Vitamin B2 Facts: Everything You Need to Know About Riboflavin

Medically Reviewed by Madeline Hubbard, RN, BSN

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Unlike vitamins A, D and C, “vitamin B” is actually a group of different vitamins, each of which has its own characteristics, function and side effects. Vitamin B2, more commonly known as riboflavin, is one such group. So, what are riboflavin's properties and uses? We're delving into just why this vitamin is so important to one's health.

What Does Vitamin B2 Do?

We all need vitamin B2, or riboflavin, to keep our bodies functioning properly. Riboflavin is involved in the production of our DNA, and works to support our important nerve and blood cells. It is also involved in the necessary breakdown of fats and certain medications. Additionally, riboflavin includes important components that help our bodies use other B vitamins efficiently.

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That's not all that riboflavin does for your body, however. Riboflavin also helps keep your nervous system and immune system working properly. By consuming riboflavin regularly, you can maintain healthy hair and skin — and contribute to the health of your eyes and liver. 

Moreover, one of the more unique functions of riboflavin is that it combats some of the effects of aging, particularly memory loss. Ensuring that you get enough vitamin B2 in your diet may help slow down memory loss as you age.

Finally, riboflavin has also been linked to healthy reproductive functioning, so if you’re planning to start a family soon, you may want to speak to a healthcare provider to ensure you are getting an adequate amount of vitamin B2 in your diet.

Food Sources of Vitamin B2

Like many vitamins and minerals, riboflavin occurs naturally in some foods. In other cases, vitamin B2 is added to certain products. And, when all else fails, it can be taken as a dietary supplement. But, for starters, riboflavin, along with other B vitamins, is found in a wide range of foods, including:

  • Lean beef, pork, and organ meats (kidney and liver)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Mushrooms

Many breads, cereals and pastas are fortified with extra riboflavin, and some enriched flours have higher levels of vitamin B2. So, if your diet is lacking in riboflavin, you may want to try adding in some of these fortified options. 

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Studies have found that riboflavin can be destroyed by light, so if you store your food in a glass container, it may no longer contain the full health benefits of vitamin B2. To ensure the highest level of riboflavin, store your foods (especially those mentioned above) in opaque containers and keep them well away from any light source. (Ever wonder why your milk comes in an opaque jug instead of a glass milk bottle? Here's your answer!)

If you eat a varied and healthy diet of lean meats, plenty of vegetables, nuts, legumes, and low-fat dairy products, you probably won’t need to take a riboflavin supplement. Because meat and dairy products provide most of our riboflavin intake, vegans and vegetarians who avoid dairy products might need to take a supplement. 

Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding might also decide to take a supplement to meet the additional needs of the fetus or infant. If you are supplementing your intake, keep in mind that the recommended daily allowance for riboflavin is 1.1 mg for women and 1.3 mg for men. Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before adding a riboflavin supplement to your daily routine.

Side Effects

Because vitamin B2 is natural and water-soluble, it doesn’t remain in the body if it is not immediately needed. Unused riboflavin passes out of the body in the urine. When high amounts of vitamin B2 are consumed, the urine may become a yellow-orange color. Otherwise, no side effects have been linked with excess riboflavin intake — nor has the Food and Nutrition Board established an upper limit for riboflavin intake.

Some medications can affect how your body reacts to, absorbs, or breaks down any riboflavin you consume. A drug called probenecid, which is used to treat gout, can increase the amount of riboflavin in your body, while certain medications taken by folks with depression can decrease riboflavin levels. As always, consult with your health care provider(s) before making any changes to your diet.

Deficiency Symptoms

Because of its abundance in common foods, riboflavin deficiency is very rare in the United States. However, if a vitamin B2 deficiency does occur, symptoms like a sore throat; mouth or lip sores; hair loss; and/or skin disorders may result. Additionally, a long-term riboflavin deficiency can lead to anemia.

Daily Dosage Recommendations

The recommended daily dosages for riboflavin vary based on both age and sex. From birth to the age of six months, infants should get about 0.3 mg of riboflavin per day. From seven months to 12 months, that amount should increase to 0.4 mg/day. From the ages of one to three years old, children should consume about 0.5 mg of vitamin B2 a day; from ages four to eight, about 0.6 mg/day; and from ages nine to 13, about 0.9 mg/day.

Once children reach the age of 14, their recommended dosages vary based on sex. From the age of 14, men should consume about 1.3 mg/day. For women, the recommendation is 1 mg/day from ages 14 to 18, and then 1.1 mg/day from the age of 19 on. Supplements of B2 or B vitamin complex generally provide 1.3 mg/day, thus ensuring that 100% of the daily requirement is met.

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