Does it work? Research is limited, but high doses of riboflavin may work well as a migraine preventative and have virtually no reported side effects.
How do I use it? 400mg per day split into two doses is the most commonly recommended dose.
Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, is an essential vitamin that assists with growth and development, creating energy, and metabolizing (or breaking down) drugs.
Riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin meaning it dissolves in liquids. It cannot be stored in the body, so getting enough each day is important for your health. Adults need between 1.1 and 1.3 mg of riboflavin per day, although doses used for migraine prevention are much higher.
The Science: Riboflavin and Migraine
Riboflavin is an important part of two major coenzymes within your body. Coenzymes help chemical reactions to occur, and these chemical reactions are how your body breaks down food, beats your heart, moves your arms … chemical reactions are how you body does everything!
In addition to helping with metabolism and growth, riboflavin helps other vitamins like niacin and B6 do their own unique jobs. Riboflavin also helps maintain normal levels of homocysteine in your blood, an amino acid that is linked to heart disease when levels get too high.
When looking at how riboflavin can improve migraine we have to discuss one of our favorite little powerhouses – the mitochondria!
The mitochondria is a teeny tiny organ (called an organelle) inside virtually all of your cells. Its main responsibility is creating raw energy from the foods we eat, and studies have found that slow mitochondria may be part of the equation when it comes to migraine.
Riboflavin is a vital part of good mitochondrial functioning. Without it, these microscopic organelles can’t create energy for your body! And if people with migraine truly have slowed mitochondrial functioning, they will likely need more of it than the average person.
A handful of studies have been published looking at riboflavin’s ability to improve migraine (the first one of which was in 1946!). Many of these studies show a 50-70% improvement in migraine symptoms for the majority of people.
One study looked at how well riboflavin worked when compared with a placebo (sugar pill) – the riboflavin group experienced a 50% reduction in number of episodes, while the placebo group only experienced a 15% reduction.
While these results are exciting, more research needs to be done using more people and better designs. It’s also good to keep in mind that there are some studies showing that riboflavin has no effect on migraine symptoms.
Because of its low chance of side effects and the solid science supporting riboflavin’s efficacy (aka it makes sense that it would work), many people find it worth a shot to try it out for themselves.
Signs of Deficiency
True riboflavin deficiency is rare. In fact, most people get more than the recommended daily amount of riboflavin just from eating average, everyday foods.
Signs of a riboflavin deficiency include:
- hair loss
- cracked lips (very cracked lips)
- redness and swelling of the mouth and throat
- skin issues
- liver problems
Although deficiency is uncommon except in extreme circumstances like starvation, some people have genetic mutations that cause issues with how their body can use riboflavin.
Hypothyroidism can also impact your ability to use riboflavin, as can a condition called hypoadrenalism.
Even without a deficiency one of the conditions above, migraineurs may benefit from riboflavin supplementation due a potentially increased need.
Riboflavin From Food
Riboflavin is easily found in foods we eat day to day. Some of the best sources of riboflavin include:
- Fortified cereals and grains
Because riboflavin is one of the vitamins required to be added to enriched foods in the United States, it is relatively easy to meet the recommended amount from food alone.
However, people with migraine likely need higher amounts of this vitamin to achieve a therapeutic effect, making supplements helpful.
Riboflavin is most commonly found as a pill or capsule, although liquid and gummy versions do exist. You can find it labeled as either riboflavin or Vitamin B2 in dosages between 100mg and 400mg.
You may also see supplements sold under the name “riboflavin-5-phosphate”, or FMN (flavin mononucleotide). These are two words for the same thing and describe the active form of riboflavin. While these supplements are typically more expensive, there is really no evidence showing that they work any better in your body. In fact, the odds are very good that riboflavin-5-phosphate gets converted to plain old riboflavin in your intestines – so save your money!
Your body can absorb up to 30 mg of riboflavin at a time, and any extra is quickly gotten rid of through your pee.
Regardless of this, most studies use a dose of 400mg per day split into two doses. Smaller doses, like 50mg, have been shown to be much less effective except in some studies on children.
Check with your doctor about appropriate dosages for you.
Side Effects and Warnings
Riboflavin seems to be a very safe supplement with very few side effects. Even if you take more than your body needs, your body will get rid of it through your urine.
Potential side effects of riboflavin include:
- Bright yellow urine (this is common and does not effect your health)
- Increased urination
Riboflavin is not known to interact with any prescription or over-the-counter medications, but check with your pharmacist to be sure.
While research is limited, high doses of riboflavin show promise as a migraine preventative. 400mg split into two doses is most commonly recommended. Riboflavin likely works by improving the functioning of your mitochondria and has very limited side effects.
Riboflavin: Fact Sheet for Professionals
Prophylaxis of migraine headaches with riboflavin: A systematic review
Riboflavin and migraine: the bridge over troubled mitochondria
Prophylactic effect of riboflavin on pediatric migraine: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
Effectiveness of low-dose riboflavin as a prophylactic agent in pediatric migraine
Supplementation with Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) for Migraine Prophylaxis in Adults and Children: A Review