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What Is Riboflavin?

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
Riboflavin is a B vitamin required to metabolize fat and protein, which can be found in foods such as cheese, nuts, and bread.

You may have recently heard about the importance of having enough riboflavin in your diet. But what is riboflavin? Riboflavin is simply another name for vitamin B2. It’s one of eight B vitamins that your body uses to metabolize fat and protein and to convert carbs into the glucose your cells require for energy. Your nerves and brain need riboflavin to function properly and it also helps keep your skin, eyes, hair, and liver healthy. As a water-soluble vitamin, your body doesn't store it, so you need to regularly get enough in your diet.

Riboflavin Health Benefits

If you feel good, you’re probably doing something right in terms of nutrition. That means getting enough riboflavin and all the other key nutrients your body needs. When it comes to staying healthy, riboflavin is important because it boasts the following benefits.

Migraine: Adults and kids who don’t get enough riboflavin tend to experience frequent headaches and even migraines. However, it seems that when a person gets enough riboflavin, the number of headaches is reduced. [1] One trial of 55 patients showed that those who took 200-400 mg of riboflavin had substantially fewer migraines and headaches than those given the placebo. This reduced both the frequency and intensity of the headaches. [2]

Cataracts: According to the National Institute of Health, people who get more riboflavin along with niacin may have a lower risk of getting cataracts. [3] More research is needed to really know the interaction of riboflavin with the eye.

Iron Absorption: Iron is an important mineral for growth and development. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, particularly in women who are pregnant or nursing and young children. Riboflavin helps the body absorb both iron and zinc and also helps make them both more available to your body. [4] [5] This increase in absorption helps to prevent iron deficiency and other accompanying symptoms.

Red Blood Cells: Riboflavin is a key factor in the body’s production of red blood cells. [6]

Riboflavin also plays an important role in how your body functions. It helps lower homocysteine levels, which can help protect against heart disease [7]. It also improves muscle function and helps to prevent cramping.

Dietary Sources of Riboflavin

Some of the best sources of riboflavin are almonds, brewer’s yeast, broccoli, spinach, eggs, milk, yogurt, wild rice and organ meats. Below, you will see some of the best sources of riboflavin. Keep in mind that it is a water soluble vitamin, so when you boil foods with riboflavin, you can lose up to half of this key nutrient (and other water-soluble vitamins) from the food. In other words, enjoy raw food when possible.

Selected Food Sources of Riboflavin [8]

Food Milligrams per serving Percent DV*
Beef liver, pan fried, 3 ounces 2.9 171
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 100% of the DV for riboflavin, 1 serving 1.7 100
Oats, instant, fortified, cooked with water, 1 cup 1.1 65
Yogurt, plain, fat free, 1 cup 0.6 35
Milk, 2% fat, 1 cup 0.5 29
Beef, tenderloin steak, boneless, trimmed of fat, grilled, 3 ounces 0.4 24
Clams, mixed species, cooked, moist heat, 3 ounces 0.4 24
Mushrooms, portabella, sliced, grilled, ½ cup 0.3 18
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce 0.3 18
Cheese, Swiss, 3 ounces 0.3 18
Rotisserie chicken, breast meat only, 3 ounces 0.2 12
Egg, whole, scrambled, 1 large 0.2 12
Quinoa, cooked, 1 cup 0.2 12
Bagel, plain, enriched, 1 medium (3½" – 4" diameter) 0.2 12
Salmon, pink, canned, 3 ounces 0.2 12
Spinach, raw, 1 cup 0.1 6
Apple, with skin, 1 large 0.1 6
Kidney beans, canned, 1 cup 0.1 6
Macaroni, elbow shaped, whole wheat, cooked, 1 cup 0.1 6
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 0.1 6
Cod, Atlantic, cooked, dry heat, 3 ounces 0.1 6
Sunflower seeds, toasted, 1 ounce 0.1 6
Tomatoes, crushed, canned, ½ cup 0.1 6
Rice, white, enriched, long grain, cooked, ½ cup 0.1 6

Riboflavin Deficiency

Inadequate nutrition is a big concern with big consequences. A few common symptoms of riboflavin deficiency include... [6] [9]

  • Fatigue
  • Your eyes tire quickly
  • Throat swelling and soreness
  • A swollen tongue with a magenta, or deep red color
  • Cracks and sores around the corner of the mouth
  • Digestive trouble
  • Slowed growth in children or during pregnancy
  • An unusual sensitivity to light

Riboflavin is especially important for women. Years ago, researchers found that exercise increases the amount of riboflavin a woman needs. [10] Research shows riboflavin is important for pregnant women, as a deficiency increases the risk of preeclampsia during pregnancy. [11] Low levels of vitamin B2 and nicotinamide also increase the chance of congenital heart disease to babies in utero. [12]

How to Consume More Riboflavin

Riboflavin is widely available on its own or as part of B-complex vitamins. Supplementing riboflavin in combination with other antioxidants and metabolic boosters is a great way to promote good health, especially if your diet isn’t providing the nutrients you need.

References (12)
  1. Schoenen J, Jacquy J, Lenaerts M. Effectiveness of high-dose riboflavin in migraine prophylaxis. A randomized controlled trial. Neurology. 1998 Feb;50(2):466-70.
  2. Condò M, Posar A, Arbizzani A, Parmeggiani A. Riboflavin prophylaxis in pediatric and adolescent migraine. J Headache Pain. 2009 Oct;10(5):361-5. doi: 10.1007/s10194-009-0142-2. Epub 2009 Aug 1.
  3. Medline Plus. Riboflavin.
  4. Agte VV, Paknikar KM, Chiplonkar SA. Effect of riboflavin supplementation on zinc and iron absorption and growth performance in mice. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1998 Nov;65(2):109-15.
  5. Shi, Zumin et al. Inadequate Riboflavin Intake and Anemia Risk in a Chinese Population: Five-Year Follow Up of the Jiangsu Nutrition Study. Ed. Keitaro Matsuo. PLoS ONE 9.2 (2014): e88862. PMC. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
  6. Medline Plus. Roboflavin
  7. McNulty H, Dowey le RC, Strain JJ, Dunne A, Ward M, Molloy AM, McAnena LB, Hughes JP, Hannon-Fletcher M, Scott JM. Riboflavin lowers homocysteine in individuals homozygous for the MTHFR 677C->T polymorphism. Circulation. 2006 Jan 3;113(1):74-80.
  8. National Institute of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Riboflavin
  9. University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin).
  10. Belko AZ, Obarzanek E, Kalkwarf HJ, Rotter MA, Bogusz S, Miller D, Haas JD, Roe DA. Effects of exercise on riboflavin requirements of young women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1983 Apr;37(4):509-17.
  11. Wacker J, Frühauf J, Schulz M, Chiwora FM, Volz J, Becker K. Riboflavin deficiency and preeclampsia. Obstet Gynecol. 2000 Jul;96(1):38-44.
  12. Smedts HP, Rakhshandehroo M, Verkleij-Hagoort AC, de Vries JH, Ottenkamp J, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen RP. Maternal intake of fat, riboflavin and nicotinamide and the risk of having offspring with congenital heart defects. Eur J Nutr. 2008 Oct;47(7):357-65. doi: 10.1007/s00394-008-0735-6. Epub 2008 Sep 8.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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