What Is Riboflavin Deficiency

  • Maha AhmedMBBS, Intarnal Medicine and General Surgery, Cairo University, Egypt
  • Anamika ShivhareM. Dental Surgery (Oral Pathology & Microbiology), Devi Ahilya University, India


Riboflavin deficiency, known as Vitamin B2 deficiency, occurs when the body lacks sufficient riboflavin, a crucial water-soluble vitamin responsible for energy metabolism, cell growth, antioxidant defence, eye health, and nervous system function. It stems from inadequate dietary intake, poor absorption, or medical conditions affecting absorption. Symptoms include physical signs like mouth sores and redness on the tongue, ocular symptoms such as light sensitivity and red eyes, and potential fatigue and weakness. Long-term consequences may impact skin, eye health, and overall well-being.

To prevent and treat riboflavin deficiency, a diet rich in sources like dairy, lean meats, and leafy greens is recommended. Supplements or fortified foods can help meet requirements. In severe cases, medical guidance is essential. Recognising riboflavin's importance emphasises the need for a balanced diet to maintain optimal health and avoid deficiency-related issues.

Definition of riboflavin

Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2, is a water-soluble essential nutrient belonging to the B-vitamin group. It is a micronutrient required by the body in small amounts for various physiological processes. Chemically, riboflavin plays a pivotal role as a coenzyme in multiple enzymatic reactions within the body, facilitating important metabolic pathways.1

Importance of riboflavin for the body

Energy metabolism

Riboflavin is crucial for converting carbohydrates, proteins, and fats from the food we consume into energy that the body can use. 

Cell growth and repair

Riboflavin supports cell growth, reproduction, and repair. It is essential for maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. Riboflavin aids in the production of new cells, which is vital for tissue maintenance and wound healing.

Antioxidant defense

This vitamin contributes to the production of antioxidants like glutathione, which help neutralise harmful free radicals that can damage cells and contribute to ageing and disease.

Eye health

Riboflavin is important for maintaining good vision and overall eye health. It is a component of coenzymes that are necessary for the metabolism of light-sensitive compounds in the retina.

Nervous system function

Riboflavin plays a role in maintaining the health of the nervous system. It supports nerve function and helps transmit nerve signals, contributing to overall neurological health.

In summary, riboflavin is an essential nutrient with a wide range of functions in the body. Its involvement in energy metabolism, cell growth, antioxidant defence, eye health, and nervous system function highlights its critical role in maintaining overall health and well-being.1,2,3

Understanding riboflavin deficiency

Definition of riboflavin deficiency

Riboflavin deficiency refers to a condition where the body lacks an adequate amount of riboflavin, leading to a range of physiological and health problems. Since riboflavin is water-soluble and not stored in large amounts in the body, a consistent supply is necessary through the diet to meet the body's requirements for essential functions. 2,3,4

Causes of riboflavin deficiency

  • Inadequate dietary intake:

The most common cause of riboflavin deficiency is a diet lacking in riboflavin-rich foods. These include dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt), lean meats (chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef), eggs, leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli), and enriched cereals. A diet heavily reliant on processed or refined foods might lack sufficient riboflavin.

  • Poor absorption:

Riboflavin is primarily absorbed in the small intestine. Certain conditions that hinder proper nutrient absorption, such as celiac disease, are frequently observed alongside a broader deficiency of B vitamins. Primary deficiency of riboflavin arises due to insufficient consumption of this nutrient in the diet. On the other hand, secondary riboflavin deficiency can manifest in cases of persistent diarrhoea, disorders causing poor nutrient absorption like inflammatory bowel disease and gluten sensitivity, chronic liver conditions, regular dialysis, prolonged usage of barbiturates, and chronic alcohol misuse. 2,3,4

At-risk populations

Certain groups of individuals are more susceptible to riboflavin deficiency:

  1. Vegetarians and vegans: Individuals who exclude dairy, meat, and eggs from their diets might have limited access to riboflavin-rich sources, increasing their risk of deficiency.
  2. Alcoholics: Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with riboflavin absorption and utilisation.
  3. Pregnant and breastfeeding women: Increased nutrient demands during pregnancy and breastfeeding can elevate the risk of deficiency if dietary intake is insufficient.
  4. Individuals with malabsorption conditions: Conditions like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel diseases can impair nutrient absorption, including riboflavin.

