For years, inositol was believed to be a member of the family of B complex vitamins. However, it was later discovered that this substance is not really a vitamin, as it can be produced by a human body. It is now defined as a molecule similar to glucose, and is one of the most important components of cell membranes. As such, it has multiple benefits for human health.
The primary purpose of inositol is to transport fat throughout the human body and regulate blood sugar. As it also influences serotonin and dopamine, this natural substance serves as an outstanding cognitive and mood enhancer as well. According to studies conducted so far, it is especially effective when used by women, relieving the symptoms of PCOS, anxiety, PMS, and binge eating.
There are nine forms of inositol, the most popular one being myo-inositol. This is what we will refer to when discussing the benefits of inositol for brain health.
The Benefits of Inositol for Cognitive Functions
Inositol benefits brain health in multiple ways.
For starters, it improves communication between our brain cells and boosts the neurotransmitter activity, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and GABA. In fact, without inositol, these neurotransmitters cannot work well. And as you may already be aware, they influence all major aspects of our lives, such as our attention span, mood, ability to handle stress, sleep patterns, and our mood in general.
It is also important to mention that inositol boosts neurogenesis, meaning that it enables the creation of neurons in our brains. Precisely because of this, it plays an important role in preserving brain health over time and preventing cognitive decline caused by aging.
Here are some of the benefits of inositol for our cognitive functions.
1. Curing anxiety and panic attacks
There is a bunch of anti-anxiety medications out there and not all of them would work for everyone in the same way. Not to mention a myriad of side effects we cannot afford to ignore.
This is where inositol shines. Namely, studies have shown that using inositol for anxiety can minimize panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as agoraphobia. Some compare this natural substance with fluvoxamine, a strong serotonin reuptake inhibitor, used to treat a wide range of anxiety disorders. A research proves that, just like fluvoxamine, inositol can also minimize panic disorder, PTSD, OCD, MDD, and social anxiety disorders. Most importantly, unlike the common medication prescribed for these disorders that may cause multiple side effects like nausea and fatigue, inositol is generally believed to be harmless.
2. Minimizing the signs of depression
People suffering from depression have significantly lower inositol levels than their peers. This is why inositol foods and supplements are a logical choice when it comes to treating depression. Researchers claim that this substance proved to be highly powerful even in cases when patients didn’t use their antidepressants regularly. However, additional research is needed to confirm this hypothesis, as we’re still lacking the evidence for using inositol to cure depression. As it turns out, studies show that only those depression types that react positively to SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) can be treated by inositol supplementation.
3. Reducing obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or simply OCD, is a chronic mental health disorder characterized by reoccurring obsessions (thoughts) and compulsions (behaviours). And, inositol can help minimize these symptoms. According to a double-blind, controlled study, inositol is effective in treating OCD and similar disorders that are responsive to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.
4. Treating the symptoms of bipolar disorder
Even though not enough research has been done on the effect of inositol for treating bipolar disorder, this natural substance is believed to help the patients resistant to standard medical therapy. Research shows that it is especially effective for treating the signs of depression caused by this disorder.
Now, the most popular therapy used in treating bipolar disorder is the lithium drug therapy, which destroys the levels of inositol and causes psoriasis. By taking inositol, patients can minimize the progression of this skin disorder and, at the same time, not reduce the mood-calming effect of lithium-based drugs.
Keep in mind: Treating bipolar disorder is an extremely complicated process that needs to be guided and supervised by healthcare professionals. Before you start taking inositol or combining it with other prescribed medications, consult your doctor.
5. Diminishing the symptoms of PMS and PMDD
We’ve previously mentioned that inositol works better in women than men. As such, it has proven to be a super-powerful method of reducing the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). According to Italian researchers, women who took the myo-inositol powder experienced a notable reduction of PMDD-related symptoms, such as depression and anxiety.
6. Improving the quality of sleep and treating insomnia
As we already discussed in one of our previous articles, one of the major causes of mental health issues like brain fog, anxiety, and depression is the lack of quality sleep. Inositol boosts serotonin and GABA, neurotransmitters with sleep-promoting effects. This is why it is often referred to as an effective treatment for insomnia.
What else is Inositol Used for?
Apart from keeping our mind clear, inositol can also help with numerous other health issues. Here are some of them.
1. Preventing diabetes during pregnancy
During pregnancy, some women suffer from high blood sugar. These problems are known as gestational diabetes (GDM) and they affect up to 9% of pregnancies. Taking inositol can significantly improve the function of insulin, a hormone in our body that regulates the levels of blood sugar. So far, the number of human subject studies is quite limited and the majority of the analyses are conducted on animals. Even though more human research is required, for now, it is confirmed that combining myo-inositol and folic acid significantly reduces the risk of developing GDM.
