If you’re someone who takes multivitamins, you’ve probably come across the name “riboflavin.” However, While riboflavin may be a common name in the vitamin world, most people are unaware of all the work it does in the body. Riboflavin is essential for numerous body processes, including cognition, eye health and cardiovascular disease prevention.
The bad news is that because riboflavin isn’t as popular as other vitamins, there is a significant percentage of the population that’s deficient in it. If you’re unsure whether you’re getting enough of this vitamin, it’s best that you take note of how you can optimize your riboflavin levels. Continue reading this article to learn more about this vitamin, its benefits, natural sources, and potential side effects and contraindications.
What Is Riboflavin?
Riboflavin is one of a number of B vitamins found in B complex supplements. Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin is essential to numerous body processes, including cardiovascular and skin health. It is also important for the absorption and digestion of other vitamins and minerals, including iron.
Riboflavin was first discovered in 1872 by the English chemist, Alexander Wynter Blythe, but it was only given the name riboflavin in the late 1930s. It was the second vitamin to be isolated, behind thiamin. Nowadays, riboflavin can be found in multivitamins and B-complex supplements.1 Numerous studies have also been completed to determine its influence on the overall health of a person.
Riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that the body cannot store it in large amounts because it dissolves in water. The body mainly depends on the riboflavin found in the food that you eat or from any additional supplements that you take. However, only a small amount of the vitamin is actually absorbed, which renders doses higher than 27 milligrams virtually unusable. Only small amounts of this vitamin are stored in the liver, kidneys and heart, with the excess amounts being excreted through the urine.2
If you’re planning on supplementing with riboflavin, know that this vitamin is sensitive to heat and light, and when exposed can start degrading into lumiflavin, lumichrome and other unknown products. Be sure that you keep your bottles in a dry, dark place so that you know you’re still getting adequate vitamins from your supplements.3
Are You at Risk of Being Riboflavin Deficient?
Have you been suffering from migraines and headaches frequently? There is a chance that it might be riboflavin deficiency. Riboflavin deficiency, or ariboflavinosis, is fairly common in the population because of the water-soluble characteristic of this vitamin.4
People who are at the highest risk of riboflavin deficiency are the elderly, alcoholics and women who are on birth control pills, as these medications may impede the body’s ability to absorb and utilize the vitamin. Most alcoholics are deficient in this vitamin because of their gastrointestinal tract’s lowered ability to absorb vitamins efficiently.5 Pregnant women and athletes are also at high risk of being riboflavin deficient because of their increased need of this vitamin, especially if they are vegan or they consume little to no milk.6
When you’re diagnosed with a vitamin B2 deficiency, you are at high risk of being deficient in the other B vitamins as well. Some of the symptoms that you should be on the watch for are:7
Throat and mouth lining swelling
For pregnant women, riboflavin deficiency may increase your risk of preeclampsia, which is characterized by high blood pressure and edema. Mothers with riboflavin deficiency are 4.7 times more at risk of preeclampsia than those who have optimal levels of this vitamin. This condition may be extremely dangerous for both the mother and the child, with the increased risk of premature birth and death.8
Eat These Foods to Optimize Your Riboflavin Levels
If you are one of those people who are struggling with riboflavin deficiency, you may be inclined to take supplements that list this vitamin in their product tags. However, it’s best that you add foods that are riboflavin-rich to your diet first. Remember that there is little to no risk of overdosing with it. Some of the foods high in riboflavin that you should consider adding to your meals include the following:9
What Health Benefits Can You Get From Riboflavin?
Riboflavin offers a variety of health benefits, which include:10
- Promotes cognitive health. Like the other B vitamins, riboflavin has a direct impact on the maintenance of good brain function. Riboflavin contains certain flavoproteins needed for the metabolism of essential fatty acids in the brain and for hormone regulation.11
- May help dampen depression symptoms. A considerable amount of the depressed population was found to be deficient in vitamin B2. Riboflavin may help decrease the overall effects of depression by boosting mood and increasing energy levels.12
- Supports eye health. Riboflavin preserves good eye health by maintaining healthy glutathione levels. Called the “master antioxidant,” glutathione helps fight light-induced oxidative stress, one of the leading causes of age-related cataracts. A 1995 study shows that people who belonged to the highest percentile of riboflavin nutritional status had half the occurrence of cataracts compared to people from the lowest percentile.13
- Assists in the body’s antioxidant action. Riboflavin is one of the key components of the glutathione redox cycle, which is the process responsible for inhibiting lipid peroxidation and reperfusion oxidative injury. Hence, keeping optimum levels of riboflavin may help you prevent numerous chronic diseases.14
- Helps improve cardiovascular health. Riboflavin is essential for the synthesis of new red blood cells and the regulation of homocysteine levels in the blood. This function of riboflavin prevents the buildup of plaque in the arterial walls, lowering your risk of cardiovascular diseases.15
Riboflavin Studies Show Benefits
Vitamin B2 is normally studied in relation to other B vitamins. However, riboflavin is just as impressive alone as it is in conjunction with its vitamin kin. A wide array of riboflavin studies focuses on its ability to interact with the different essential body processes and prevent a variety of human diseases.