In summary, riboflavin deficiency occurs due to inadequate intake, poor absorption, and certain medical conditions. Understanding the essential role of riboflavin in energy metabolism, cellular growth, and overall health underscores the importance of addressing deficiency risk factors and ensuring a balanced diet for optimal well-being.2,3,4

Signs and symptoms of riboflavin deficiency

Physical symptoms:

  1. Cracks and Sores on the Corners of the Mouth (Cheilosis): It can lead to painful cracks and sores at the corners of the mouth, known as cheilosis. These fissures can cause discomfort while eating and speaking.
  2. Hyperemia (excess blood) and swelling of the mouth and throat.
  1. Skin Disorders: Riboflavin deficiency may manifest as skin issues, including dermatitis and other skin disorders. Skin problems might arise due to impaired cell growth and repair, which riboflavin supports.1,,2,5

Ocular symptoms:

  1. Dry, Itchy, and Red Eyes: Riboflavin plays a role in maintaining eye health. Its deficiency can lead to dryness, itching, and redness in the eyes, affecting overall visual comfort.
  2. Blurred vision
  3. Cataracts in severe cases.

Other potential symptoms:

  1. Fatigue and Weakness: Riboflavin is integral to energy metabolism. Its deficiency can lead to reduced energy production, resulting in feelings of fatigue and weakness.
  2. Digestive Issues: Some individuals with riboflavin deficiency may experience digestive problems, although this symptom can be less specific. The disruption in energy metabolism might contribute to these issues.
  3. Hair loss
  4. Liver degeneration
  5. Anemia

These signs and symptoms collectively illustrate the wide-ranging impacts of riboflavin deficiency on various bodily functions. Recognizing these indicators is crucial for early identification and intervention to prevent further health complications. If you or someone else is experiencing these symptoms, seeking medical attention is recommended for proper diagnosis and treatment.1,2,5

Diagnosing riboflavin deficiency

Clinical assessment: Healthcare professionals conduct a thorough clinical evaluation, considering symptoms, medical history, and physical examination findings to assess potential riboflavin deficiency.

Blood tests: Blood tests measure riboflavin levels in the blood. Low levels indicate deficiency. Blood tests can also evaluate the activity of enzymes dependent on riboflavin.

Other diagnostic tools: In some cases, additional tests such as urine analysis and genetic testing might be used to confirm riboflavin deficiency and its underlying causes.5

Health implications of riboflavin deficiency

Impact on energy production: Riboflavin deficiency disrupts energy metabolism, leading to reduced energy production and resulting in fatigue and weakness.

Connection to other nutrient deficiencies: Riboflavin deficiency can affect the availability and function of other B vitamins, potentially creating a cascade of nutrient-related issues.

Long-term consequences if untreated: Untreated riboflavin deficiency can lead to skin and eye problems, nervous system dysfunction, and compromised overall well-being.

Prevention and treatment

Dietary sources of riboflavin:

  1. Milk and dairy products
  2. Lean meats and poultry
  3. Leafy greens and vegetables

Supplements and fortified foods: Riboflavin supplements or foods fortified with riboflavin can address deficiencies when dietary intake is insufficient.

Medical treatment under supervision: Severe cases of deficiency might require medical intervention under the guidance of healthcare professionals. The tablet forms of riboflavin supplements include 25 mg, 50 mg, and 100 mg. Riboflavin has a recommended daily intake of 1.3 mg for males, 1.1 mg for women, 1.3 mg for male adolescents (age 14 to 18), and 1.0 mg for female adolescents (age 14 to 18), according to the National Institutes of Health. Pregnant women should take 1.4 mg, and nursing mothers should take 1.6 mg. Infants aged 0 to 6 months receive 0.3 mg of the medication, followed by those aged 7 to 12 months, 1 to 3 years, 4 to 8 years, and 9 to 13 years. Because riboflavin absorption levels rise with meals, it is crucial to take supplements with meals.

Monitoring and follow-up: Regular check-ups and monitoring ensure that riboflavin levels return to normal and any underlying issues are addressed.1,2,5


Riboflavin is vital for energy metabolism, cellular health, and overall well-being. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of deficiency is crucial for early intervention. I emphasise the significance of a balanced diet rich in riboflavin sources to maintain optimal health and prevent deficiencies.

In conclusion, understanding the diagnosis, health implications, prevention, and treatment of riboflavin deficiency highlights the importance of this essential nutrient for our well-being. By being aware of these factors, we can make informed choices to promote our health and maintain a balanced lifestyle.


  1. Office of dietary supplements - riboflavin [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 25]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Riboflavin-HealthProfessional
  2. Avenue 677 Huntington, Boston, MA  02115. The Nutrition Source. 2020 [cited 2023 Aug 25]. Riboflavin – vitamin b2. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/riboflavin-vitamin-b2/
  3. Daniel F. Riboflavin (B2) & eye health | the optical journal [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2023 Aug 25]. Available from: https://www.opticaljournal.com/riboflavin-b2-eye-health/
  4. Riboflavin deficiency - an overview | science direct topics [Internet]. [cited 2023 Aug 25]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/riboflavin-deficiency
  5. Mahabadi N, Bhusal A, Banks SW. Riboflavin deficiency. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Aug 31]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470460/
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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