Riboflavin (vitamin B2)


Riboflavin is a water-soluble B vitamin involved in vital metabolic processes in the body. It is necessary for normal cell function, growth, and energy production. Small amounts of riboflavin are present in most animal and plant tissues. The most common forms of riboflavin available in supplements are riboflavin and riboflavin 5'-monophosphate. Riboflavin is most commonly found in multivitamin and vitamin B-complex preparations.
Healthy people who eat a balanced diet rarely need riboflavin supplements. Especially good dietary sources of riboflavin are milk (and other dairy products), eggs, enriched cereals/grains, meats, liver, and green vegetables, such as asparagus or broccoli. Intake may be lower in vegans than in non-vegetarians or lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Deficiencies can occur in certain parts of the world due to seasonal changes in dietary intakes. Other groups susceptible to riboflavin deficiency include the elderly, those with chronic illness, the poor, and alcoholics.
Although riboflavin is an essential nutrient with a potential for deficiency in some populations, there is recent concern about high intakes of riboflavin (for example, in people using hundreds of milligrams for migraine prevention). These levels should be used only under the supervision of a healthcare provider. Unused excess riboflavin is eliminated in the urine, giving it a yellow-green color.
Riboflavin has been studied for its use with migraine headaches, cataracts, high homocysteine (amino acid) in the blood, depression, and other disorders. It also has uses for iron-deficiency anemia and it can be used as a tracer to determine if medications have been taken.

Related Terms

7,8-Dimethyl-10 (1'-D-ribityl) isoalloxazine, Ashbya gossypii, B-complex vitamin, Dolo-Neurotrat®, FAD, flavin, flavin adenine dinucleotide, flavin mononucleotide, flavine, FMN, glycosylated riboflavin, lactoflavin, riboflavin 5'-monophosphate, riboflavin-5-phosphate, riboflavina, riboflavine, riboflavinum D 2914A, vitamin B2, vitamin G.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Neonatal jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes in newborn infants) (Grade: A)
Light therapy used to treat jaundice may break down riboflavin. Thus riboflavin is included in light therapy treatment of neonatal jaundice.
Riboflavin deficiency (ariboflavinosis) (Grade: A)
Although riboflavin deficiency is relatively uncommon in developed countries, its rapid excretion in the urine means that unless dietary intakes are constant, deficiency can occur. Riboflavin supplementation corrects riboflavin deficiency by restoring levels of the vitamin.
Anemia (Grade: C)
Studies suggest that correction of riboflavin deficiency in individuals who are both riboflavin-deficient and iron-deficient appears to improve response to iron therapy.
Cancer prevention (Grade: C)
Low riboflavin status is associated with risk of esophageal (throat) cancer. Some research suggests riboflavin may play a role in the prevention of esophageal cancer. Further studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.
Cataracts (Grade: C)
Low riboflavin levels may be a risk factor for developing cataracts. Early research suggests that a combination of riboflavin and zinc may prevent cataracts in the healthy elderly. Additional evidence is needed before a clear conclusion can be made.
Cognitive function (Grade: C)
Adequate levels of nutrients, including riboflavin, may be required for normal cognitive function. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.
Depression (Grade: C)
Treatment with B vitamins, including riboflavin, may decrease symptoms of depression in patients taking tricyclic antidepressants. Further research is needed in this area.
Encephalopathy (brain disorder) (Grade: C)
Early research suggests that riboflavin treatment may lead to slight improvements in motor function, mental behavior, and diarrhea in patients with encephalopathy. Additional research is needed.
Eye disorders (adjunct to UV light for keratoconus) (Grade: C)
Early research suggests that a combination of riboflavin and UV light applied directly to the eye may reduce the progression of keratoconus, a condition where the cornea degenerates. Additional research is needed in this area.
Hyperhomocysteinemia (high blood homocysteine) (Grade: C)
Low riboflavin status may be associated with increased homocysteine (amino acid) levels in the blood. Riboflavin is commonly included in B vitamin supplements to reduce blood homocysteine levels in people with high homocysteine. Further studies are needed to clarify the relationship between riboflavin and homocysteine levels.
Kwashiorkor (poor nutrition due to lack of protein in the diet) (Grade: C)
In children with kwashiorkor, the effects of micronutrient supplementation have been studied. Research has shown, after taking a combination product containing high dose riboflavin, the number of people with kwashiorkor decreased. Further research is needed for firm conclusions to be made.
Malaria (Grade: C)
It remains unclear if riboflavin supplementation affects malarial infections. Additional research is needed in this area.
Migraine (Grade: C)
Riboflavin has been studied for migraine prevention and treatment. An effect was lacking in preventing migraines in children. The evidence for riboflavin use in adults is unclear and further research is required.
Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure and fluid retention during pregnancy) (Grade: C)
Limited research has reported an association between low riboflavin levels and an increased risk of pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy). However, it is unclear if low riboflavin levels are a cause or result of this condition, or if additional supplementation is needed in pregnant women at risk of pre-eclampsia or eclampsia (beyond the routine use of prenatal vitamins). Additional research is needed.