Could Riboflavin Be The Key to Treating Migraines?
In this article, we explain what migraines are, the symptoms, types, and causes. We explore some of the key clinical evidence for riboflavin’s efficacy on migraines and how brain-health digital health companies are using Vital’s lab testing product to test for Riboflavin levels.
Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, has been shown to play a role in reducing the frequency, duration, and intensity of migraine attacks. It is a well-tolerated dietary supplement treatment with few known side effects. This is why NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) clinical guidelines were updated to state that 400 mg of riboflavin per day may be an effective way to treat or prevent migraines in some people.
What is a migraine?
Migraines are recurring debilitating headaches. Common symptoms include moderate to severe throbbing and pulsating pain on one side of the head. An untreated migraine can last from four to 72 hours, and many sufferers experience other symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and noise. It is also common for any movement to potentially worsen the pain of a migraine.
Migraines affect about one in every seven people. Among adults, migraines are more common in women than men, but among children, boys and girls experience migraines in equal numbers.. Most people feel exhausted following a migraine attack but are usually free from symptoms between migraines.
What triggers a migraine?
Migraines tend to occur most frequently in the morning upon waking. Migraines occur seemingly at random for some people, while others have them at predictable times, such as before menstruation or after a period of stress. These migraine triggers vary greatly from person to person. Common triggers include a change in sleep habits, strong odors, motion sickness, low blood sugar or skipped meals, sudden weather changes, and hormonal changes.
Types of migraine
While there are many types of migraine, the two most commonly occuring are:
Migraine without aura, or common migraine
This is the more frequent form of migraine, with symptoms including a headache that appears without warning and is usually felt on one side of the head, along with nausea, confusion, blurred vision, mood changes, fatigue, and increased sensitivity to light or noise.
Migraine with aura, or classic migraine
About 10 to 60 minutes prior to this type of migraine, some sufferers will see bright or flashing lights or what looks like heat waves, while others may experience the sensation of being touched, numbness, tingling in the hands or face, or muscle weakness on one side of the body. Other symptoms can include trouble speaking and temporary loss of vision. This type of migraine may occur with or without headache pain.
What is riboflavin?
Riboflavin is another name for vitamin B2, an essential water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in the body's energy production and metabolism.
It has anti-inflammatory, and antinociceptive, or pain-blocking, effects. It also may help prevent various medical conditions, such as sepsis, ischemia (or restricted blood flow), and some cancers.
Foods that are particularly rich in riboflavin include eggs, milk, avocados, almonds, salmon, beef, offal (kidneys and liver in particular), and some green vegetables. Grains and cereals are often fortified with riboflavin to help make sure our daily intake is at the right level.
How does riboflavin help with migraines?
Although many studies have proved its efficacy, the mechanism by which riboflavin positively impacts migraine frequency and severity is still not completely clear.
However, we do know that:
Neurogenic inflammation is a major factor in migraine pathogenesis, and riboflavin has anti-inflammatory properties that offer neuroprotective effects.
Mitochondrial dysfunction plays a role in migraine pathogenesis, and riboflavin is understood to balance and improve mitochondrial function.
Migraine sufferers have elevated levels of various oxidative stress markers and pro-inflammatory cytokines, and riboflavin has been shown to reduce levels of both in animal models and to protect cells from oxidative stress.
Benefits of riboflavin for people with migraines
Reduces migraine frequency
An early study looking at the efficacy of riboflavin for decreasing the severity of migraine attacks found that around 60% of people who had taken riboflavin for migraine prevention showed improvements of at least 50%.
Compares favorably with prescription medications for migraines
Riboflavin has been tested as an alternative to many different medications and supplements. For example, in one trial where its function was compared to Depakote (sodium valproate), both were found to be equally effective at reducing symptoms, but riboflavin produced far fewer complications and side effects.
Safety and use of riboflavin
Riboflavin is water-soluble, and excess amounts can be readily and safely excreted in urine. Typically, the only noticeable side effect is a change in urine color to a deeper yellow, but this is harmless.
Studies have also concluded that riboflavin is safe for children, adolescents, and adults, as well as during pregnancy and breastfeeding, a time when medication options are more limited.
How can I check my riboflavin levels?
Riboflavin can be checked via a Blood test or a Urine test. Whilst there are no blood tests specifically for diagnosing migraines, blood tests are typically part of a patient's health assessment to help rule out other conditions aside from a migraine. Vital's APIs power companies to run these typical tests which include:
Complete blood count (CBC): To test for cases of anaemia or signs of cancer which can cause headaches or fatigue.
Thyroid function: To test for Thyroid problems which can cause headaches and may show as migraines at the early stage.
Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR): To test for levels of inflammation in the body.
Comprehensive Metabolic Panel: To identify signs of kidney or liver failure and malnutrition which can cause fatigue.
Riboflavin has been shown to be a safe, effective and inexpensive migraine treatment option for preventing symptoms or reducing their severity.
It’s likely that a doctor would recommend taking riboflavin consistently at a dose of 400 mg per day for a full three-month trial period before deciding whether it has lowered your migraine frequency or severity. It’s always important to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before adding a new supplement to your diet.
Further clinical research is needed to get a complete understanding of the effect of riboflavin treatment on migraine headaches, but a large number of reliable studies point toward it being an excellent over-the-counter therapy to add to a migraine management plan.
At Vital, we're powering a new wave of Neurological digital health companies working to help patients manage and mitigate headaches and migraines. By accessing patients' sleep, heart rate and heart rate variability data across any wearables device, we've helped them personalise their care plans without the engineering burden.
Vital gives you turnkey lab ordering to LabCorp, Quest and other speciality labs in a matter of hours rather than months. Via API or dashboard, we enable you to order, track and get results from 15+ labs in one place and scale your testing compliantly with our 50 State Physician network. No matter if you want to run blood, urine or saliva tests or collect samples via test-kits, walk-in labs or an at-home phlebotomist - Vital enables you to do it all.