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4 Signs And Symptoms Of A Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) Deficiency

Signs And Symptoms Of Riboflavin Deficiency

Not getting enough riboflavin or vitamin B2 can cause dermatitis or skin lesion, sores, and itchiness. It may also cause diarrhea and nausea, blurred vision, and anemia. Besides anxiety, depression, and headaches, look out for cracked lips, mouth sores, and a red swollen tongue so you can correct your diet.

Are you worried that you might have a vitamin B2 deficiency? Not getting adequate levels of the vitamin can leave you feeling less than perfect and hold you back from leading a normal active life. Look out for these signs so you can catch a deficiency early and avoid more severe damage.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) Is Needed For Red Blood Cell Production, Growth, And More

Vitamin B2 or riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin that helps with red blood production, respiration, cellular function and growth, antibody production, and reproduction. If you want healthy nails, skin, and hair, you’d do well to ensure adequate intake of this nutrient. It also has a part to play in thyroid function, regulating the activity of the gland.1 2

1.1–1.3 mg Of Vitamin B2 Needs To Be Consumed Daily

Since vitamin B2 is water soluble, it isn’t stored in your body and must be consumed on a regular basis to supply your body with adequate amounts of the nutrient.3 While adult men need about 1.3 mg a day, women need 1.1 mg a day, according to the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) numbers from the Food and Nutrition Board. A woman, however, needs more of the vitamin when she’s expecting or nursing her baby. So aim at 1.4 mg if you are pregnant and 1.6 mg if you are lactating.4

Not getting enough riboflavin can begin to take its toll on your body rather quickly, which is why the first signs and symptoms will show up as early as a few days after your intake becomes low enough to make your body deficient.5 Here’s what you need to watch out for.

1. Neuropsychiatric Symptoms Like Low Mood, Lethargy, And Hypochondria

Having a riboflavin deficiency has also been linked to certain neuropsychiatric symptoms. For instance, you may feel tired and lethargic or lazy. You may also experience mood dips. Hypochondria, a condition that causes you to live in constant fear that you might have some form of serious illness, can hamper your day-to-day living.6 Someone with this problem may believe or fear that normal functions of your body like sweating are an indication of some terrible illness. They may also become concerned or fixated about the health of specific organs like the heart or the digestive system.7

2. Poor Iron Absorption And Anemia

A riboflavin deficiency may also impair absorption of other B vitamins, further compounding any B vitamin deficiencies.8

Not having adequate riboflavin in the body can interfere with your body’s ability to handle or use iron. This deficiency affects your bone marrow, resulting in lower red blood cell count. As a result, you may become more prone to developing anemia, especially if your iron intake is already low.9 10 Anemia manifests with one or more of these signs:

  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale/yellowish skin
  • Rapid/irregular heartbeat
  • Pain in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Cold clammy hand/feets
  • Whooshing/pounding in the ears

3. Pellagra That Results In Dermatitis, Diarrhea, and Dementia

Pellagra is the result of a deficiency of multiple B vitamins, including B2. The result of the condition is referred to as the “three Ds” – dermatitis, diarrhea, and dementia. If you have pellagra, you may experience one or more of these signs and symptoms:11

Another skin symptom associated with a vitamin B2 deficiency is seborrheic dermatitis, a cause of dandruff. The skin on your scalp may become red and scaly.12

Cracked Lips, Sores, And Other Skin Problems
Dermatitis and other skin-related symptoms to expect include:

  • Lesions resembling sunburns in areas exposed to direct sunlight like the arms and legs, forehead, and lower neck.
  • Burning and itchiness of the skin
  • Scaling and exfoliation
  • Painful sores at the corners of your mouth (angular stomatitis)
  • Swollen, cracked, and dry lips (cheilosis)

Swelling Of The Mouth And Tongue
Besides the visible swelling, this may cause symptoms like:

  • Excessive saliva production
  • Soreness in the mouth
  • Bright red swollen tongue

Gastrointestinal Symptoms
Riboflavin deficiency and the resulting pellagra can also interfere with your digestive system, causing:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Burning sensation in the upper abdomen

Neurological And Psychological Symptoms
In addition to the physical symptoms, you may also experience neurological and psychological symptoms that include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Apathy

About 4 to 10% of those with pellagra go on to develop mental problems like dementia.

4. Eye Problems Like Cataract, Blurred Vision, And Photosensitivity

A vitamin B2 deficiency also makes you prone to cataract formation if you experience a severe deficiency for a prolonged period. Your eyes may itch often or look red. This may result in blurred vision.13 It may also make you light sensitive, so your eyes hurt or water when you experience any glare or too much sunlight.14

Some People Are More At Risk Of Vitamin B2 Deficiency

Certain people are more prone to a vitamin b2/riboflavin deficiency. They include:15 16

  • Elderly adults
  • Adolescents
  • Vegetarian athletes because of how exercise and related stress affects your body’s metabolism of the nutrient
  • Vegans/anyone who doesn’t consume dairy or milk regularly
  • Pregnant women
  • Lactating mothers

How To Increase Vitamin B2 Intake

Riboflavin is found in the following kinds of foods, so get in enough to keep a deficiency at bay.1718 19

  • Organ meat like beef liver and kidneys
  • Lean meats
  • Clams
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products like milk and yogurt
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Malted barley
  • Leafy vegetables like spinach
  • Fortified foods like breakfast cereals, oatmeal, processed cheese, fruit drinks, and baby foods

Just remember, because it is a water-soluble vitamin, if you choose to cook your food by boiling it, you stand to lose a lot of the nutrient content – twice as much than if you cooked by steaming. Instead, lightly steam it or use the microwave and you should lose much less.20 If you have other medical problems or a severe deficiency, it is best to consult your doctor to decide on the need for supplements or other treatment.

References   [ + ]

1, 17. Riboflavin. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
2, 4, 8, 13, 16, 19, 20. Riboflavin. Office of Dietary Supplements.
3, 18. Riboflavin. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
5, 9, 15. Powers, Hilary J. “Riboflavin (vitamin B-2) and health.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 77, no. 6 (2003): 1352-1360.
6. Cook, Christopher CH, Phillip M. Hallwood, and Allan D. Thomson. “B vitamin deficiency and neuropsychiatric syndromes in alcohol misuse.” Alcohol and Alcoholism 33, no. 4 (1998): 317-336.
7. Hypochondriasis. Harvard Health Publishing.
10, 12, 14. Riboflavin. University of Rochester Medical Center.
11. PELLAGRA and its prevention and control in major emergencies. World Health Organization.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.