptyline (Pamelor)

Antipsychotic Medications -- Antipsychotic medications called phenothiazines (such as chlorpromazine or Thorazine) may lower riboflavin levels.

Doxorubicin -- Riboflavin interferes with doxorubicin, a medication used for the treatment of certain cancers. Also, doxorubicin may deplete levels of riboflavin in the body. Your doctor will let you know whether you need to take a riboflavin supplement or not.

Methotrexate -- Methotrexate, a medication used to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, can interfere with how the body uses riboflavin.

Phenytoin -- Phenytoin (Dilantin), a medication used to control seizures, may affect riboflavin levels in the body.

Probenecid -- This medication used for gout may decrease the absorption of riboflavin from the digestive tract and increase how much is lost in the urine.

Thiazide Diuretics (water pills) -- Diuretics that belong to a class known as thiazides, such as hydrochlorothiazide, may cause you to lose more riboflavin in your urine.

Riboflavin Dosing

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

By Mouth:

  • For treating low levels of riboflavin (riboflavin deficiency) in adults: 5-30 mg of riboflavin (Vitamin B2) daily in divided doses.

  • For preventing migraine headaches: 400 mg of riboflavin (Vitamin B2) per day. It may take up to three months to get best results.

  • For preventing cataracts: a daily dietary intake of approximately 2.6 mg of riboflavin (Vitamin B2) has been used. A combination of 3 mg of riboflavin (Vitamin B2) plus 40 mg of niacin daily has also been used.

Daily recommendations for dietary riboflavin are listed below.


  • Infants birth - 6 months: 0.3 mg (adequate intake)

  • Infants 7 - 12 months: 0.4 mg (adequate intake)

  • Children 1 - 3 years: 0.5 mg (RDA)

  • Children 4 - 8 years: 0.6 mg (RDA)

  • Children 9 - 13 years: 0.9 mg (RDA)

  • Boys 14 - 18 years: 1.3 mg (RDA)

  • Girls 14 - 18 years: 1 mg (RDA)


  • Men 19 years and older: 1.3 mg (RDA)

  • Women 19 years and older: 1.1 mg (RDA)

  • Pregnant women: 1.4 mg (RDA)

  • Breastfeeding women: 1.6 mg (RDA)

Riboflavin is best absorbed when taken between meals.

People who do not eat a balanced diet every day may benefit from taking a multivitamin and mineral complex.

Riboflavin Reviews

The following reviews have been selected:


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:

4.0 out of 5 stars The pill works!, September 12, 2009



B2 has changed my life. My migraines were once controlled by getting enough sleep, but I found myself popping aspirin or tylenol everyday for a month when I decided I needed to do something about it! I found the B2 literature.

The pills work, and happily they are smaller than other pills I've gotten (for the same mg), so they are easier to take.


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, August 26, 2009


Michael J. Cuneo

This is the only vitamin that I take that I *know* does what I need it to do.

My doctor recommend 400 mg of B-2 a day as a preventative against severe migraines which have plagued me all my life. I take four of these pills every morning and the number and severity of migraines has dramatically decreased. I can't say I never get migraines now, but they are definitely less strong, of shorter duration, and happen with less frequency.


5.0 out of 5 stars B2 has really improved my life!, September 22, 2011


G. Fisher

Taking Vitamin B2 has totally changed my life! I have suffered from tension headaches & migraines for so long, it's hard to remember not having them. B2 has cured almost all my sensitivities to stimuli that previously triggered migraines. It absolutely amazes me that all the doctors I've been to have been so ignorant about supplements that they have not known about this easy-to-try remedy. I had been taking a multi B supplement, but not B2 in particular. Within 2 days of starting on 400 mg/day, I was able to wean myself off the other treatment meds I'd been taking for headaches. Those meds had been helping, but they'd also been causing rebound headaches. Once I got out of that cycle and got all that other medicine out of my system, I could function without other medication except a low level of preventative med. Once in a while I still get a migraine out of nowhere, but it is very seldom compared with my previous life before B2. I don't know if there are real differences between brands, but this is a reliable, natural brand; a very reasonable price; and an easy to swallow tablet.


4.0 out of 5 stars Wouldn't leave home without it, October 30, 2011



I started taking vitamin B2 as a means of controlling my migraines and I was amazed by the results. Although there are certain side effects to taking a vitamin also used as a yellow dye in many instance (none are worth a worry, I assure you), I've had a great experience using this item. The capsules are easy to swallow, and the containers come in fairly good quantities. Sometimes there might be a capsule that spilled inside the container, however, and you might want to make sure you don't place the pills on a white garment or else it could end up stained.


5.0 out of 5 stars Great price, October 28, 2011


Tracie Barthel

I decided to take vitamin B2 to help prevent morning migraines. I take 400 mg a day and this product not only helps me prevent migraines but is also more affordable then some. I will continue to buy this product.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:

5.0 out of 5 stars Good, consistant quality, April 24, 2011


bendwriter (Bend, OR United States)

I use these at the recommendation of my doctor to help with migraine headaches. 400 mg/day, and it's definitely helped. I tried these first, but then switched to a different brand because it was less expensive. However, the quality simply wasn't there, so I switched back to these.


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