Vitamin B2 / Riboflavin: Benefits, Sources, & Deficiency

Vitamin-B2-Title

Vitamin B2 / Riboflavin

Vitamin B2, also called Riboflavin, is an important vitamin that also acts as an antioxidant within the body. Vitamin B2 is responsible for maintaining healthy blood cells, helping to boost energy levels, facilitating in a healthy metabolism, preventing free radical damage, contributing to growth, protecting skin and eye health, and even more. (1)

Because it’s a water soluble vitamin like all B vitamins, Vitamin B2 must be obtained through a healthy diet and replenished often, ideally every day, in order to avoid a riboflavin deficiency. All B vitamins are used to help digest and extract energy from the foods you eat; they do this by converting nutrients from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into useable energy in the form of “ATP”. For this reason, Vitamin B2 is needed for the functioning of every single cell within your body, and a riboflavin deficiency or lack of B vitamins in your diet can create a number of serious side effects.

Vitamin B2 is used in combination with other B vitamins, which make up the “B Vitamin Complex”. In fact B2 must be present in high enough amounts in the body to allow other B vitamins including B6 and folic acid to properly do their jobs. All B vitamins are responsible for important functions including contributing to nerve health, heart and blood health, skin and eye health, reducing inflammation, hormonal function, and are used to maintain a healthy metabolism and digestive system.


Riboflavin/ Vitamin B2 Deficiency

According to the USDA, a Vitamin B2 riboflavin deficiency is not very common in western, developed nations, most likely because many refined carbohydrates are fortified with riboflavin. Additionally, other commonly consumed foods like eggs and meat can provide a good source of Vitamin B2 too.

The RDA for adult males is 1.3 mg/day and 1.1 mg/day for women, while children and infants require less. For those who suffer from a known riboflavin deficiency or conditions related to anemia, migraine headaches, eye disorders, thyroid dysfunction, and some other conditions, more Vitamin B2 might be necessary in order to help correct the underlying problems.

Signs of a Vitamin B2 deficiency can include (2):

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Nerve damage
  • A sluggish metabolism
  • Mouth or lip sores or cracks
  • Skin inflammation and skin disorders, especially around the nose and face
  • Inflamed mouth and tongue
  • Sore throat
  • Swelling of mucus membranes
  • Changes in mood, such as increased anxiety and signs of depression

Best Sources of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Fresh Eggs

The richest food sources of riboflavin include food groups such as (3):

  • Meat and organ meat
  • Certain dairy products, especially cheeses
  • Eggs
  • Certain vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables
  • Beans and legumes
  • Certain nuts and seeds

Riboflavin, along with other B vitamins, are also usually found in most fortified whole-grain and enriched carbohydrate products including breads, cereals, granola bars, and pastas. Normally these foods are enriched with vitamins and minerals including Vitamin B2 riboflavin after they have been processed and many of the naturally occurring nutrients have been either removed or destroyed.

Because many people commonly consume packaged and refined carbohydrate products often, this is the main reason most adults are able to meet their daily requirement for riboflavin in most situations and to avoid riboflavin deficiency.

When you acquire Vitamin B2 in this way, you are consuming a synthetic version of the vitamin that’s been purposefully added to food.  Products that synthetically add vitamins and minerals will say the words “enriched” or “fortified” on the packaging. This is unlike unprocessed products that naturally contain B vitamins, like meat, eggs, and sea vegetables.


The 12 Best Sources of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin):

Based on the adult RDA of 1.3 mg/daily for adult men, these are the 12 best food sources of riboflavin:

