Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Deficiency Symptoms, Benefits, and Food Sources

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Vitamin B2A diet is often lacking quality nutrition without foods rich in B vitamins, especially vitamin B2. Vitamin B2 is also called riboflavin, and it is responsible for many important functions within the body. It’s health benefits include maintenance of healthy blood cells, preventing free radical damage, and boosting energy levels.

Vitamin B2 combines with other B vitamins to form B Vitamin Complex. Riboflavin is needed in high amounts to allow other B vitamins to work properly. Together, B vitamins are responsible for heart and blood health, eye and skin health, nerve health, digestion, metabolism, hormonal function, and reducing inflammation.

B vitamins digest and extract energy from food through the conversion of nutrients from proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Like all B vitamins, riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin that must be obtained from a healthy daily diet to help avoid vitamin B2 deficiency.

Symptoms of Riboflavin Deficiency

Vitamin B2 is needed for the functioning of every single cell in the body, and a lack of riboflavin in the diet can create various adverse effects. Riboflavin or vitamin B2 deficiency is not very common in the Western diet because many refined carbohydrates contain fortified vitamin B2. Also, meat and eggs are a good source of riboflavin.

However, more vitamin B2 may be needed to correct a riboflavin deficiency and related conditions, such as eye disorders, migraine headaches, anemia, and thyroid disorders.

Other signs and symptoms of vitamin B2 deficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Mouth or lip sores, or cracks
  • Nerve damage
  • A sluggish metabolism
  • Skin disorders or skin inflammation, especially around the face and nose
  • Sore throat
  • Swelling of mucus membranes
  • Inflamed tongue and mouth
  • Mood changes like depression and increased anxiety

5 Health Benefits of Vitamin B2

There are many health benefits associated with vitamin B2 (riboflavin). For instance, riboflavin is key for the production of healthy red blood cells. It also helps reduce homocysteine levels for protection against heart disease. Riboflavin can also improve muscle function, prevent cramping, and reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.

The following is a detailed description of five key vitamin B2 health benefits.

1. Maintains proper energy levels

B vitamins are included in all the major energy and adrenal supplements, including vitamin B2. Vitamin B2, in particular, is useful for chronic stress, calming the nervous system, and regulating hormones that help control mood, energy, temperature, and appetite. Riboflavin deficiency can lead to improper digestion of protein, fats, and carbs—the three major macronutrients that the body uses for fuel.

Vitamin B2 will break down fats, as well as convert proteins into amino acids and carbs into glucose. In other words, riboflavin transforms nutrients from food that the body will use for energy and healthy metabolism.

2. Supports eye health

Research shows that vitamin B2 deficiency increases eye problems. Fortunately, vitamin B2 prevents various eye disorders, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and keratoconus. Riboflavin drops can help treat eye disorders like glaucoma and increase the strength of the cornea when used in combination with light therapy.

3. Prevents and treats anemia

Blood loss, the inability to carry oxygen to the blood, and reduced red cell production are all prominent causes of anemia. Riboflavin is involved in these functions, and therefore, can help treat and prevent anemia. Low vitamin B2 in the diet can lead to sickle cell anemia and anemia. Riboflavin is also effective for lowering high homocysteine levels in the blood. Anemia occurs when the body is unable to convert homocysteine into amino acids.

4. Fights cancer

Vitamin B2 acts as an antioxidant, which can prevent free radical damage. Riboflavin is needed for the production of the antioxidant glutathione. Glutathione helps detoxify the liver and kills free radicals.

Various diseases can result from uncontrolled diseases in the body. Studies have found that riboflavin prevents certain cancers, such as esophageal, cervical, colorectal, and prostate cancer. Vitamin B2 minimizes the effects of oxidative stress and cancer-causing carcinogens.

5. Protects skin and hair

Some studies suggest that vitamin B2 can reduce the time needed for wound healing, while also decreasing cracked lips and skin inflammation. Vitamin B2 also helps maintain collagen levels in the skin. Collagen is important for the skin maintaining a youthful structure, and preventing wrinkles and fine lines. Moreover, vitamin B2 deficiency can make people age quicker.

Recommended Daily Intake of Riboflavin

Should you supplement with vitamin B2? If you do, purchase a high-quality supplement from real food sources. Although B vitamin supplementation can be useful, it is best to consume whole foods with plenty of natural riboflavin. Most people will get enough vitamin B2 to avoid deficiency with an unprocessed and nutrient-dense whole foods diet.

