Inositol, also called myo-inositol, D-chiro-inositol, or hexaphosphate (IP6), plays a critical function in the body’s cellular growth. Though it used to be referred to as Vitamin B8, inositol is not actually a vitamin. It’s a type of sugar that helps your body process insulin.
Inositol used to be thought of as an essential nutrient, which is any nutrient that must be obtained from your diet. However, observations have shown that the liver and kidneys produce inositol from glucose, so it’s not an essential nutrient.
In addition to being produced by your body, inositol is also found in a wide range of healthy foods. Though inositol is a sugar that your body produces from glucose, diets high in sugar can actually inhibit inositol availability.
Inositol is essential for several different cellular processes. It acts as a secondary messenger for your cells and helps with functions such as regulating insulin and binding neurotransmitters.
Additionally, inositol provides health benefits like:
Improved Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome includes several risk factors such as high blood pressure, belly fat, and high blood sugar, which all increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease. In one study, women who were postmenopausal and had metabolic syndrome took inositol supplements for one year. At the end of the year, they all showed improvement in their metabolic syndrome. In fact, 20% of the women no longer met the criteria for having metabolic syndrome.
Reduced Chance of Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy. In one study, women at high risk for gestational diabetes were treated with inositol and compared to a group of women who were given a placebo. The women given inositol were less likely to develop gestational diabetes and less likely to require insulin.
Management of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by increased insulin resistance, which has side effects such as increased body mass index (BMI) and abnormal menstrual cycles. Inositol was as effective as metformin, a medicine that is commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, at increasing insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS. About half of the women showed a decrease in BMI and their menstrual cycles returned to normal.
Lower Blood Sugar Levels
A type of inositol, D-chiro-inositol, combined with folic acid also increased insulin sensitivity in people with type 1 diabetes. People treated with inositol and folic acid had lower average blood sugar levels, known as HbA1c, than the people in the control group.
Decreased Panic Attacks
People with panic disorder reported fewer panic attacks while taking inositol than they did with fluvoxamine, an antidepressant that is often used to treat anxiety disorders. Negative side effects such as nausea and tiredness occurred less often with inositol than with fluvoxamine. Because it’s a natural supplement, people who are hesitant to take psychiatric drugs like antidepressants may be more willing to take inositol.
Improved Psoriasis in People Taking Lithium
Lithium carbonate is widely prescribed for people with bipolar affective disorders. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of lithium can be psoriasis, a skin condition. People with psoriasis who were taking lithium showed an improvement in their psoriasis after using inositol supplements. People with psoriasis who were not taking lithium did not show an improvement with inositol supplementation.
Because inositol is water-soluble, it doesn't have a high risk of overdose. Even at high doses, side effects are mainly limited to nausea, gas, and diarrhea.
Amounts and Dosage
There is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for inositol. Two different formulas are used in supplements, Myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol. Most studies administer between 10 - 18 grams per day of inositol to achieve desired results with minimal to no side effects.
Inositol can also be found in food, such as: