Vitamin B2

While all the B vitamins are important for good health, B2 is right up there at the top of the list.  B2, also known as riboflavin, is necessary for anyone who wants to get through a busy day of taking care of the family or work.  The cells need riboflavin in order to make energy.

Riboflavin also works with the other B vitamins to ensure the body's systems (such as the immune system) are all running smoothly.  Riboflavin is known to work especially well with pyridoxine and niacin:  without riboflavin, these two B mainstays cannot perform their jobs at all.

Why People Need Vitamin B2

This important B vitamin gives the human body energy at its most basic level - in the cells.  People need riboflavin to make two of the enzymes that are absolutely vital for helping to release energy from the carbohydrates, proteins and fats a person eats.  In other words, riboflavin keeps a person alive.

Riboflavin also does several other tasks for the body, either by itself or in conjunction with other B team members.  This vitamin helps regulate cell growth and reproduction and aids in making healthy red blood cells.  Riboflavin also helps the immune system by keeping mucous membranes in the respiratory and digestive systems working properly. 

When germs still manage to infiltrate the body, riboflavin helps a person make antibodies to fight them off.  This vitamin might even help one's memory.  Elderly people with high levels of riboflavin perform better on memory tests.

Recent studies are showing that riboflavin may be effective in alleviating some of the pain related to migraines.  While scientists do not know exactly what happens to cause a migraine, some researchers believe vitamin B2 works because people who are stricken with migraines have low cellular energy reserves in their brains.

Vitamin B2 Requirements

People do not need a lot of riboflavin for good health.  As a matter of fact, less than 2 mg a day is enough.  Riboflavin is found naturally in many foods, particularly meat, milk products, and dark-green, leafy vegetables.  This vitamin can also be added to bread, flour and many breakfast cereals.

The RDA for vitamin B2 is based on a person's calorie intake - the more one eats, the more they need.  A basic formula for translating this need is 0.6 mg for every 1,000 calories.  The daily intake should be at least 1.1 mg for women and 1.3 mg for men, even if their diet is providing less than 2,000 calories. 

When the Body is Deficient

This vitamin is an exception to the water-soluble rule of vitamins, because people store small amounts of it in the kidneys and liver.  Because of this storage ability, a deficiency of riboflavin can take up to 3 or 4 months to show up.

Most people get plenty of riboflavin in their food.  When a riboflavin deficiency presents itself, there is typically a deficiency of all the B vitamins.  However, riboflavin typically shows up as a problem with the mucous membranes, the eyes, the skin or the blood. 

Some of the people who may be at special risk for a vitamin B2 deficiency include:

  • Athletes - They need extra riboflavin if they exercise a lot.

  • Diabetics - This group of people may be excreting a lot of riboflavin in their urine. 

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women - These women are passing a lot of their riboflavin to their babies, so they need about 0.5 mg of extra riboflavin per day.

  • Elderly people - Nearly a third of all elderly people have a riboflavin deficiency.

  • Lactose intolerant people - This group cannot eat many of the foods rich in riboflavin, such as cottage cheese, milk and other dairy products.

  • Those who take tricyclic antidepressants - This group of people take a drug which interferes with riboflavin. 

Symptoms of Vitamin B2 Deficiencies

Clear signs of a riboflavin deficiency are sores and cracks on the lips, especially at the corners.  Reddened eyes, scaly skin and anemia are other signs.   

Foods Containing Vitamin B2

Fairly large amounts of riboflavin are found in milk and other dairy products.  Some good choices include yogurt, cheese, and even ice cream.  However, ice cream has a little guilt attached - the higher the fat, the less riboflavin is present.

Some meats (in particular liver) are good sources of riboflavin.  Vegetables containing high amounts of riboflavin include spinach, broccoli, avocados, asparagus and mushrooms.  Many breads, pasta and baked goods are made from flour which has been enriched with riboflavin and other members of the vitamin B family.  Most breakfast cereals also have riboflavin added to them.

Most daily multivitamins contain the full RDA for riboflavin.  For those who believe they need more, consideration should be given to taking a complete B supplement.  The body needs all the B vitamins for riboflavin to function properly, and vice versa.

If someone wants extra riboflavin alone, supplements of vitamin B2 come in tablet form or as capsules.  These supplements typically come in either 50 mg or 100 mg amounts.  To get the most from these supplements they should be taken with meals.



  1. Alan H. Pressman and Sheila Buff.(2007). The Complete Idiot's guide to vitamins and minerals. New York : Alpha Books
  2. Brewer, S. (2010). The essential guide to vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements. London : Right Way
  3. Elson M. Haas, Md & Buck Levin, Phd, Rd.(2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley, Calif. : Celestial Art
  4. Holford, P. (2004). The optimum nutrition bible. London : Piatkus
  5. Holford, P & Lawson, S.(2008). Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health. London : Piatkus
  6. Lieberman, S. & Bruning, N. (2003). The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book. New York : Avery
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  9. The National Research Council.(1989). Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed, National Academy of Sciences
  10. Werbach, M. (1993). Nutritional Influences on Illness. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Third Line Press

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