Vitamin B2, commonly called riboflavin, is one of eight water-soluble B
vitamins. Like its close relative vitamin B1 (thiamine), riboflavin plays a
crucial role in certain metabolic reactions, particularly the conversion of
carbohydrates into sugar, which is "burned" to produce energy. Together, the
eight B vitamins, often referred to as B complex vitamins, are also essential in
the breakdown of fats and protein. In addition, B complex vitamins play an
important role in maintaining muscle tone along the lining of the digestive
tract and promoting the health of the nervous system, skin, hair, eyes, mouth,
In addition to producing energy for the body, riboflavin also works as an
antioxidant by scavenging damaging particles in the body known as free radicals.
These particles occur naturally in the body but can damage cell membranes,
interact with genetic material, and possibly 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 neutralize free radicals and may
reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.
Unlike other B vitamins, riboflavin is not found in many foods, so the most
common cause of deficiency is lack of dietary intake, especially in the elderly.
Symptoms of riboflavin deficiency include fatigue; slowed growth; digestive
problems; cracks and sores around the corners of the mouth; swollen magenta
tongue; eye fatigue; soreness of the lips, mouth and tongue; and sensitivity to
light. Riboflavin is an important nutrient in the prevention of headache and
some visual disturbances, particularly cataracts.
Dietary and supplemental vitamin B2, along with
other nutrients is important for normal vision and prevention of cataracts
(damage to the lens of the eye which can lead to cloudy vision). In fact, people
with plenty of protein and vitamins A, B1, B2, and B3 (niacin) in their diet are
less likely to develop cataracts. Plus, taking additional supplements of
vitamins C, E, and B complex (particularly the B1, B2, B9 [folic acid], and B12
[cobalamin] in the complex ) may further protect the lens of your eyes from
developing cataracts. (Note: no more than 10 mg per day of riboflavin should be
used because levels above that could actually promote damage to the lens from
For many migraine sufferers, taking
riboflavin regularly may help decrease the frequency and shorten the duration of
migraine headaches. It is not clear how riboflavin compares to conventional
medications used to prevent migraine headaches, however.
It is especially important for people who have sustained
serious burns to obtain adequate amounts of nutrients in their daily diet. When
skin is burned, a substantial percentage of micronutrients may be lost. This
increases the risk for infection, slows the healing process, prolongs the
hospital stay, and even increases the risk of death. Although it is unclear
which micronutrients are most beneficial for people with burns, many studies
suggest that a multivitamin including the B complex vitamins may aid in the
Levels of important nutrients are often quite
low in people with anorexia or bulimia. At least 20% of people with anorexia
admitted to a hospital for treatment are deficient in vitamins B2 and B6
(pyridoxine). Some research information suggests that as many as 33% of those
with an eating disorder could be deficient in vitamins B2 and B6. Dietary
changes alone, without additional supplements, can often bring vitamin B levels
back to normal. However, extra B2 and B6 may be required (which will be
determined by your doctor or nutritionist). Plus, B-complex vitamins may help
alleviate stress and reduce symptoms of depression, frequently associated with
Children with sickle-cell anemia (a blood disorder
characterized by abnormally shaped red blood cells) tend to have lower levels of
certain antioxidants including riboflavin. Studies also suggest that riboflavin
supplementation may improve iron deficiency anemia by enhancing the response to
Low levels of riboflavin in the diet and/or riboflavin
deficiency has been associated with rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel
syndrome, Crohn's disease, colon cancer, atherosclerotic heart disease, and
multiple sclerosis. It is not clear, however, whether increased riboflavin in
the diet or riboflavin supplements would help protect against any of these
conditions except for, perhaps, carpal tunnel syndrome. There have been a couple
of reports in the medical literature about a few individuals with carpal tunnel
syndrome and low levels of riboflavin experiencing improvement in their symptoms
by taking this B vitamin. More research for each of these conditions is needed.
The best sources of riboflavin include brewer's yeast, almonds, organ meats,
whole grains, wheat germ, wild rice, mushrooms, soybeans, milk, yogurt, eggs,
broccoli, brussel sprouts, and spinach. Flours and cereals are often fortified
Riboflavin is destroyed by light; therefore, items should be stored away from
the light to protect their riboflavin content. This is the reason that many
dairy companies switched from glass milk bottles to cartons and opaque
While riboflavin is not destroyed by heat, it can be lost in water when foods
are boiled or soaked.