1. Liver (from lamb, beef, veal, turkey, or chicken)
3 oz: 3.9 mg (229 %)

2. Seaweed
1 cup seaweed: 4.1 mg (242%)

3. Organ Meat (including beef or lamb kidneys)
3 oz: 2.5 mg (149%)

4. Mollusks/ Cuttlefish
3 oz: 1.5 mg (86%)

5. Organic Feta Cheese
1 cup: 1.3 mg (74%)

6. Almonds
1 cup 1.0 mg (57%)

7.  Grass-Fed Beef (or Lamb)
3 oz: .73 (43%)

8. Tempeh – Fermented Soy 
1 cup: .6 mg (35%)

9. Mackerel Fish
3 oz: .49 mg (29%)

10. Eggs
1 egg: .26 mg (15%)

11. Organic Goat Cheese
1 oz: .3 mg (20%)

12. Tahini/Sesame Seed Paste
2 Tbsp: .2 mg (10%)

Vitamin B2 Foods

Top 6 Health Benefits of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

1. Proven to Help Prevent Headaches including MigrainesMigraine

Vitamin B2 is a proven method for dealing with painful migraine headaches. Physicians commonly prescribe riboflavin in high doses of 400 mg. as a preventive treatment for headaches or as a cure for those who regularly experience serious  migraine attacks (4).

Supplementing with riboflavin has been shown to be a natural headache remedy and to reduce the frequency of migraines, plus it can also help decrease symptoms and pain during a migraine, as well as to shorten the duration.


human eye

2. Helps Support Eye Health

Studies have shown that riboflavin deficiency increases the risk for certain eye problems. Vitamin B2 can help prevent eye disorders including cataracts, keratoconus, and glaucoma (5). Research has shown a correlation between people who consume plenty of riboflavin and decreased risks for eye disorders that can appear as someone ages.

To treat eye disorders, riboflavin drops are applied to patient’s corneal surface who suffer from glaucoma, allowing the vitamin to penetrate through the cornea and to increase the strength of the cornea when used with light therapy.


3. Can Help Prevent and Treat AnemiaRed Blood Cells

Anemia is caused by several factors including decreased red cell production, the inability to carry oxygen to the blood, and blood loss. Vitamin B2 is involved in all of these functions and helps to prevent and treat cases of anemia (6).

Vitamin B2 is required for steroid hormone synthesis and red blood cell production. It also helps the transportation of oxygen to the cells and helps to mobilize iron. When someone experiences a riboflavin deficiency without enough Vitamin B2 present in the diet, they can become more at risk for developing anemia and sickle cell anemia.

Low-levels of vitamin B2 have been correlated with both of these conditions that involve an underutilization of oxygen and problems with red blood cell production. These conditions can result in fatigue, shortness of breath, inability to exercise, and more.

Research suggests that Vitamin B2 is also effective in helping to lower high amounts of homocysteine in the blood. This condition occurs when someone is unable to convert the chemical homocysteine present in blood into amino acids for the body to use. Supplementing with Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) has been shown to help correct this condition and to balance homocysteine levels.


Outdoor cross-country running

4. Needed for Maintaining Proper Energy Levels

Vitamin B2 is used by the body to metabolize food for energy and to maintain proper brain, nerve, digestive, and hormone function. Without high enough levels of riboflavin, riboflavin deficiency occurs and the molecules found in carbohydrate, fat, and protein foods are not able to be properly digested and used for “fuel” that keeps the body running. This is one reason why riboflavin is very important for growth and bodily repair.

Vitamin B2 is needed in order to break down proteins into amino acids, fats, and carbohydrates in the form of glucose. This helps convert nutrients from food into usable bodily energy that helps to maintain a healthy metabolism.

Riboflavin is also needed to regulate proper thyroid activity and adrenal function and a riboflavin deficiency can increase the odds of thyroid disease. It is useful in calming the nervous system, battling chronic stress, and regulating hormones which control appetite, energy, mood, temperature, and more.


5. Provides Antioxidant Properties and Defends Against Cancercancer prevention

Vitamin B2 acts as an antioxidant that controls the presence of damaging free radicals within our body. Vitamin B2 riboflavin is required for the production of an antioxidant called glutathione, which acts as a free radical-killer and also detoxes the liver.

Free radicals are what age the body and when they go uncontrolled, can result in the development of various disease. Vitamin B2 plays a part in defending against disease by maintaining a healthy lining within the digestive tract, where much of the immune system is stored. A healthy digestive system allows the body to absorb and use the most nutrients from your diet that it can, so a riboflavin deficiency can mean less nutrients properly being used for bodily energy.

