Inositol: What’s all the Fuss?

inositol
  • Inositol is a sugar similar to glucose.
  • Myo-inositol is recognised for it’s potential benefit to women’s health conditions.
  • Research has shown inositol has insulin-regulating properties that can help metabolic syndrome.
  • When taken for PCOS symptoms, myo-inositol can help restart ovulation.
  • Foods naturally high in inositol include brown rice, beans, peas and nuts.

Inositol is a carbocyclic sugar made naturally in the body and found in high quantities in some fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Recent studies have highlighted it’s potential for treating a range of health conditions in women, including PCOS, infertility, preterm birth, metabolic syndrome and some mental conditions.

What is inositol?

Necessary for the healthy functioning of our bodies, it’s structural similarities to glucose and vital role in cell signalling impacts many of our biological functions. Considered a pseudo-vitamin “as it is a molecule that does not qualify to be an essential vitamin because even though its presence is vital in the body, a deficiency in this molecule does not translate into disease conditions”, it is often wrongly referred to as vitamin B8.

There are 9 inositols, of which myo-inositol (MI) and d-chiro inositol (DCI) are increasingly recognised for their potential benefit to female health conditions. When you hear it mentioned in this context it typically means MI or a combination of both MI and DCI. 

What are the benefits of inositol?

Peer reviewed studies demonstrate it’s important role in our body’s response to insulin. MI and DCI have an insulin-like action and a combination of myo-inositol and d-chiro inositol has been linked to an improvement in certain menstrual and hormonal factors in PCOS. 

Clinical studies have also shown that inositol’s insulin-regulating properties could have positive impacts on the criteria for metabolic syndrome diagnosis.

And inositol affects neurotransmitters including serotonin. Studies show people with anxiety and panic disorders responding well to inositol. Similar research is underway into inositol’s effect on people with long-term depressive disorders, bipolar symptoms and eating disorders.

How does myo-inositol help fertility and PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) causes ovulation disorders, hyperandrogenism and infertility and impacts 4-20% women of childbearing age globally. According to the CDC PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women. 

MI controls the hormones needed for egg production in ovaries, while DCI helps control excess androgen (male hormones) in women. Experts are increasingly finding that taking a combination of MI and DCI in a 40:1 MI/DCI ratio is an effective therapy for PCOS as it improves insulin sensitivity and restarts ovulation. This mimics the MI/DCI ratio found naturally in women without PCOS. 

And as inositol can normalise ovarian function and improve oocyte (immature egg) and embryo quality in women with PCOS, it is also effective during fertility treatment and IVF.  

Can inositol treat metabolic syndrome?

Up to 80% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance. Our bodies create insulin to control blood sugar levels and insulin resistance can increase the risk for developing metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is the collective name for a group of risk factors that increase your risk for chronic health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, sleep apnea and strokes. 

This in turn puts women at higher probability of developing gestational diabetes, putting both mother and baby at risk during pregnancy and increasing the chance of developing type 2 diabetes in later life.

Studies have shown that a diet rich in foods with high inositol content complemented by inositol supplements can have therapeutic potential in certain metabolic diseases. 

How should I take inositol?

How much myo and d-chiro should you include in your daily diet? 

There is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for inositol, although there are many trusted studies on the dosage of inositol for various conditions:

Your body produces it naturally from foods high in inositol. Foods with highest MI content are beans, peas, brown rice, wheat bran and nuts. Cantaloupes and citrus fruits, but not lemons, also tend to be high in inositol. In general, canned, frozen and preserved foods contain less inositol than fresh foods. 

It is also available as a supplement and is often present in many multivitamins. If you are considering taking supplements for PCOS or fertility, remember to look for the recommended ratio of 40:1 MC/DCI, not all supplements are created equal. And try to avoid any supplements containing artificial sugars and sugar alcohols. 

Does inositol have any side effects?

It has very few side effects and even at high doses side effects are limited to stomach cramps and flatulence.

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Nabta is reshaping women’s healthcare. We support women with their personal health journeys, from everyday wellbeing to the uniquely female experiences of fertility, pregnancy, and menopause. You can track your menstrual cycle and get personalised support by using the Nabta app.

Get in touch if you have any questions about this article or any aspect of women’s health. We’re here for you.

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