Why Science Says You Should Consider Riboflavin To Prevent Migraine

Shruti Baikerikar

(B.E. Biotechnology, PG Clinical Research)
Independent Researcher, Health Writer & Founder of Salubrainous [Full Bio]

riboflavin for migraine prevention

Name: Riboflavin, Vitamin B2
Goes well with: Magnesium, Feverfew, Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin B6
Number of scientific references: 22
Level of Evidence: Level II What is this?

Note:Riboflavin is a neuroprotective agent and an antioxidant. As per human studies it can help abort migraine attacks and reduce dependency on conventional medications. Consult a health practitioner before taking riboflavin.

Research has confirmed the role of riboflavin as a preventative measure for a migraine attack. Riboflavin or vitamin B2 is a water soluble vitamin and belongs to the vitamin B complex group.

It is a major constituent of two coenzymes flavin mononucleotide (FMN; also known as riboflavin-5’-phosphate) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). These enzymes are involved in various activities, such as metabolism of fats, cellular activity, growth, antibody production and red blood cell production.

It is also essential for healthy skin, hair and nails. Vitamin B2 is found in a variety of foods, but milk and dairy products are the major contributors. Since it gets degraded when exposed to bright sunlight, milk is never stored in glass containers.

Riboflavin deficiency affects the metabolism of other members of vitamin B group. Its deficiency has been linked with low iron levels, heart diseases, neuropathy, developmental problems and vision related disorders.

The Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society have confirmed that riboflavin is effective for migraine prevention.It benefits in migraine therapy as an antioxidant and neuroprotective agent and reduces migraine attack by 50-60%.

Let’s understand how it helps in migraine prevention.

Suggested Riboflavin Supplement For Migraine Prevention

Please consult a health practitioner before taking any health supplement.

I have listed one riboflavin supplement which users have found to be useful for migraine prevention. You may consider supplementing with a complete vitamin B supplement as well ( Buy from Amazon or Buy from iHerb).

BioTech Pharmacal B2-400 Riboflavin
 riboflavin 400 supplement1 These provide 400mg of riboflavin per capsule. The supplements are free from allergens and additives.

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Image Credit: Biotech Pharmacal, Inc.

3 Science Backed Benefits of Riboflavin For Migraine Prevention

A few studies have successfully proven that vitamin B2 can help prevent migraine attacks.

1. It can prevent a migraine attack

A review study published in Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 2017 reveals that vitamin B2 is safe, well tolerated and inexpensive measure of preventing migraines in adults.

A study conducted in 1994, demonstrated that 400mg riboflavin daily for 3 months brought about 68.2% improvement.

These findings were further examined by a group of German researchers. The treatment involved 400mg vitamin B2 daily for 3-6 months. Headache frequency reduced from 4 days per month to 2 days per month.

The number of migraine abortive medicines used reduced from 7 units per month to 4 units per month.

Maizels et. al conducted a clinical trial where they examined whether the combination of riboflavin, feverfew, and magnesium was more potent that riboflavin alone in prevention of migraines.

Their study revealed that 25 mg riboflavin was as effective as a combination of 400mg riboflavin, 300 mg magnesium and 100mg feverfew in preventing migraine. Both the treatments brought about 50% reduction in migraine attacks and migraine days.

Sandor et.al suggest that a combination of riboflavin with beta blockers can be helpful in aborting migraine attacks.

Quick Gist: Various clinical trials have confirmed that a dose of 400mg riboflavin for 3-6 months helps in reducing migraine attacks. In fact, one study points out that riboflavin alone may be better than its combination with magnesium, and feverfew in preventing migraine attacks.

2.It serves as a natural antioxidant

Mitochondria are units within a cell that are responsible for producing energy and cellular respiration. Even in the brain, the mitochondria function to provide antioxidant defense.

Mitochondrial dysfunction has been observed in migraine. Studies have demonstrated that there is an impairment in the oxidative metabolism of the brain during and between migraine attacks. (To learn more about mitochondrial dysfunction in migraine, read the basics of pathophysiology of migraine)

Certain genetic and epigenetic mechanisms may be altered which affect mitochondrial function. These mutations are responsible for the easy triggering of migraine attacks in susceptible individuals.

Riboflavin may help rectify this mitochondrial dysfunction and help restore brain energy metabolism.

Homocysteine is an amino acid whose elevated levels have been linked to increased heart risks. The metabolism of homocysteine requires the presence of vitamin B complex (including vitamin B2), and this metabolism may reduce the severity of migraine with aura.

Therefore Shaik et al. hypothesize that vitamin B2 may act in this manner, rectify mitochondrial dysfunction and help prevent migraine.

The combination of Coenzyme Q10 and vitamin B2 serves as a prophylactic treatment for migraine due to their antioxidant power.

Quick Gist: Mitochondria are cellular units responsible for energy production. In migraine, a disturbance in mitochondrial function is observed. Riboflavin helps restore the function of mitochondria and serves as an antioxidant.

3. It is neuroprotective

Riboflavin’s preventive action against migraine is primarily focused on restoring mitochondrial function. Marashly and Bohlega et.al have suggested that it may exert a neuroprotective action as well.

