Last Updated on July 17, 2021 by Dr. Sanusi Umar, MD
Riboflavin, also known as Vitamin B2 is a yellow colored water soluble, heat stable vitamin found naturally in plants, grains, and dairy products.
The body naturally stores it in small amounts. For the most part, vitamin B2 needs to be consumed constantly. This is because it is used rapidly, and excess levels are excreted. Its main job is to help metabolize food into the energy needed by all our cells. It also helps the body absorb and properly utilize other nutrients, including iron and additional members of the B vitamin family. Collagen production requires Vitamin B2. Additionally, Vitamin B2 plays a role in the formation of an antioxidant called glutathione. The connection between deficiencies in riboflavin and hair loss may be due to disruptions in these processes, as suggested by the research literature.
Low Levels of Vitamin B2 and Hair Loss Issues
In The Handbook of Vitamins, Third Edition, the authors discuss the effects of riboflavin deficiency which include protein, lipid and vitamin metabolism (1). Harmfully low levels of vitamin B2 may disrupt the process of converting vitamin B6 to pyridoxal 5’ – phosphate, its coenzyme derivative.
Research on the effects of vitamin B2 deficiencies in animals shows that the primary effects include tissue growth failure, hair loss as well as skin problems. Additionally, the effects can also include various forms of degeneration within the nervous and reproductive system.
Deficiencies in Riboflavin and Hair Loss Consequences
A review entitled, Riboflavin Deficiency, by Aakriti Bhusal and Stephen W. Banks discusses various roles of riboflavin in the body (2). Riboflavin metabolizes fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and glucose to produce the cellular energy needed by the entire body for its own maintenance. Naturally, this also includes the energy needs of hair follicles. Deficits in riboflavin intake, according to the review, can, therefore, lead to hair loss, among other conditions.
They discuss that vitamin B2 turns tryptophan into niacin, which in turn, activates vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is used by the hair follicles to optimize their usage of cystine as a building material used to construct hair strands.
Riboflavin is also needed by the body to produce an important antioxidant, known as glutathione which prevents oxidative damage by free radicals, a significant factor in the aging process of our cells and tissues, including those of the hair follicles.
Vitamin B2 Benefits for Hair May Include Iron Absorption and Oxygen Transport
The relationship between riboflavin and hair loss is also due to its involvement in the absorption of iron, the production of red blood cells and thus the transport of oxygen to cells (2).
In a study called, Dietary Deprivation of Riboflavin and Blood Riboflavin Levels in Man: One Figure, researchers tested the effect of different dosages of riboflavin on the red blood cell counts of male subjects (3).
10 participants were given a low dose of 0.55 mg of riboflavin per day. At the end of the study, they were found to have an average red blood cell count of 10.0 to 13.1 µg/ 100 mL.
The control group consisted of 6 men. Researchers gave the group a dosage range of 2.55 to 3.55 mg of riboflavin per day. Their red blood cell count was roughly double at the end of the study, ranging from 20.1 to 27.7 µg/ 100mL.
This study seems to illustrate that riboflavin deficiencies lead to the reduced production of red blood cells.
Iron’s Role in Hair Loss
97 men and 113 women with genetic pattern hair loss who were screened and analyzed for iron levels in terms of serum ferritin concentration and iron binding capacity.
Healthy women without pattern hair loss tend to have an average serum ferritin concentration (FC) of 77.89 ± 48.32 µg/L. However, the females in this research study were found to have much lower FC levels, 49.27 ± 55.8 µg/L.
The average ferritin concentration in normal males is about 70 µg/L. By contrast, the men in this study displayed FC levels that were lower by 22.7%.
It may be possible that supplementation with iron as well as riboflavin or vitamin B2 may help with hair loss. Further research in this area would be needed for clearer insight on any improvements that might result.
Nonetheless, safe physician approved approaches to supplementation may still be considered for general health purposes and potentially improving hair loss.
Low Riboflavin and Hair Loss Caused by Depleted Cell Energy
Vitamin B2 or riboflavin helps metabolize fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats from the food we eat into ATP (adenosine triphosphate) molecules which provide energy for our cells.
A review called, Therapeutic Approaches Using Riboflavin in Mitochondrial Energy Metabolism Disorders, discusses various studies where researchers used riboflavin to potentially treat mitochondrial metabolism-related disorders (5).
A similar publication describes how mitochondrial metabolism and the oxidation of fatty acids requires riboflavin(6). Deficient levels will cause a reduction in the activity of dehydrogenase enzymes needed for oxidation reactions, as well as respiratory compounds and enzymes needed for fatty acid ꞵ-oxidation.