Research shows that vitamin B consumption with a meal will significantly increase the absorption of the vitamin. Some sources state that vitamin B2 absorption can increase from 15% to 60% when taking a vitamin B2 supplement, or when the vitamin comes from a food source. Minerals and vitamins, in general, are absorbed better when taken with a meal.

According to the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences, the following is the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B2 daily:

  • Infants and babies 0 to 6 months: 300 mcg
  • Infants and babies 7 to 12 months: 400 mcg
  • Children 1 to 3 years old: 500 mcg
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 600 mcg
  • Children 9 to 13 years: 900 mcg
  • Males 14-plus years: 1.3 mg
  • Females 14 to 18 years: 1.0 mg
  • Females 19-plus years: 1.1 mg
  • Pregnant females: 1.4 mg
  • Breastfeeding females: 1.6 mg

Top Food Sources of Riboflavin

What are high vitamin B2 foods? The top vitamin B2 food sources include food groups like beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, eggs and dairy products, meat and organ meat, and vegetables, including dark leafy greens. In many cases, people can avoid riboflavin deficiency from products enriched or fortified with vitamin B2. This is where the riboflavin has been added after naturally occurring nutrient have been destroyed or removed.

That is why, whenever possible, it is best to obtain vitamin B2 from whole foods. The following is a vitamin B2 foods chart that is a useful tool to help you learn what foods can help you avoid a deficiency. The chart will help you become aware of what whole foods contain the highest amount of riboflavin.

Food Serving Size Amount (mg) Daily Value %
Seaweed 1 cup 4.1 242.0%
Liver (from beef, lamb, turkey, veal, or chicken) 3-oz. piece 3.9 229.0%
Organ meat (from beef or lamb kidneys) 3-oz. piece 2.5 149.0%
Mollusks/cuttlefish 2-oz. piece 1.5 86.0%
Organic feta cheese 1 cup 1.3 74.0%
Almonds 1 cup 1.0 57.0%
Grass-fed lamb or beef 3-oz. piece 0.73 43.0%
Crimini mushrooms 5-oz. portion 0.7 40.6%
Venison 4-oz. piece 0.70 40.0%
Tempeh (fermented soy) 1 cup 0.6 35.0%
Mackerel fish 3-oz. piece 0.49 29.0%
Spinach 1 cup 0.40 24.7%
Organic goat cheese 1-oz. piece 0.30 20.0%
Organic eggs 1 egg 0.26 15.0%
Green peas 1 cup 0.20 14.1%
Asparagus 1 cup 0.20 13.5%
Collard greens 1 cup 0.20 11.8%
Broccoli 1 cup 0.20 10.6%
Tahini/sesame seed paste 2 tbsp. 0.20 10.0%
Swiss chard 1 cup 0.20 8.8%
Green beans 1 cup 0.10 7.1%
Raspberries 1 cup 0.10 7.1%
Brussels sprouts 1 cup 0.10 7.1%

There is not much risk of over-consuming vitamin B2. Riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin, and the body is able to excrete any amount of vitamin B2 that is not needed within a few hours. People that frequently consume multi-vitamin supplements with riboflavin may notice a bright yellow color in their urine. This is a normal reaction and is directly result of ingesting riboflavin. The yellow color is a good indication that the body is absorbing vitamin B2. It is also a sign your body is excreting unneeded vitamin B2, and do not have a problem with riboflavin deficiency.

Studies suggest that certain medications can affect the absorption rate of vitamin B2 in the body. It is a good idea to consult your doctor if you are taking certain medications, including tricyclic antidepressants, anticholinergic drugs, phenobarbital, and probenecid.



Sources:
Mateljan, G., The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating (Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation), 788-789.
“13 Impressive Benefits of Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin,” Organic Facts; https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vitamins/health-benefits-of-vitamin-b2-or-riboflavin.html, last accessed April 21, 2017.
Group, E., “What is Riboflavin?’ Global Healing Center, January 7, 2016; http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/what-is-riboflavin/, last updated January 15, 2016.
Wollensak, G., et al., “Riboflavin/ultraviolet-a-induced collagen crosslinking for the treatment of keratoconus,” American Journal of Ophthalmology, May 2003; 135(5): 620-627. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12719068.

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