Inositol – health benefits and uses
Inositol – health benefits and uses
Inositol is a type of sugar with many benefits and naturally occurs in foods such as beans, fruits, grains and nuts. Your body can also produce inositol from the carbohydrates you eat.
Taking inositol as a supplement in high doses may have a number of health benefits and reduce symptoms of certain health issues, especially for women.
What exactly is inositol?
Inositol is a sugar alcohol made naturally in our body from glucose. It plays a structural role in your body as a major component of cell membranes.
It influences the action of insulin, a hormone essential for blood sugar control.
German physician Johanes Joseph Scherer first identified inositol in muscle tissue in 1850. It is a cyclic 6-carbon compound saturated with six hydroxy groups. Inositol’s structure allows the formation of nine different stereoisomers. Of these, myo-inositol (MI) is the most common in the body. As Scherer first isolated it from muscle, it was initially called muscle sugar and later named inositol from the Greek word in-, meaning “sinew,” and –ose, meaning “sugar.”
Experiments conducted in the 1940s suggested that inositol was an essential nutrient, so it was initially classified as a B vitamin. There is no longer any evidence that this early finding is true because it is assumed that the human body can synthesize adequate amounts of inositol for its needs, which is not the case with B vitamins. Although inositol is not technically a vitamin, it is still often listed as a B vitamin in many sources. 
It is found in the brain and other tissues, helping cells communicate in response to a variety of hormones, neurotransmitters and growth factors. The highest concentration is in the brain where it plays an important role making other neurotransmitters and some steroid hormones bind to their receptors, affecting serotonin and dopamine. Kidneys make about two grams per day while other tissues synthesize it too. 
Inositol also has antioxidant properties that fight the damaging effects of free radicals in the brain, circulatory system, and other body tissues. 
Inositol is found in many foods but it is difficult to get enough from foods for it to be therapeutic as a typical diet contains only around one gram of inositol per day.
Rich sources include:
- Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts
- rockmelon, citrus fruits, peaches, pears, bananas
- whole grains, bran, oats
- beans, peas, capsicum, tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus, green leafy vegetables
- beef, eggs
- coconut products
Health benefits of inositol
Although research is still emerging, there are promising indications that inositol has benefits for a range of health conditions, including:
- High cholesterol
- Metabolic syndrome
- Panic disorder
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
More about the benefits of inositol
Mood and anxiety disorders
Although more research is needed, several studies suggest that inositol has the potential to be an alternative treatment for mental health conditions with fewer side effects than traditional medications for mental health issues.
Inositol helps balance important chemicals in your brain, including those that affect your mood, such as serotonin and dopamine. Neurotransmitters play a major role in most aspects of your life — mood, productivity, ability to handle stress, ability to learn and remember, sleep, cravings, addictions, and more. 
Researchers have found that some people with depression, anxiety and compulsive disorders have lower levels of inositol in their brain. The benefits have mostly been seen in people with panic disorder (PD) in whom depression is common.
In one study, 20 individuals with panic disorder took either an 18-gram inositol supplement or a common anxiety medication every day for 1 month. Those taking inositol had fewer panic attacks per week, compared to people taking the anxiety medication. Similarly, in a 4-week study, individuals experienced fewer and less severe panic attacks when taking 12 grams of inositol per day. 
Inositol may also improve symptoms of depression, but research has had mixed results. One study found that a daily 12-gram dose of inositol improved depression scores compared to people provided a placebo, but it these results have not been replicated elsewhere. 
Supplementing with inositol is also showing promising results for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. One study showed that 18gm of inositol daily (2 tsp in juice 3 times daily) for 6 weeks significantly reduced OCD symptoms compared with placebo. At 3 weeks there were no significant effects of inositol. The mechanism may be that the desensitization of serotonin receptors is reversed by addition of dietary inositol. 
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that causes hormone imbalances in women, which can lead to irregular periods, infertility, weight gain, high blood sugar and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Research has shown that inositol is beneficial for women with PCOS.  Despite the patient type (lean, obese, insulin resistant, or non-insulin resistant), significant studies have demonstrated the incorporation of inositol into a treatment plan for PCOS is beneficial. When combined with folinic acid, inositol supplements can improve symptoms for women with PCOS, such as reducing triglyceride levels, improving insulin function and lowering blood pressure. This combination may even promote ovulation in women with fertility issues caused by PCOS.
Gestational diabetes is diabetes diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. It affects how your cells use sugar. Gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar that can affect your pregnancy and your baby’s health.
Inositol, as it affects insulin levels, may be preventative in the development of gestational diabetes. Insulin must bind to a receptor, and if it doesn’t do this properly the body will keep producing more of it, which can lead to insulin resistance. Myo-inositol is directly linked to insulin metabolism because it helps the insulin bind to the receptor, promoting blood sugar management.  Inositol makes molecules involved in the body’s response to insulin. Researchers say inositol can be used as a backup messaging system when the usual insulin signalling system fails. There are only a few studies on this correlation, but the results are promising in animal studies, showing that a combination of 4 grams of myo-inositol and 400 mcg of folinic acid may be helpful when taken daily.
Some of the benefits of inositol for women with PCOS include:
- reduced insulin resistance/improved insulin sensitivity
- reduced androgen levels (e.g. testosterone)
- increased sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG), which is typically low in PCOS
- increased progesterone (primarily due to ovulating again)
- reduced lutenising hormone (LH), which is high in PCOS
- restoration of regular ovulation
- more regular periods
- improved fertility
- improved oocyte and embryo quality (including improved oocyte maturation in IVF)
- reduced ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome in IVF
- reduced blood glucose and HbA1c
- reduced long-term risks of untreated PCOS such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome
- reduced PMS symptoms
- improvements in anxiety and depression
Inositol has also recently been found to improve thyroid function, including in Hashimoto’s Disease, and up to 40% of women with PCOS also have Hashimoto’s. 
Metabolic syndrome risk factors
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that raise your risk of chronic disease, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Five conditions are associated with metabolic syndrome:
- Excess fat in the stomach area
- High levels of triglycerides in the blood
- Low “good” HDL cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
Clinical studies suggest inositol supplements may be beneficial for those with metabolic syndrome with reduced blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels and improvements in blood pressure and blood sugar. 
Other conditions inositol may be beneficial in treating
Inositol has been studied as a potential treatment option for many conditions. Research suggests inositol may be helpful in treating the following:
- Respiratory distress syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Diabetic Nerve Pain
- Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Hair growth
- High cholesterol
- Fat metabolization 
Dosage and side effects on Inositol
Inositol supplements seem to be well-tolerated by most people.
High doses (usually in the 12-18g range) are required for any neurological effects while lower doses (2-4g) are sufficient for fertility and insulin sensitising effects. 
It is a very safe supplement to ingest, and side-effects from high doses associated with inositol include mild gastrointestinal distress, (nausea and gas), difficulty sleeping, headache, dizziness and tiredness.
There are also not enough studies to determine the safety of the supplements while breastfeeding. However, breast milk seems to be naturally rich in inositol.
In addition, it’s unclear whether inositol supplements are safe for long-term use. In most studies, inositol supplements were only taken for a year or less.
How we can help at Advanced Functional Medicine
Research suggests that inositol may aid people with mental health and metabolic conditions, such as panic disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. If you have any other these conditions or are experiencing any symptoms, at Advanced Functional Medicine, our expert Functional Medical health practitioners can assess if inositol would be beneficial for you.
While your diet likely contains small amounts of inositol, taking a supplement may prove beneficial for some. If you would like to discuss this further, please get in touch with us via the form below, phone or email us.