What is a Riboflavin Deficiency?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A riboflavin deficiency is nutritional deficiency characterized by inadequate amounts of riboflavin, a B-vitamin that plays an important role in a number of physical and metabolic processes. Usually, when someone has a riboflavin deficiency, levels of other B-vitamins in the body are also low. This condition is treatable with riboflavin supplementation to restore levels of riboflavin and other B-vitamins, along with lifestyle changes to reduce the risk that the deficiency will recur.

Alcoholism might be the cause of a riboflavin deficiency.
Alcoholism might be the cause of a riboflavin deficiency.

Riboflavin is found in foods like dark leafy greens, almonds, kidney, cheese, milk, and liver. The vitamin is sensitive to light, and it is important to make sure that these foods are stored in light-safe areas so they do not lose nutritional value. Many people get sufficient riboflavin from their diets. People who eat imbalanced diets without enough riboflavin can develop a primary riboflavin deficiency. Vitamin deficiencies are especially common in people with alcoholism or eating disorders who eat limited diets.

The treatment for riboflavin deficiency may involve taking vitamin pills.
The treatment for riboflavin deficiency may involve taking vitamin pills.

In a secondary riboflavin deficiency, someone is consuming enough of the vitamin, but something in the body is interfering with absorption and uptake. The problem is most commonly located in the intestinal tract. These patients develop ariboflavinosis, the formal term for riboflavin deficiency, even though their diets are perfectly adequate. They may also have trouble absorbing and using other nutrients, in which case they can have multiple vitamin deficiencies despite eating a balanced and healthy diet.

Riboflavin deficiency symptoms include cracked, sore skin, fissures at the side of the mouth, sore throat, and gastrointestinal distress. Patients can be given a blood test to check on riboflavin levels in the blood and to look for other B-vitamins. A patient interview will be conducted to learn more about what the patient is eating. If the patient's diet appears to provide adequate sources of riboflavin, secondary ariboflavinosis will be suspected and additional diagnostic testing may be needed to find out why the person is not able to absorb riboflavin.

The immediate treatment for riboflavin deficiency is supplementation with riboflavin, usually in the form of oral vitamin pills. Periodic tests can be conducted to determine when levels of the vitamin have stabilized. The patient will also be advised to continue taking supplements and to consider making some dietary changes to reduce the risk of developing this condition again. In people with secondary riboflavin deficiency, additional treatment options may need to be explored to address the medical issue that is causing problems with vitamin absorption and utilization.

A sore throat is one possible symptom of a riboflavin deficiency.
A sore throat is one possible symptom of a riboflavin deficiency.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have read that soaking or boiling dark leafy greens can deplete them of their riboflavin and other vitamins. I have also read that adding salad dressing or olive oil to them helps your body absorb the riboflavin.

Because of this, I altered my cooking methods. I saute broccoli in olive oil or steam it in a steamer so that water doesn’t soak its nutrition out.

I have started eating salads of arugula and spinach with dressing on top. I want to lock in those nutrients and make it easy for my body to take them in.

I find that sauteed or steamed broccoli tastes much better than boiled broccoli, anyway. The olive oil adds something to it, and the cooking method preserves the flavor along with the vitamins.


I developed a riboflavin deficiency after I started taking a diuretic to treat my kidney condition. The diuretic caused me to urinate every half hour, and because of this, I was flushing out more riboflavin than I could possibly take in.

I tried to keep up with my excessive thirst by drinking tons of water, but the effect of the medicine was too strong. I stopped taking it, but I was already suffering the symptoms of a riboflavin deficiency.

I had painful ulcers in my mouth. My skin was so dry that lotion did not seem to help it. My eyes were as red as if I had been in the sun all day without shades.

I took supplements to recover. Before long, my body had stored up enough riboflavin to operate correctly, and I was able to stop taking the supplements.


@cloudel - You know, you can also get riboflavin from eating meat, yogurt, and whole grains. I don’t like leafy vegetables either, but I love the other options.

I always choose whole grain bread. My sandwich bread, hamburger buns, and baguettes are whole grain. Even the muffins, waffles, and bagels I buy are whole grain.

Since I don’t drink much milk, I’m glad that I love yogurt so much. I’m sure this has helped me maintain my riboflavin levels.

I eat meat at least once a day. Meat is full of vitamin B and iron, so eating it keeps me from developing other deficiencies, as well.


After reading this article, I am scared that I may be at risk for developing a riboflavin deficiency. I know that my diet isn’t all it should be, and I probably should alter it.

I despise leafy greens, and I hate cheese. I guess the small amount of milk I use in my cereal each morning has been enough to keep me from being totally deficient.

The symptoms sound awful. I hate having gastrointestinal problems, and cracked skin can be very painful. I think I’m going to start eating almonds and spinach just to avoid this.


I have a riboflavin deficiency. I've had it for about four years now and have to take a supplement every day. If I forget to take it for a couple of days, I get sores inside my mouth and my eyes become really sensitive.

I have to wear sunglasses all the time and my eyes become really red. People ask me if I have allergies or if I didn't sleep when they see me. I'm very grateful though because this is not a very big deal. As long as I remember to take my supplements, it's fine.

Even the chickens at our farm are given riboflavin supplements regularly so they don't get curly toes. Otherwise the chicks are born with curled toes and they have difficulty growing and walking.


@ysmina-- That's because when we're under a lot of stress, the B-vitamins including riboflavin are the first to get used up. And since our body doesn't store riboflavin, we need more riboflavin daily. So athletes who are very active and people who are under a lot of stress need to get more vitamin B12, B2 and riboflavin so that they don't have a deficiency in them.

I'm not sure why Asians would be at greater risk for riboflavin. I don't think it's genetics unless a genetic disorder is preventing the absorption of riboflavin in the body. It might be dietary habits. Asians tend to eat a lot of rice which doesn't have any riboflavin in it.


I had to read about this for a class assignment and the article said that people of Asian descent tend to have Riboflavin deficiency more than other ethnic groups. It said the same thing for athletes, people who serve in the military or other occupations where they have to work under a lot of stress.

Why is this? Is it due to genetics? What does physical activity and stress have to do with deficiency of riboflavin?

The other thing I would like to ask is, does riboflavin need another vitamin for it to be absorbed properly? I know that calcium, for example, needs vitamin D to be absorbed well. Is there such a requirement for riboflavin to be absorbed?

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