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Vitamin B2: Just How Vital Is Riboflavin for Energy & Health?

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Vitamin B2 - Dr. Axe

Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, is an important vitamin that also acts as an antioxidant within the body. 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 vitamin B2 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. That’s why vitamin B2 deficiency, or lack of riboflavin foods in your diet, can contribute to a number of serious side effects, including anemia, fatigue and a sluggish metabolism.


What Is Vitamin B2? Role in the Body

What does vitamin B2 do? Roles of vitamin B2 include maintaining healthy blood cells, boosting energy levels, facilitating in a healthy metabolism, preventing free radical damage, contributing to growth, protecting skin and eye health, and much more.

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, heart, blood, skin and eye health; reducing inflammation; and supporting hormonal function. One of the most well-known roles of B vitamins is maintaining a healthy metabolism and digestive system.

Vitamin B2/riboflavin has been shown to act like an antioxidant nutrient. It helps prevent lipid peroxidation and oxidative injury, both of which contribute to chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and neurological diseases. Vitamin B2 also plays an important role in enzymatic reactions. There are two coenzyme forms of riboflavin: flavin mononucleotide and flavin adenine dinucleotide.


Top 7 Vitamin B2 Benefits

1. Proven to Help Prevent Headaches, Including Migraines

Vitamin B2 is a proven method for dealing with painful migraine headaches. Physicians commonly prescribe riboflavin in high doses of 400 milligrams/daily for at least three months as a preventive treatment for headaches or as a remedy for those who regularly experience serious migraine attacks.

Supplementing with riboflavin, especially if you have a known vitamin B2 deficiency, has been shown to be a natural headache remedy and to reduce the frequency of migraines. Supplementing can also help decrease symptoms and pain during a migraine, as well as to shorten the duration. One type of combination product that contains riboflavin, magnesium and coenzyme Q10, called Dolovent, is now used to manage migraine symptoms when taken in dose of four capsules daily (two capsules in the morning and two capsules in the evening for three months).

2. Helps Support Eye Health

Studies show that riboflavin deficiency increases the risk for certain eye problems, including glaucoma. Glaucoma is the leading cause of loss of eyesight/blindness. Vitamin B2 can help prevent eye disorders, including cataracts, keratoconus and glaucoma. Research shows 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 the corneal surface of a patient who suffers from glaucoma. This allows the vitamin to penetrate through the cornea and increase the strength of the cornea when used with light therapy.

3. Can Help Prevent and Treat Anemia

Anemia is caused by several factors, including decreased red cell production, the inability to carry oxygen to the blood and blood loss. Is riboflavin good or bad for you if you suffer from anemia? Vitamin B2 is involved in all of these functions and helps prevent and treat cases of anemia.

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 people experience riboflavin deficiency without enough vitamin B2 present in their diets, they become more at risk for developing anemia and sickle cell anemia.

Low levels of vitamin B2 are 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 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 balance homocysteine levels.

4. Needed for Maintaining Proper Energy Levels

Riboflavin is considered a vital component of mitochondrial energy. Vitamin B2 is used by the body to metabolize food for energy and to maintain proper brain, nerve, digestive and hormone function. This is why riboflavin is very important for growth and bodily repair. 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 type of bodily “fuel” is called ATP (or adenosine triphosphate), often called the “currency of life.” The predominant role of mitochondria is the production of ATP.

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 maintain a healthy metabolism.

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

5. Provides Antioxidant Properties and Defends Against Cancer

Recent studies have found that vitamin B2 intake is inversely associated with with some of the most common types of cancer, including colon cancer and breast cancer. Vitamin B2 benefits the immune system because it acts as an antioxidant that controls the presence of damaging free radicals within the 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. When they go uncontrolled, it 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. Thus, a riboflavin deficiency can mean less nutrients properly being used for bodily energy.

Riboflavin, along with other B vitamins, is correlated in preliminary studies with helping to prevent certain types of cancer — including colorectal cancer, esophageal cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Although more research is still needed to know the exact role of riboflavin in cancer prevention, at this time researchers believe that vitamin B2 works to minimize the effects of cancer-producing carcinogens and oxidative stress caused by free radicals.

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 prevent fine lines and wrinkles. A riboflavin deficiency can make us look aged quicker. Some research suggests that riboflavin can decrease the time needed for wound healing, reduce skin inflammation and cracked lips, and help naturally slow signs of aging.

