How Riboflavin May Prevent Migraines

Chopped almonds, close-up
Schon & Probst / Getty Images

The use of nutritional supplements or foods for migraine prevention is becoming more popular. One nutritional supplement is riboflavin, which is a B vitamin found in everyday foods like almonds, spinach, mushrooms and whole grains.

Here is a closer look at riboflavin, how it plays a role in migraine development, and whether you should consider it to prevent your migraines.

The Role Riboflavin Plays in Migraines?

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells. They are in charge of fueling the metabolic reactions needed to maintain the structure and function of the cell. In migraines, some scientists theorize that a mitochondrial defect may reduce the threshold for migraine attacks. This leads to the brain becoming hyper-responsive to migraine triggers.

Riboflavin plays a major role in cell metabolism. So supplementation with riboflavin may help overcome this mitochondrial defect—or disturbance in brain energy metabolism—by increasing mitochondrial energy efficiency.

Does Riboflavin Work?

The 2012 American Headache Society and American Academy of Neurology guidelines for prevention of episodic migraine listed riboflavin as a level B drug or "probably effective" for migraine prevention.

That being said, there are only two randomized controlled studies examining the use of riboflavin in preventing migraines—and both are small.

In one study in Neurology, 55 migraineurs were randomized to receive either placebo—a sugar pill—or 400mg riboflavin over a period of 3 months. Results revealed that riboflavin reduced the number of headache days by at least half in 59 percent of the riboflavin group compared to 15 percent of the placebo group.

In this study, there were three adverse effects reported, one in the placebo group—abdominal cramps—and two in the riboflavin group—diarrhea and excessive urination.

In another study in Headache, 49 migraineurs received either a combination of riboflavin (400mg), magnesium (300mg), and feverfew (100mg) or placebo (25mg riboflavin) over 3 months. The reason a small dose of riboflavin was given as placebo is because riboflavin gives the urine a fluorescent yellow color. This way the participants were truly blind to what medication they were being given.

Results revealed that both groups—placebo and combination pill—had a significant reduction in number of migraines and migraine days. So there was no difference between the placebo group and the group who got the combination supplement.

That being said, the study did find that nearly half of both the placebo and treatment group had a significant reduction in their migraines—hinting that even the small dose of riboflavin (25mg) played a role in preventing migraines.

What Does This All Mean if You Have Migraines?

Riboflavin may be a reasonable option for preventing migraines. Larger studies and studies that compare riboflavin to traditional migraine preventive medications would be helpful.

As always, be sure to consult your doctor before trying any nutritional supplement.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • Colombo B, Saraceno L, & Comi G. Riboflavin and migraine: the bridge over troubled mitochondria. Neurol Sci. 2014 May;35 Suppl 1:141-4.
  • Evas RW, & Taylor FR. "Natural" or alternative medications for migraine prevention. Headache. 2006 Jun;46(6):1012-8.
  • Loder E, Burch R, & Rizzoli P. The 2012 AHS/AAN guidelines for prevention of episodic migraine: a summary and comparison with other recent clinical practice guidelines. Headache. 2012;52:930-45.
  • Maizels M, Blumenfeld A, & Burchette R. A combination of riboflavin, magnesium, and feverfew for migraine prophylaxis: a randomized trial. Headache. 2004 Oct;44(9):885-90.
  • Markley HG. CoEnzyme Q10 and riboflavin: the mitochondrial connection. Headache. 2012 Oct;52 Suppl 2:81-7.
  • Schoenen J, Jacquy J, & Lenaerts M. Effectiveness of high-dose riboflavin in migraine prophylaxis. A randomized controlled trial. Neurology.  1998 Feb;50(2):466-70.
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin). In University of Maryland Medical Center.