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Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, enables carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to release energy. Riboflavin is needed for normal reproduction, growth, and repair of skin, hair, nails, and joints. It is also important to the immune system, which protects your body against disease.


Here is a partial list of the illnesses that riboflavin helps prevent, and those that it helps to treat.


bulletMigraine headache. Riboflavin may help prevent migraine headaches. Studies have suggested that supplementation with riboflavin is more effective than aspirin in preventing these severe headaches.
bulletCataracts. Riboflavin deficiency may cause cataracts. Riboflavin is vital to the activity of an enzyme that protects your eyes. Riboflavin deficiency is fairly common in older people. Before taking more than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for riboflavin to prevent cataracts, speak to your health care provider.
bulletRiboflavin supplements may help in the treatment of sickle cell anemia. It may also enhance the effectiveness of iron supplements in the treatment of anemia.
bulletRheumatoid arthritis. Too little riboflavin in your diet may put you at risk for rheumatoid arthritis. Supplementation with riboflavin may help improve your symptoms.


Riboflavin is also helpful in the following ways.


bulletMay relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome
bulletReduces the effects of stress
bulletSkin problems such as acne (especially acne rosacea), dermatitis, eczema, and ulcers may improve with riboflavin supplementation
bulletMay improve muscle cramps
bulletMay protect against certain types of cell damage that occur during a heart attack or stroke
bulletEnhances immune function


Dietary Sources

The best sources of riboflavin include brewer's yeast, almonds, organ meats, whole grains, wheat germ, wild rice, mushrooms, soybeans, milk, and spinach.

Riboflavin is added to flours and cereals. Riboflavin is destroyed by light and alkalis such as baking soda. It is not destroyed by heat, although it will leach into cooking water. Foods should be stored away from light to help retain their riboflavin content.

Other Forms

Riboflavin supplements are available in two forms: simple or activated. It is also found in multivitamin preparations and in B-complex vitamins, in 25-, 50-, and 100-mg tablets.

How to Take It

Recommended dietary allowances for riboflavin are listed below.


bulletChildren 1 to 3 years: 0.5 mg/day
bulletChildren 4 to 8 years: 0.6 mg/day
bulletChildren 9 to 13 years: 0.9 mg/day
bulletMen 14 years and older: 1.3 mg/day
bulletWomen 14 to 19 years: 1.0 mg/day
bulletWomen during pregnancy: 1.4 mg/day
bulletWomen during lactation: 1.6 mg/day


As with all medicines, check with a health care provider before giving riboflavin to a child.


Riboflavin toxicity is rare. Possible reactions to high doses include itching, numbness, burning or prickling sensations, and sensitivity to light. High doses of riboflavin can affect urinalysis test results.

Possible Interactions

Poor dietary habits in combination with birth control medications can interfere with the body's ability to use riboflavin.

Riboflavin can interfere with antibiotics that are sulfa-containing drugs.

Riboflavin may reduce the effectiveness of medications taken for malaria (such as chloroquine, mesloquine).

Riboflavin interacts with selegiline, a mediation used for Parkinson's disease.

Riboflavin may interact with doxorubicin, a medication used for the treatment of certain cancers.

Methotrexate, a medication used to treat cancer, can prevent the body from making riboflavin (as well as other essential vitamins).

Psychotherapeutic medications called phenothiazines (such as chlorpromazine) may lower riboflavin levels.

Tricyclic antidepressants (imipramine, amitriptyline) inhibit the body's use of riboflavin.

Supporting Research

1999 Drug Facts and Comparisons. New York, NY: J.B. Lippincott Company; 1998.

Bomgaars L, Gunawardena S, Kelley SE, Ramu A. The inactivation of doxorubicin by long ultraviolet light. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 1997;40(6):506-512.

Christenson, H. Riboflavin can protect tissues from oxidative injury. Nutr Rev. May 1993;51:149150.

Dreizen S, McCredie KB, Keating MJ, Andersson BS. Nutritional deficiencies in patients receiving cancer chemotherapy. Postgrad Med. 1990;87(1):163-167, 170.

Dutta P, Pinto J, Rivlin R. Antimalarial properties of imipramine and amitriptyline. J Protozool. 1990;37(1):54-58.

Duyff R. The American Dietary Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Minneapolis, Minn: Cronimed Publishing; 1996.

Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998.

Matarese L, Gottschlich M. Contemporary Nutrition Support Practice. A Clinical Guide. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders Company; 1998.

Matsui MS, Rozovski SJ. Drug-nutrient interaction. Clin Ther. 1982;4(6):423-440.

Murray MT. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Health; 1996.

Parks OW. Photodegredation of sulfa drugs by fluorescent light. J Assoc Off Anal Chem. 1985;68(6):1232-1234.

Pinto JT, Rivlin RS. Drugs that promote renal excretion of riboflavin. Drug Nutr Interact. 1987;5(3):143-151.

Realey N. Vitmains Etc. Melbourne, Australia: Bookman Press; 1998.

Schoenen J, Jacquy J, Lenaerts M. Effectiveness of high-dose riboflavin in migraneprophilaxis. A randomized controlled trial. Neurology. February 1998;50:466470.


Takacs M, Vamos J, Papp Q, et al. In vitro interaction of selegiline, riboflavin and light. Sensitized photodegradation of drugs [in Hungarian]. Acta Pharm Hung. 1999;69(3):103-107.

Copyright 2000 Integrative Medicine Communications

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.