7. May Help Prevent Neurological Diseases

Recent evidence suggests that vitamin B2 may exert a neuroprotective effect and offer protection against some neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, migraines and multiple sclerosis. Researchers believe that vitamin B2 has a role in some pathways that are hypothesized to be impaired in neurological disorders. For example, vitamin B2 serves as an antioxidant and assists myelin formation, mitochondrial function and iron metabolism.
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Riboflavin foods - Dr. Axe


B2 vs. B12 vs. B3

There are eight B vitamins required by your body, each of which plays a unique role in your health. You’ll often find vitamin B2 in “vitamin B complex” supplements, sometimes also called “adrenal support” or “energy/metabolism” complex supplements. Vitamin B was once considered a single nutrient, but scientists discovered that “vitamin B” extracts were actually made up of several vitamins, so they were given distinguishing numbers.

Consuming B vitamins together allows them to work better in the body. Most B vitamin complex supplements include vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin/niacinamide), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6, vitamin B12  and other vitamins that work together to produce energy through effective food absorption and metabolic function. Vitamin B2 in your diet affects how some other B vitamins like B12 and folic acid do their jobs, so it’s convenient that many foods provide more than one B vitamin.

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency is thought to be one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in the world, with as many as 40 percent of people worldwide having low levels. This makes deficiency in vitamin B12 much more common than vitamin B2 deficiency.
  •  Vitamin B12 benefits your mood, energy level, memory, heart, skin, hair, digestion and more. Vitamin B12 also benefits the central nervous system in many important ways. It helps maintain the health of nerve cells — including those needed for neurotransmitter signaling — and helps form the protective covering of nerves, called the cell’s myelin sheath.
  • Like vitamin B2, vitamin B12 benefits cognitive function and is used to lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Vitamin B12 is needed to help produce a healthy level of red blood cells and can prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. Vitamin B12 supplementation is also now being studied as a way to help lower the risk of certain kinds of cancers, especially when taken with folate.
  • To prevent vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms — such as chronic fatigue, muscles aches, joint pain, shortness of breath, mood chances, etc. — it’s important to eat vitamin B12 foods, including beef and chicken liver; fish like salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna; yogurt; and raw milk.
  • Vitamin B3/niacin has been shown to aid in treatment of a wide range of health problems, such as high cholesterol, heart disease, skin conditions, schizophrenia, cognitive decline, birth defects and diabetes. Vitamin B3 is especially important for maintaining a healthy heart and metabolism, plus aiding in the balance of blood cholesterol levels.
  • A deficiency in niacin is generally uncommon in developed countries where malnutrition is rare. This vitamin can be found in many common foods, including certain types of meats like beef and organ meats, tuna fish, seeds, beans, mushrooms, nuts and more. Unlike supplementation, eating plenty of foods that contain niacin should not result in levels high enough to cause any harmful niacin side effects.
  • When it does occur, symptoms of a vitamin B3 deficiency are usually categorized as the “4 D’s”: dermatitis (skin rashes), diarrhea, dementia and death.

Vitamin B2 History and Uses in Traditional Medicine

English biochemist Alexander Wynter Blyth was the first to observe vitamin B2/riboflavin in 1872 when he noticed a green-yellow pigment found in milk. However, it wasn’t until the early 1930s that riboflavin was actually identified by Paul Gyorgy, the same biochemist credited with the discovery of other B vitamins like biotin and vitamin B6.

Even before vitamin B2 was isolated by scientists, practitioners of traditional medicine systems, such as Ayurveda, recommended foods that were high in B vitamins to improve energy, functioning of the nervous system, and health of the eyes, skin, hair and liver. Vitamin B2 foods, including meat, organ meats like liver, dairy such as yogurt, eggs, nuts like almonds, mushrooms, and green vegetables were viewed as important for slowing the aging process and promoting growth in the young. These foods are still recommended for people with migraines, anemia, a sluggish metabolism and a weakened immune system.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, vitamin B2 foods are considered essential for dealing with stress and helping your body use other nutrients, including folate and vitamin B12. To maintain healthy levels of red blood cells, prevent fatigue and support the metabolism, it’s recommended that a balanced diet include B2 foods like meats, organ meats, eggs, soybeans (fermented types), spinach, beet greens, broccoli, bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and tempeh.


Vitamin B2 Deficiency Symptoms and Causes

According to the USDA, a vitamin B2/riboflavin deficiency is not very common in western, developed nations. This is most likely because many people consume milk and meat, along with refined carbohydrates that are fortified with riboflavin. Additionally, other commonly consumed riboflavin foods like eggs provide a good source of vitamin B2 for many people too.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of riboflavin 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.

What are common vitamin B2 deficiency symptoms? Symptoms of vitamin B2 deficiency can include:

  • 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

Top 15 Vitamin B2 Foods

What foods contain vitamin B2? Although it’s primarily found in meat and dairy products, there are plenty of options for vitamin B2 foods, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. Vitamin B2/riboflavin is found in plant foods, including legumes, vegetables, nuts and grains.