2. Minimizing metabolic syndrome risk factors
Inositol can also be used for treating metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions like low good HDL cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, or high blood pressure that may cause numerous chronic diseases. According to a recent clinical study conducted on women suffering from metabolic syndrome, taking inositol twice a day reduced blood triglyceride levels and cholesterol in 80% of patients. Most importantly, 20% of these women didn’t experience any sign of metabolic syndrome by the end of the research.
3. Improving fertility and curing PCOS
Inositol is thought to be effective for treating polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition caused by hormonal imbalance. Statistics show that this health problem affects about 10% of women and is followed by numerous health issues, such as menstrual irregularities, infertility, high blood sugar, and weight gain.
When combined with folic acid, inositol can improve insulin levels, as well as lower the triglyceride levels in the blood. Above all, this combination is also powerful when it comes to improving ovulation in women with fertility problems. According to the research, combining inositol and folic acid for three months improved the ovulation in 62% of female patients.
4. Inositol and weight loss
Inositol helps with weight loss, even in women suffering from PCOS. So, what does inositol do in this case?
First, inositol improves the levels of leptin, one of the most significant regulators of fat in our body. This hormone is created by fat cells and is supposed to control our appetite and improve calorie burn. Sometimes, leptin resistance can be caused by hormonal imbalance, making the weight loss process extremely difficult, even for those who eat healthily and exercise regularly. This is where myo-inositol can help, since it is one of just a few supplements that can boost the levels of leptin and treat leptin resistance.
Second, it balances sex hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. But, why is it important? Estrogen, for example, is a powerful hormone that affects our fat cells. Its high levels can result in fast weight gain and fat growth. This can be the result of numerous factors, such as insulin resistance or poor nutritional habits. Inositol helps with normalizing the levels of those hormones and regulates fat effectively.
5. Preventing cancer
Research shows that inositol has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-improving characteristics. As such, it plays a fundamental role in preventing cancer. When combined with carotenoids, it can prevent the creation of a liver tumour in people who suffer from viral hepatitis and cirrhosis. According to the animal-based research, Inositol has also proven to be effective in preventing lung tumours in people exposed to tobacco smoke, as well as in heavy smokers. Inositol is also beneficial for stopping the progression of cancer by reducing cell replication.
Some other inositol health benefits are:
- Preventing respiratory distress syndrome in preterm infants
- Improving skin health
- Reducing inflammation
- Treating eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa
- Helping prenatal development
- Prolonging lifespan
The Major Sources of Inositol
Inositol can be found in almost all food groups. Some of the most common inositol foods are:
- Dairy products
- Meat and seafood
- Fresh fruit, especially citrus fruits
- Whole grains
However, getting inositol from food alone is not enough. For example, to take just one gram of inositol through food, you would have to eat almost two cups of cooked beans. This is why numerous supplements are designed specifically to help us get the most out of the therapeutic levels of this substance.
Now, it has been already mentioned above that there are nine different forms of inositol, two of which are most commonly used as supplements – MYO (myo-inositol) and DCI (1d-chiro-inositol). They can be found either in a form of pills or a powder.
Choline and inositol
In the majority of those supplements, inositol is combined with choline, another natural substance that was formerly considered a type of a B vitamin. Just like inositol, choline improves brain cell health and boost the function of neurotransmitters, especially acetylcholine that is responsible for memory and learning.
When packed together, these two natural substances work in harmony and are more powerful than when taken separately. This way, their traits complement one another and cover different areas of brain health, such as mitigating premature cell death, boosting the health of cell membranes, enhancing the production of lecithin, and improving the responsiveness of brain cells.
Now, the dosage varies based on the type of the supplement and the condition treated. For example, for improving cognitive functions, up to 18 grams of myo-inositol is used for about 6 weeks. On the other hand, for reducing the levels of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes, 1 gram of 1d-chiro-inositol is combined with 400 mcg of folic acid once a day for half a year.
Back to You
Even though it is not as popular as, for instance – gingko, inositol may serve as an outstanding brain health supplement. Most importantly, it is powerful enough to complement or even replace strong medications and, at the same time, it is safe to use. Still, research shows that it may have certain side effects, such as uterine contractions in pregnant women or dizziness and headache if used in larger doses. To avoid such problems and get the most out of its therapeutic benefits, you need to consume it wisely and ask your doctor to prescribe you the right dosage.
Want to test your cognitive functions before choosing the right brain supplement? Check out our list of free online cognitive tests you can take right now!