Riboflavin is generally included in multivitamin preparations and in
B-complex vitamins, and comes individually in 25-, 50-, and 100-mg tablets.
|How to Take It|
As with all medicines, check with a healthcare provider before giving
riboflavin supplements to a child.
Daily recommendations for dietary riboflavin are listed below.
- Infants birth to 6 months: 0.3 mg (adequate intake)
- Infants 7 to 12 months: 0.4 mg (adequate intake)
- Children 1 to 3 years: 0.5 mg (RDA)
- Children 4 to 8 years: 0.6 mg (RDA)
- Children 9 to 13 years: 0.9 mg (RDA)
- Males 14 to 18 years: 1.3 mg (RDA)
- Females 14 to 18 years: 1 mg (RDA)
- Males 19 years and older: 1.3 mg (RDA)
- Females 19 years and older: 1.1 mg (RDA)
- Pregnant females: 1.4 mg (RDA)
- Breastfeeding females: 1.6 mg (RDA)
People who do not eat a balanced diet every day would likely benefit from
taking a multivitamin and mineral complex on a daily basis A good rule of thumb
when selecting a multivitamin is to look for one that includes 100% to 300 % of
the Daily Value for all essential vitamins and minerals. If you decide to
increase the amount of a particular nutrient make sure you know the safe
supplemental range and any contraindications. It is wise to check with a
knowledgeable health care provider if you are considering nutrient supplements
doses higher than 300 % Daily Value.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications,
dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a
knowledgeable healthcare provider.
Absorption of Vitamin B2 is best when it is taken with meals.
Riboflavin does not appear to cause any serious side effects. Possible
reactions to very high doses may include itching, numbness, burning or prickling
sensations, and sensitivity to light.
Taking any one of the B complex vitamins for a long period of time can result
in an imbalance of other important B vitamins. For this reason, it is generally
important to take a B complex vitamin with any single B vitamin.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you
should not use vitamin B2 supplements without first talking to your healthcare
Riboflavin should not be taken at
the same time as the antibiotic tetracycline because it interferes with the
absorption and effectiveness of this medication. Riboflavin either alone or in
combination with other B vitamins should be taken at different times from
tetracycline. (All vitamin B complex supplements act in this way and should
therefore be taken at different times from tetracycline.)
In addition, long-term use of antibiotics can deplete vitamin B levels in the
body, particularly B2, B9, B12, and vitamin H (biotin), which is considered part
of the B complex.
Tricyclic antidepressants (such as
imipramine, desimpramine, amitriptyline, and nortriptyline) also reduce levels
of riboflavin in the body. Taking riboflavin may improve levels of the vitamin
and improve the effectiveness of these antidepressants, especially in elderly
Riboflavin may reduce the
effectiveness of anti-malarial medications such as chloroquine and
Antipsychotic medications called
phenothiazines (such as chlorpromazine) may lower riboflavin levels.
Birth Control Medications
Poor dietary habits in combination
with birth control medications can interfere with the body's ability to use
In the presence of daylight, riboflavin may
deactivate doxorubicin, a medication used for the treatment of certain cancers.
In addition, doxorubicin may deplete levels of riboflavin and, therefore,
increased amounts of this nutrient may be recommended during chemotherapy using
this drug. Your doctor will guide you on whether this is necessary or not.
Methotrexate, a medication used to treat cancer,
can prevent the body from making riboflavin (as well as other essential
Phenytoin, a medication used to control epileptic
seizures, may affect riboflavin levels in children.
This medication used for gout may decrease the
absorption of riboflavin from the digestive tract and increase the excretion in
Similar to its effects on doxorubicin, riboflavin
may deactivate selegiline, a medication used to treat Parkinson's disease, in
the presence of daylight.
Riboflavin may reduce the
effectiveness of sulfa-containing medications, such as certain antibiotics (for
example, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) used to treat bacterial infections.
In addition, as stated earlier, long-term use of antibiotics can deplete
vitamin B levels in the body, particularly B2, B9, B12, and vitamin H (biotin),
which is considered part of the B complex.
Diuretics that belong to a class known as
thiazides, such as hydrochlorothiazide, may increase the loss of riboflavin in
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|Review Date: April 2002|
|Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Jacqueline A. Hart, MD,
Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University
and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh
(Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, Ma; Steven
Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's
Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH; Margie Ullmann-Weil, MS, RD,
specializing in combination of complementary and traditional nutritional
therapy, Boston, MA. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team
of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine
Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients,
Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical
Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your
Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000),
President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine,
Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc
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