Some of the best vitamin B2 foods include those in these food groups:

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

Riboflavin and 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, this is the main reason most adults are able to meet their daily requirement for riboflavin in most situations and avoid riboflavin deficiency.

When you acquire vitamin B2 in this way, you consume a synthetic version of the vitamin that’s been purposefully added to food. Products that synthetically add vitamins and minerals 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.

Based on the adult RDA of 1.3 mg/daily for adult men, these are the 15 best vitamin B2 foods:

  1. Beef Liver 3 ounces: 3 milligrams (168 percent DV)
  2. Natural Yogurt —1 cup: 0.6 milligram (34 percent DV)
  3. Milk — 1 cup: 0.4 milligram (26 percent DV)
  4. Spinach — 1 cup, cooked: 0.4 milligram (25 percent DV)
  5. Almonds — 1 ounce: 0.3 milligram (17 percent DV)
  6. Sun-Dried Tomatoes — 1 cup: 0.3 milligram (16 percent DV)
  7. Eggs — 1 large: 0.2 milligram (14 percent DV)
  8. Feta Cheese — 1 ounce: 0.2 milligram (14 percent DV)
  9. Lamb — 3 ounces: 0.2 milligram (13 percent DV)
  10. Quinoa — 1 cup, cooked: 0.2 milligram (12 percent DV)
  11. Lentils — 1 cup, cooked: 0.1 milligram (9 percent DV)
  12. Mushrooms — 1/2 cup: 0.1 milligram (8 percent DV)
  13. Tahini — 2 tablespoons: 0.1 milligram (8 percent DV)
  14. Wild-Caught Salmon — 3 ounces: 0.1 milligrams (7 percent DV)
  15. Kidney Beans — 1 cup, cooked: 0.1 milligrams (6 percent DV)

Vitamin B2 Supplements and Dosage

According to the USDA, the daily recommended allowance of vitamin B2/riboflavin is as follows:

Infants:

  • 0–6 months: 0.3 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 14–18 years: 1 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 avoid vitamin B2 deficiency. If you take a supplement that contains riboflavin, be sure to purchase a high-quality product that is made from real food sources.

Research shows that consuming vitamin B2 along with a meal increases the absorption of the vitamin significantly. This is true of most vitamins and minerals. They are absorbed much better by the body with a meal.

What are the benefits of taking vitamin B2? Vitamin B2 is actually required in order to activate vitamin B6 and folic acid. Supplementing may also be necessary to treat people with vitamin B2 deficiency and reverse symptoms they experience.


How to Get More Vitamin B2 in the Diet: B2 Recipes

The best way to get more vitamin B2 in your daily diet is by upping your intake of nutrient-rich foods with riboflavin. Try to include a variety of vitamin B2 foods, since each food group has unique benefits. You can increase the amount of naturally occurring vitamin B2 riboflavin in your diet by making some of these recipes that feature foods that are good sources of vitamin B2, in addition to other essential nutrients.


Vitamin B2/ Riboflavin Precautions

What are the side effects of vitamin B2? There is not known to be much risk involved with overconsuming vitamin B2/riboflavin. This is because vitamin B2 is a water-soluble vitamin. 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 multivitamin 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. It is actually directly caused by the riboflavin you 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.

That said, research suggests that taking certain medications may impact the absorption rate of vitamin B2 in the body, potentially causing side effects. While these interactions are only known to be minor, they are something you want to speak with your doctor about if you take any of the following prescription medications:

  • Drying medications (anticholinergic drugs) — These can 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) — It can increase how much riboflavin is absorbed in the body, possibly causing too much to linger, which can be problematic.

Final Thoughts on Vitamin B2

  • Vitamin B2/riboflavin is an important water-soluble vitamin that plays a role in many aspects of health, especially energy production, neurological health, iron metabolism and immune system function.
  • Vitamin B2 benefits include improvements in heart health, relief from migraine symptoms, protection against vision loss and neurological diseases, healthier hair and skin, and protection against certain types of cancer.
  • Some of the top vitamin B2 foods include meat, fish, dairy and legumes. Riboflavin is also found in nuts, seeds and certain vegetables.
  • Vitamin B2 deficiency is rare in most developed nations because vitamin B2 foods, such as meat, dairy, eggs, fish, legumes and certain vegetables, are usually available. Although meeting your needs through food sources is preferable, supplementation is also available. Vitamin B2 is also generally present in both multivitamins and B-complex capsules, making it simple to meet your daily needs.

Read Next: Thiamine Deficiency Symptoms & Dangers You Don’t Want to Ignore


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