B vitamins are actually a group of 11 separate, water-soluble nutrients: B-1 (thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3 (niacin), B-5 (pantothenic acid), B-6, B-12, biotin, folic acid, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), choline and inositol.
Today, we are going to highlight just one of these—riboflavin (B2).
Riboflavin balances the adrenal system to enhance energy and stamina. It is also critical for body growth and red blood cell production. Plus, riboflavin has been shown to reduce your risk of cancer, detoxify excess fluoride and ease headaches and migraines.
Riboflavin deficiency is often marked by cracks around the side of the mouth, a purplish-red or magenta tongue and/or vertical cracks on the lips.1
Good food sources of riboflavin include soybeans, spinach, beet greens, yogurt, crimini mushrooms, eggs, asparagus, almonds and turkey.
Conditions Supported by Riboflavin
What Does the Research Say?
In a large study of post-menopausal women published in February 2013, researchers determined that low vitamin B6 and riboflavin (B2) intake is associated with risk of developing colorectal cancer.2
The researchers evaluated 88,045 postmenopausal women for intake of folate, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and alcohol. The investigators followed the subjects for 10-15 years to assess the development of colorectal cancer.
The researchers found 1,003 cases of colorectal cancer among the subjects during the follow-up period. The data showed that higher intake of vitamin B6 and riboflavin reduced the risk of developing colorectal cancer. In fact, the subjects with the highest intake of vitamin B6 had a 20 percent decreased risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to the subjects with the lowest intake. Similarly, the subjects with the highest intake of riboflavin had a 19 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer compared to the subjects with the lowest intake.
The researchers also determined that, among current drinkers that consumed less than one drink (13 grams of alcohol) per week, the risk of developing colorectal cancer decreased as B vitamin intake increased. Interestingly, the investigators also found that the subjects that experienced the initiation of folic acid fortification for three to nine years had an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
The researchers concluded, “Vitamin B6 and riboflavin intakes from diet and supplements were associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer in postmenopausal women. Associations of B vitamin intake were particularly strong for regional disease and among women drinkers who consumed alcohol infrequently. Our study provides new evidence that the increased folate intake during the early postfortification period may have been associated with a transient increase in colorectal cancer risk.”
In a separate study published by the Journal of Nutrition in December 2013, researchers learned that riboflavin also plays a role in esophageal cancer.3
The subjects included 223 individuals with esophageal adenocarcinoma, 220 individuals with Barrett’s esophagus, 219 individuals with reflux esophagitis and 256 control subjects. (Acid reflux may cause inflammation (esophagitis) and can develop into Barrett’s esophagus, which increases the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma.) The subjects underwent structured interviews and completed food-frequency questionnaires.
The researchers found that higher intake of riboflavin (B2) was associated with a lower risk of reflux esophagitis. Additionally, they found that vitamin B12 intake was associated with increased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Research indicates that riboflavin increases fluoride excretion in the feces. One study showed that as the dosage of riboflavin increased in rats, there was a proportional decrease in fluoride retention.4
Riboflavin has been well studied for migraine prophylaxis and treatment, with several studies showing substantial benefit.5-7
This was seen specifically in a study from Germany, where a team of researchers discovered that a combination of magnesium, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can alleviate the painful symptoms of migraine.8
Researchers recruited 130 adults who suffered three or more migraines per month. They were divided into two treatment groups. The first took the proprietary magnesium/riboflavin/CoQ10 blend called Dolovent™, and the second took a placebo.
After the three-month intervention period, the participants were assessed for number of days with migraine, pain, burden of disease and their opinions of efficacy of treatment.
The results showed that those taking the supplement experienced fewer migraines per month (6.2 days at baseline to 4.4 days at the end of the treatment period). In comparison, the placebo group went from 6.2 days to 5.2 days. The patients taking the nutrient blend also experienced substantially less pain intensity and burden of disease.
The researchers wrote, Dolovent “had an impact on migraine frequency which showed a trend towards statistical significance. Migraine symptoms and burden of disease, however, were statistically significantly reduced compared to placebo in patients with migraine attacks.”
According to a study published in 2000, people who eat more riboflavin as part of their diet seem to have a lower risk of developing cataracts.9
In a population-based, cross-sectional study, researchers gave 2,900 people between the ages of 49 and 97 a food frequency questionnaire as well as a test of the lens of their eyes. They found that those people who ate foods high in riboflavin (as well as niacin and thiamin) had lower incidence of cataract.
How to Use Riboflavin
The commonly recommended dosage for riboflavin is 20-30 mg a day, in single or divided dosages. For headaches and migraines, aim for 400 mg per day.
- Blanck HM, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Aug;76(2):430-5.
- Zschabitz S, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;2:332-43.
- Sharp L, et al. J Nutr. 2013;12:1966-73.
- Stookey GK. J Dent Res. 1973 Jul-Aug;52(4):843.
- Boehnke C, et al. Eur J Neurol. 2004 Jul;11(7):475-7.
- Mauskop A. 2012 Aug;18(4):796-806.
- Pringsheim T, et al. Can J Neurol Sci. 2012 Mar;39(2 Suppl 2):S1-59.
- Gaul C, et al. J Headache Pain. 2015 Dec;16(1):516.
- Cumming RG, et al. Ophthalmology. 2000 Mar;107(3):450-6.