The term neuroprotective means protecting the brain and preventing cell death of brain cells. They postulate that many enzymes that are dependent on vitamin B2 for their activity are also involved in neurochemistry and brain function.

Pyridoxal phosphate is the active form of vitamin B6, and its activity is dependent on vitamin B2 levels. Vitamin B6 has proven neuroprotective potential and studies showed that pyridoxine supplementation reduces migraine attacks.

Kynurenine is neuro active metabolites that are produced after degradation of amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Kynurenines interact with certain receptors in the brain and influence the activity of brain cells.

Disturbance in kynurenine levels is observed in migraine. And vitamin B2 intake is linked with kynurenine levels.

Since riboflavin is intricately involved in the chemistry of the brain, its supplementation helps protect overall brain health in migraine patients.

Quick Gist: Many enzymes and metabolites that are necessary for healthy brain functioning are dependent on riboflavin levels in the body. Thus its supplementation helps exert a brain protective effect in migraine patients.

Is riboflavin safe for treatment of childhood migraine?

MacLennan et.al conducted the first study in 2008 to assess whether riboflavin is safe and effective in preventing migraine in children.

48 children were given either 200mg vitamin B2 or placebo daily. 12 out of 27 patients in treatment group experienced 50% reduction in migraine attacks. Interestingly 14 out of 21 patients in the placebo group also experienced similar relief.

Since there was no difference in both groups, researchers concluded that vitamin B2 is not effective in preventing migraine in children.

Further in 2009, treatment of pediatric and adolescent patients with 200-400mg riboflavin for 3-6 months delivered positive results. 68.4% experienced a 50% reduction in migraine attacks while 21% reported a decrease in migraine frequency.

However adverse effects such as vomiting and increase in appetite were observed.

Bruijn et.al further investigated the same topic in 2010. They observed that 50 mg vitamin B2 is not effective in preventing migraine in children. However, their study also revealed that it might mildly reduce mild migraine attacks or tension type headache in children.

Based on these studies, it is quite obvious that despite altering the dosage riboflavin does not exert a clear preventive effect in childhood migraine.

A recent review study published in International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 2015 states that there is no conclusive evidence suggesting the efficacy of riboflavin in the prevention of childhood migraine attacks.

Quick Gist: Various studies have examined the effect of riboflavin in preventing migraine attacks occurring in childhood, but the results are confusing. Research states that as of now there is not enough evidence to confirm whether vitamin B2 is effective in preventing childhood migraine attacks.

Dosage of Riboflavin For Migraine Prevention

A mixed diet provides more than sufficient riboflavin daily, but few groups could be prone to deficiency: vegans, pregnant and lactating women, vegetarian athletes, school children, elderly and individuals with Infantile Brown-Vialetto-Van Laere syndrome.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for riboflavin is 1.3 mg for men and 1.1 mg for women. For more details on age related intake, please check this source.

Multivitamin supplements provide 1.7 mg of riboflavin. Most supplements contain the free form, but some may have riboflavin 5-phosphate.

The studies mentioned above use a dose of 200-400mg; 400mg riboflavin daily for 3-6 months is found to be effective in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks in adults.

Please consult your health practitioner before taking riboflavin supplements for migraine prevention.

Natural Dietary Sources of Riboflavin

Riboflavin, in its free form, is made by gut bacteria in the large intestine. Also, it is produced in larger quantities after consumption of vegetable based diet compared to meat based foods.

In a Western diet, milk and dairy products are the maximum contributors of vitamin B2. Other rich sources include eggs, organ meats, lean meats, fatty fish. Grains and cereals are fortified with riboflavin in many countries.

Green vegetables also contain vitamin B2. Since it is water soluble, twice the amount of riboflavin is lost in cooking water compared to other methods such as cooking in the microwave.

A mixed diet containing dairy, whole grain, fresh fruits, and vegetables as well as lean meat or seafood provides as much as average 1.5-2 mg of vitamin B2 per day which is above the recommended intake.

Precautions with Riboflavin Use

No significant side effects of high dose riboflavin have been observed. However, that does not mean one can consume a high doses regularly. Please consult a health practitioner about dosage and duration of riboflavin therapy.

The most common side effect of high riboflavin intake is urine discoloration. However, it is a harmless side effect. One study reported two side effects: diarrhea and frequent urination.

Chronic alcohol consumption may cause vitamin B2 deficiency. Certain medications may affect riboflavin metabolism such as antipsychotic medications (chlorpromazine), tricyclic antidepressants, an antimalarial medication, chemotherapeutic agent (adriamycin) and anticonvulsant phenobarbital.


Riboflavin or vitamin B2 is essential for healthy brain functioning. It is involved in cellular respiration as well as energy metabolism of the brain.

As a natural antioxidant, it helps prevent migraine attacks. It is also intricately involved in the brain chemistry since many enzymes depend on this vitamin for their actions and at the same time, they affect parameters related to transmission of brain derived signals.

This makes it neuroprotective agent and helps strengthen and protect the brain. A healthy diet is likely to supply you more than the daily recommended value of vitamin B2.

Research states that we cannot afford to ignore the benefit of riboflavin in preventing migraine. Please consult a health practitioner before taking vitamin B2 supplements for migraine prevention.

Explore the scientific benefits and dosage of riboflavin to prevent migraine attack.


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