A study called Mitochondrial aerobic respiration is activated during hair follicle stem cell differentiation and its dysfunction retards hair regeneration notes that hair growth can be affected by impairments in mitochondrial respiration (7). Researchers found that mitochondria and aerobic respiration in the hair follicles become activated when stem cells differentiate during the process of hair production. The experimenters also found that impairing mitochondrial respiration will slow or delay the regeneration of hair.
Collagen Production and the Role of Vitamin B2 for Hair Follicles
The association between riboflavin and hair loss may also be related to collagen production.
Another role of vitamin B2 is to maintain healthy levels of collagen in the skin and hair (2).
The hair follicle and the hair shaft also contain different types of collagen. The extracellular matrix uses collagen type 6 and deposits it into the hair follicles (9). Collagen type 5 plays a role in making hair strands.
Deficiencies in vitamin B2 and B6 may lead to abnormal collagen development in rats, according to a study, Impaired Collagen Maturity in Vitamins B2 and B6 Deficiency – Probable Molecular Basis of Skin Lesions (10).
The research publications noted above suggest that riboflavin or vitamin B2 is necessary for the normal production of collagen to create healthy hair growth along with the normal development of hair follicle structures.
Vitamin B2 is necessary for all our cells. As far as the relationship between riboflavin and hair loss, deficiencies in this vital nutrient will reduce the availability of oxygen (and thus energy) via red blood cells, impair collagen production needed for both the follicles and hair strands, hinder the benefits offered by other vitamins and increase the susceptibility of free radical damage.
Frequently Asked Questions- Vitamin B2, Riboflavin and Hair Loss
Can vitamin B2 for hair help with the loss of coloration?
Researchers found that vitamin B2 deficiencies resulted in grey fur within young, black colored hooded rats (11). Other issues like skin ulcers and issues with the adrenal, thyroid glands and testes also affected the rats.
Riboflavin may also play a role in normal hair pigmentation. Further studies may provide more insight and observe if this effect applies to humans as well.
Will vitamin B2 benefits for hair also apply when used topically?
Since vitamin B2 is needed by all your cells, it should be consumed in healthy dietary amounts. Also, the relationship between riboflavin and hair loss is not simple and direct.
But for the general health of the follicles, it is also possible to supplement dietary effects by including vitamin B2 in topical formulations made with safe and effective skin penetrants. This approach can help offer a more straightforward pathway to the hair follicles.
What are some natural food sources of vitamin B2 for hair and general health?
Good sources of vitamin B2 include natural yogurt, almonds, spinach, and soybeans. Additionally, tempeh, asparagus and crimini mushrooms can also contain vitamin B2.
(1) Rucker Robert B., Suttie John W., McCormick Donald B., Handbook of Vitamins Third Edition, Marcel Dekker, Inc. 2001
(2) husal A, Banks SW. Riboflavin Deficiency.[Updated 2017 Nov 29]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan
(3)Otto A. Bessey M. K. Horwitt Ruth H. Love, Dietary Deprivation of Riboflavin and Blood Riboflavin Levels in Man: One Figure, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 58, Issue 3, 1 March 1956, Pages 367–383
(4)Song Youn Park, Se Young Na, et al., Iron Plays a Certain Role in Patterned Hair Loss,J Korean Med Sci. 2013 Jun; 28(6): 934–938.
(5)Henriques BJ, Lucas TG, Gomes CM1, Therapeutic Approaches Using Riboflavin in Mitochondrial Energy Metabolism Disorders, Curr Drug Targets. 2016;17(13):1527-34
(6) Henriques BJ, Olsen RK, Bross P, Gomes CM., Emerging roles for riboflavin in functional rescue of mitochondrial β-oxidation flavoenzymes, Curr Med Chem.2010;17(32):3842-54.
(7) Yan Tang, Binping Luo, et al, Mitochondrial aerobic respiration is activated during hair follicle stem cell differentiation and its dysfunction retards hair regeneration PeerJ. 2016; 4: e1821
(8) Chao-Chun Yang a,b,c and George Cotsarelisa, Review of hair follicle dermal cells, J Dermatol Sci. 2010 Jan; 57(1): 2.
(9) Chen P, Cescon M, Bonaldo P.Lack of Collagen VI Promotes Wound-Induced Hair Growth, J Invest Dermatol. 2015 Oct;135(10):2358-2367. doi: 10.1038/jid.2015.187. Epub 2015 May 19.
(10)Prasad R, Lakshmi AV, Bamji MS, Impaired collagen maturity in vitamins B2 and B6 deficiency–probable molecular basis of skin lesions. Biochem Med.1983 Dec;30(3):333-41.
(11) Agnes Fay Morgan Helen Davison Simms, Greying of Fur and Other Disturbances in Several Species Due to a Vitamin Deficiency, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 19, Issue 3, 1 March 1940, Pages 233–250