Riboflavin has been correlated in preliminary studies with helping to prevent certain types of cancer including colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer  (7). Although more research is still needed to know the exact role of riboflavin in cancer prevention, at this time researchers believe that Vitamin B 2 works to minimize the effects of cancer-producing carcinogens and oxidative stress caused by free radicals.


brunette hair

6. Protects Healthy Hair and Skin

Vitamin B2 riboflavin plays a role in maintaining collagen levels, which makes up healthy skin and hair. Collagen is needed to maintain the youthful structure of skin and to prevent fine lines and wrinkles, so a riboflavin deficiency can make us look aged quicker. Some research suggests that riboflavin can decrease the time needed for wound healing, can reduce skin inflammation ans cracked lips, and can help naturally slow signs of aging.

Vitamin B2 Benefits

Supplementing with Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

According to the USDA, the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin B2 Riboflavin is as follows (8):

Infants:

  • 0 – 6 months: 0.3* milligrams per day (mg/day)
  • 7 – 12 months: 0.4* mg/day

Children:

  • 1 – 3 years: 0.5 mg/day
  • 4 – 8 years: 0.6 mg/day
  • 9 – 13 years: 0.9 mg/day

Adolescents and Adults:

  • Males age 14 and older: 1.3 mg/day
  • Females age 14 to 18 years: 1.0 mg/day
  • Females age 19 and older: 1.1 mg/day

While supplementing with B vitamins can be helpful, keep in mind that it’s always best to still aim to consume plenty of whole foods that naturally contain Vitamin B2 and other essential nutrients. By eating a balanced diet that contains a variety of unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods, most people seem to acquire enough Vitamin B2 and to avoid a riboflavin deficiency. If you are going to be taking a supplement that contains riboflavin, be sure to purchase a high-quality product that is made from real food sources.

Research has shown that consuming Vitamin B2 along with a meal increases the absorption of the vitamin significantly. Some sources state that the vitamin goes from about 15% absorption rate to about 60% when a Vitamin B2 supplement is taken along with food, or comes from an actual food source as opposed to a supplement. This is true of most vitamins and minerals; they are absorbed much better by the body with a meal.

Vitamin B2 is actually required in order to activate Vitamin B6 and folic acid. You will be able to find Vitamin B2 riboflavin in Vitamin B complex supplements, sometimes also called “adrenal support” or “energy/metabolism” complex supplements.

Consuming B vitamins together allows them to work better in the body. Most B vitamin complex supplements will include vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin/niacinamide), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6vitamin B12  and other vitamins that work together to produce energy through effective food absorption and metabolic function.

There is not known to be much risk for over-consuming Vitamin B2 riboflavin. This is because it is a water-soluble vitamin and the body is able to excrete any amount of the vitamin that is not needed and present within the body within a few hours. If you frequently consume a multi-vitamin or any supplement containing riboflavin, you may notice a bright yellow color in your urine. This is perfectly normal and nothing to be alarmed amount, and is actually directly caused by the riboflavin you’ve ingested. A yellow color in your urine shows that your body is actually absorbing and using the vitamin, that you are not experiencing any riboflavin deficiency, and that your body is properly ridding itself of any extra that is unneeded.


Concerns and Interactions of Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Research suggests that people taking certain medications that effect the absorption rate of Vitamin B2 in the body will want to take precaution. While these interactions are only known to be minor, they are something you will want to speak with your doctor about if you take any of the following prescription medications:

  • Drying medications (Anticholinergic drugs)- these cancan affect the stomach and intestines and can increase the amount of riboflavin that is absorbed in the body.
  • Medications for depression (Tricyclic antidepressants) – it’s possible that these can decrease the amount of riboflavin in the body.
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal)- Phenobarbital might increase how quickly riboflavin is broken down in the body.
  • Probenecid (Benemid)- can increase how much riboflavin is absorbed in the body, possibly causing too much to linger which can be problematic.

Adding More Vitamin B2 Riboflavin to Your Diet

You can increase the amount of naturally occurring Vitamin B2 riboflavin in your diet by making some of these recipes which feature foods that are a good source of Vitamin B2, in addition to other essential nutrients:


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