Sometimes the best of all chapped lips remedies is a simple supplement, riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2. But why should vitamins for chapped lips make a difference?
Ariboflavinosis, the medical term for riboflavin deficiency, is found with a predictable set of symptoms:
- Sore throat.
- Redness of the tongue (magenta tongue).
- Sores at the corners of the mouth (angular stomatitis).
- Formation of blood vessels in the exterior of the eye (corneal vascularization).
- Scaly, sticky, yellowish skin inflammation (seborrheic dermatitis), especially on the scrotum, vagina, or cleft of the upper lip.
- Migraine headaches (in severe deficiency).
- Red, itchy eyes.
- Decreased red blood cell count, but red blood cells that are formed are of normal size and hemoglobin content (normochromic normocytic anemia).
- Chapped lips and sores at the corners of the lips (angular cheilitis).
Of these symptoms, chapped lips are usually the first sign of a potential riboflavin deficiency. In North America, riboflavin is added to the flour used to make cereals and bakery goods. Because doctors just don't expect anyone to have a riboflavin deficiency, they seldom check for it.
Groups of people who are prone to ariboflavinosis — deficiency of riboflavin (vitamin B2) :
- Pregnant women, particularly by the time they reach their third trimester .
- Babies receiving high-intensity light therapy for hyperbilirubinemia (overproduction of a protein by the liver) .
- Low-income people, elderly people, people who have chronic HIV, and people who don't get a normal diet because of alcoholism or mental illness .
There isn't really a specific blood test for riboflavin deficiency. Because this vitamin is needed to make the antioxidant glutathione, a low glutathione readings from a blood test may confirm deficiency when considered along with symptoms, especially chapped lips and yellow, scaly patches of irritation on the genitals and above the upper lip .
Treatment for riboflavin deficiency
The treatment for riboflavin deficiency is, as you probably would expect, riboflavin supplementation. Taking a vitamin B complex won't work.
A daily dosage of B2 considered adequate for repletion is:
- For children aged three to twelve, 3 to 10 mg per day in divided doses (ten 1-mg tablets, for example) taken with meals. Only 15 percent of the riboflavin in a supplement is absorbed by the bloodstream when the supplement is taken on an empty stomach, but up to 85 percent when the supplement is taken with food.
- For teenagers and adults, 6 to 30 mg per day in divided doses, except that adults who have cataracts should not take more than 10 mg per day. The combination of riboflavin and sunlight results in further clouding of the lens in people who have cataracts .
There is no good laboratory test to determine whether the dosage of the supplement is enough . If your complaint is chapped lips, and your lips stop being irritated after you take riboflavin, then you can be reasonably sure your body has managed to overcome the effects of deficiency. Your body can't store riboflavin, however, and once you overcome a riboflavin deficiency, you have to keep getting the vitamin in food or in supplements to keep symptoms from coming back. You can tell you are getting enough riboflavin when your urine turns a fluorescent yellowish-green, caused by riboflavin being sent into your urine. You won't have the "neon urine" when you go back to getting your riboflavin from food .
What kinds of foods contain riboflavin?
- Cheddar cheese.
- Puffed cereal. (The first three items are artificially fortified with riboflavin in the United States).
Other foods contain relatively small amounts of riboflavin that will not do a lot to remedy deficiency. However, eating these foods occasionally, a serving or two of most foods on the list every week, is enough except for people in two categories.
Medications and riboflavin
Some people start having chapped lips when they start certain new medications. These drugs include tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil and the anti-psychotic medication chlorpromazine (Thorazine). Along with certain anti-malaria medications and the chemotherapy drug Adriamycin (doxorubicin), these drugs interfere with the ability of proteins to carry riboflavin through the bloodstream . The anticonvulsant drug phenobarbitol activates enzymes in the liver that break down riboflavin.
If you have both high blood pressure and chapped lips, you may also need to take a special form of another B vitamin called methylfolate to get the benefits of riboflavin for chapped lips relief . About 30 percent of the population of Europe or the United States has a genetic mutation called MTHFR 677T. This is a variation of a gene for the enzyme methtylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. When this gene doesn't work efficiently, the body uses a very large amount of riboflavin that has to be replaced by supplementation. However, just 2 mg a day is enough to make a difference in whether you have chapped lips.