In a 2014 study from Neurological Sciences, migraines were linked to mitochondrial dysfunction in the brain, wherein mitochondrial defects may trigger migraine attacks. Riboflavin, due to its function against oxidation, may help prevent migraines by boosting brain energy metabolism.16
In addition, correcting riboflavin deficiency helps with improving hemoglobin levels in the blood. In a 2011 study conducted in the United Kingdom, women who were moderately deficient in riboflavin were put on supplements. After eight weeks, the women showed higher hemoglobin status. The women who were more deficient in riboflavin had the greatest hematologic benefit after correcting the deficiency.17
A 2013 study also shows the benefit of riboflavin supplementation in people who are at high risk of premature cardiovascular disease. Participants in the study were given 1.6 milligrams of riboflavin per day for 16 weeks. After the study period, they had lower blood pressure levels compared to patients who were only on hypertensive medication.18
How Much Riboflavin Should You Get?
Riboflavin is commonly integrated in B-complex supplements, together with the other B vitamins. However, you can get it from pure riboflavin supplements as well, which are available in 25-, 50- and 100-milligram capsules.
Men who are 19 years old or older may take at least 2.5 milligrams of riboflavin, and women at least 1.8 milligrams. Pregnant women usually require 0.6 milligrams more than the usual dosage of riboflavin to support their pregnancy and child’s health.19
For patients who are pregnant or trying to resolve health issues by supplementing on riboflavin, it’s highly recommended that you consult a health practitioner so that you can get the correct dosage.
Riboflavin Side Effects and Contraindications
Being a water-soluble vitamin, riboflavin is not stored inside the body. This means that the risk of overdosing is relatively low, unless you take insanely high amounts of riboflavin supplements.
However, ingesting high doses of riboflavin may cause stomach upset, diarrhea and increased urine production. In rare cases, riboflavin overdoses may cause face and mouth swelling and difficulty breathing. Consult a doctor immediately if you start getting these symptoms. Riboflavin may also interact with different medications, such as:20
- Anticholinergic medications. These medications are used to treat gastrointestinal spasms, motion sickness and depression. Taking anticholinergic drugs may affect the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B, which may aggravate riboflavin deficiency.
- Tetracycline. Riboflavin may interfere with the effectiveness of tetracycline as an antibiotic.
- Antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs. Taking these drugs may lower the riboflavin levels in the body.
- Probenecid. Used for gout treatment, probenecid may negatively impact riboflavin absorption and promote riboflavin excretion through the urine.
Optimize Your Riboflavin Levels for Better Eye and Cardiovascular Health
Cardiovascular diseases may be one of the biggest problems in human health, causing thousands of deaths per year. But it does not mean that you just have to accept the risk. There are numerous preventive measures that you can try, which includes optimizing your riboflavin levels.
Riboflavin may not be considered one of the big vitamins in the medical world, but it sure delivers all it could contribute to achieving good health. Not only does it help keep your heart and blood circulation healthy, but it also assists in promoting eye health, boosting cognition and preventing migraines. Just be sure that you get your supplement from a trustworthy source, and keep an eye out for possible riboflavin side effects.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Riboflavin
Q: Is riboflavin vegan?
A: While majority of the food that contain riboflavin are animal sources, this vitamin may also be found in vegetables and other plants. If you’re planning on taking riboflavin supplements, it’s best that you determine where the vitamin is sourced from.
Q: What is riboflavin good for?
A: Riboflavin is essential for promoting eye, cardiovascular and brain health. It also helps in the prevention of numerous chronic degenerative diseases.
Q: What is riboflavin used for?
A: Riboflavin supplements may be used for reducing the risk of migraines, improvement of eye health, and maintenance of skin and gut health.21
Q: What foods contain riboflavin?
A: You can get your daily dose of riboflavin from organ meats, organic grass fed beef, raw milk, green leafy vegetables and organic pastured eggs.
Q: Is riboflavin an antioxidant?
A: Riboflavin is not an antioxidant, but it is important in regulating your antioxidant activity. It is a necessary component in the conversion of glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant found in the body. It also affects antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase.22
Q: How much riboflavin can I take each day?
A: The recommended daily intakes of riboflavin are 2.5 milligrams and 1.8 for men and women, respectively.23 However, some people might require a different dosage, depending on their energy expenditure and their diet. To be sure, you can consult a health practitioner to determine the correct amount you should be taking.