The Benefits of Inositol

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Inositol is a substance found naturally in cantaloupe, citrus fruit, and many fiber-rich foods (such as beans, brown rice, corn, sesame seeds, and wheat bran) and widely available in supplement form.

Although there are many forms, inositol hexaphosphate (often referred to as "IP6") and parent compound myo-inositol are the most widely used forms of inositol. Known to play a vital role in several cellular processes, inositol also aids the body in the metabolism of certain minerals (including calcium).

Why People Use It

Known to have antioxidant activity, inositol is often touted as a natural remedy for psychological conditions like anxiety and depression. Some proponents suggest that inositol can help treat a wide range of health conditions, including:

In addition, inositol is purported to help prevent cancer and heart disease. Some individuals also use inositol to promote hair growth.

Health Benefits

Although research on inositol's health benefits is limited (and most research is more than 10 years old), there's some evidence that certain forms of inositol may offer some benefits. Here's a look at several key findings:

1) Panic Disorder

Myo-inositol may aid in the treatment of panic disorder, according to a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology in 2001.

For the study, 20 patients with panic disorder underwent one month of treatment with 18 g of myo-inositol per day, followed by one month of treatment with 150 mg of fluvoxamine (a medication commonly prescribed for psychiatric disorders) per day. Study results showed that inositol reduced the number of panic attacks per week by four (compared with a reduction of 2.4 with fluvoxamine).

2) Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

D-chiro-inositol may help manage PCOS, suggests a small study published in Endocrine Practice in 2002. For the study, 20 women with PCOS were given either a placebo or 600 mg of D-chiro-inositol once daily for six to eight weeks. Results revealed that D-chiro-inositol helped treat several abnormalities associated with PCOS, including blood pressure and elevated levels of blood fats.

3) Cancer

Some preliminary research indicates that inositol may offer cancer-fighting benefits. In a 2006 research review published in Nutrition and Cancer, for instance, scientists note that inositol hexaphosphate appears to reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells (possibly due to its immune-stimulating and antioxidant effects).

4) Metabolic Syndrome

In a small study published in Menopause in 2011, researchers found that myo-inositol supplements may aid in the treatment of metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women.

The study involved postmenopausal women with the metabolic syndrome. Results showed that those assigned to six months of treatment with myo-inositol supplements experienced significantly greater improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels (compared to those assigned to a placebo for the same time period).

Possible Side Effects

There's some concern that increased intake of inositol hexaphosphate may reduce the body's ability to absorb zinc, calcium, iron, and other essential minerals.

Inositol supplements haven't been tested for safety and keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements.

Where to Find It

Besides inositol hexaphosphate, other forms of inositol include inositol hexanicotinate, D-chiro-inositol, and inositol hexaniacinate.

Widely available for purchase online, inositol supplements can also be found in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements. Although some proponents suggest that combining inositol with choline may offer unique health benefits, there is currently a lack of scientific support for this claim.

Bottom Line

While there are studies suggesting that inositol may offer some benefits, large-scale clinical trials are needed to confirm these effects. If you're still interested in trying it, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider first to discuss whether it's appropriate for you.

To boost your inositol intake without turning to supplements, try loading up on inositol-rich foods like cantaloupe, citrus fruit, beans, brown rice, and wheat bran. By getting your fill of fiber, it's also possible to enhance your overall health and strengthen your defense against major illnesses like heart disease.

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