Inositol is a carbocyclic sugar that naturally occurs in a variety of foods such as nuts, grains, beans, and fruit. Though there are nine types of inositol, most people are referring to myo-inositol when speaking about inositol. Myo-inositol has wide-ranging beneficial effects on many different conditions and disorders. Historically, the medical community also used the name vitamin B8 instead of inositol. However, because the body is capable of creating inositol, it is not an essential nutrient. This has caused the vitamin classification to fall out of favor.
The effects of myo-inositol affect many areas of the body and impact numerous biological functions. The kidneys produce between two and four grams of inositol each day. Other tissues also synthesize it, though the brain has the highest concentration of inositol. In the brain, inositol plays a vital role in making neurotransmitters and certain steroid hormones bind to their receptors. Inositol also acts as a secondary messenger in certain signal transduction pathways, meaning that it can trigger certain physiological changes. These changes affect hormone production, calcium concentration, gene expression, fat breakdown, cytoskeleton assembly, and much more.
Neurotransmitters are the molecules that are responsible for relaying information within the brain. One of the most important neurotransmitters is serotonin. Individuals with depression or anxiety disorders often have some sort of internal issue with their serotonin. Many anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder respond well to inositol. This is because inositol directly affects serotonin. Studies show that individuals with anxiety disorders who received inositol had fewer panic attacks and reduced symptoms. Though more research is necessary to fully confirm the effects, current results are promising.
Because inositol affects serotonin and other neurotransmitters, researchers have also studied its effects on major depressive disorder. Current research suggests that daily inositol treatments can improve depression symptoms for around four weeks. However, some studies show that inositol has no additional effects if a person takes it in combination with standard depression medications. Individuals who fail to respond to depression medications do not appear to benefit from inositol. Additional studies are currently researching the long-term effects of inositol in people with depressive disorders.
In order to control blood sugar levels, the body creates insulin. However, some people can begin to develop insulin resistance which leads to conditions such as metabolic syndrome. Inositol has shown the ability to create molecules that can affect insulin and its many processes. As a result of this, inositol can improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin and reduce insulin resistance. However, because of this, inositol may lead to low blood sugar in some individuals.
In addition to improving insulin sensitivity, inositol also controls other risk factors of metabolic syndrome. Though singular in name, metabolic syndrome is actually a group of conditions that can lead to chronic heart disease or type 2 diabetes. The five conditions of metabolic syndrome are excess stomach fat, high triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. A year-long clinical study discovered that inositol could significantly reduce triglyceride levels. It also had positive impacts on reducing blood pressure and blood sugar. At the end of the study, 20 percent of the 80 test participants no longer met the criteria for metabolic syndrome diagnosis.
Many women of reproductive age develop a hormonal disorder known as polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS. This disorder has a number of symptoms, but its characteristic symptoms are painful follicles around the ovaries. Inositol has had surprisingly positive effects on treating PCOS. Most notably, a combination of myo-inositol and d-Chiro inositol are the most effective. Together, they can improve egg quality and restore fertility in some women with PCOS. Additionally, inositol dramatically reduces the risk of gestational diabetes. A study in Gynecology Endocrinology found that the prevalence of gestational diabetes was only 17.4 percent in the group who took myo-inositol. The prevalence in the control group was 54 percent. Some women also report weight loss while receiving inositol treatments
Because its effects are variable and far-reaching, inositol may also improve other conditions. Respiratory distress syndrome is a condition that occurs when babies are born prematurely and lack fully functioning lungs. Inositol may be effective in improving the infants’ breathing. Though the research is insufficient, inositol effects on neurotransmitters may mean that it is an effective treatment for a variety of disorders. Inositol could improve bipolar disorder symptoms or reduce the causes of eating disorders, though this requires further study.
Based on available research, inositol is incredibly safe. Though it has a few potential side effects, they appear rarely and are generally mild in nature. Most instances of side effects occur in individuals who were taking high doses of between 12 and 18 grams of inositol. Physicians find that though the effects of inositol may not be as dramatic in some individuals, there is no harm in adding it into a diet. Currently, there is a lack of research documenting the effects of inositol doses above four grams per day in pregnant women. The four-gram doses appear to have no negative effects.
The main side effects of inositol are gestational in nature. Individuals who consistently consumed 12 to 18 grams of inositol each day reported issues such as stomach pains, general upset stomachs, and flatulence. There have been some instances where individuals with bipolar disorder experienced mania following the consumption of inositol. However, there is not enough evidence to confirm if inositol was responsible for the mania, or if it was due to something else in the individuals’ diets such as caffeine or taurine.
Though inositol is available as a supplement, it is also widely available naturally in many different types of food. Around 100 grams of lima beans provides around 44 milligrams of inositol while 100 grams of navy beans provides 65 milligrams. Most citrus fruits, except for lemons, are extremely rich in inositol. Eight ounces of grapefruit juice provides 468 milligrams of inositol. Other fruits such as cantaloupe and oranges also contain notable levels of inositol. Whole grain bread also contains a small amount of inositol. In most cases, individuals seeking inositol should consume fresh products as canning and preservation methods tend to reduce inositol levels.
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