Riboflavin Relieves Migraine Headaches
by: By Alan R. Gaby, MD
Supplementing with relatively small amounts of riboflavin (vitamin B2) may reduce the
frequency and severity of migraines in chronic sufferers, reports a study in Headache
(2004;44:885–90). Previous studies showing that riboflavin can prevent migraines used
400 mg per day, which is at least 200 times the amount in a typical diet. In the new
study, 25 mg per day appeared to be effective.

Riboflavin was originally considered for migraine headache prevention because
researchers observed that migraine sufferers tend to have impaired energy production in
brain cells, which riboflavin has the potential to enhance as it is a component of a key
substance involved in the body’s energy production. Another nutrient important for
producing energy (magnesium) has already been shown to reduce migraine recurrence.
In earlier studies with riboflavin, a very high dose was chosen, presumably to give the
vitamin the best chance of working. While riboflavin does not appear to cause any
significant adverse effects even at high doses, it is possible that taking large amounts of
any single nutrient might cause subtle imbalances in body chemistry. For that reason, if
lower doses are equally effective, they are preferable to higher amounts.

Fifty-two people suffering from recurrent migraines participated in the three-month
study. They were randomly assigned to receive either a daily combination of riboflavin
(400 mg), magnesium (300 mg), and the herb feverfew (100 mg), or 25 mg of riboflavin
per day. Each of the three components of the combination product has been shown in
earlier research to reduce the recurrence rate of migraines. A positive response was
defined as a reduction in the frequency of migraines by 50% or more. Forty-two percent
of participants responded to combination therapy and 44% responded to low-dose
riboflavin. In addition, the average headache severity and the number of days with
tension headaches decreased significantly in the low-dose-riboflavin group, but not in the
group receiving combination therapy.

Because there was no control group in the new study, one cannot rule out the possibility
that the beneficial effects of low-dose riboflavin were due to a placebo effect. However,
the researchers considered that possibility unlikely, because the effects of riboflavin were
greater than those found with a placebo in previous migraine studies.

In addition to riboflavin, magnesium, and feverfew, coenzyme Q10 has been found in
one preliminary trial to reduce the recurrence rate of migraines. Dietary factors also
appear to be important migraine triggers in susceptible people. For some, tyramine-
containing foods such as certain wines and aged cheeses are the main offenders. For
others, allergic reactions to common foods such as wheat, oranges, egg, coffee, tea, and
beef seem to be the main triggers.

For more information about riboflavin as well as other vitamins and herbs, visit

About The Author

Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House
Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member
of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative
Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994),
and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Three Rivers Press,
1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Three Rivers
Press, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s
Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of
Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor
of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.

This article was posted on August 16, 2005

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