The nutrient that I want to talk about today isn’t very well known.
I first found out about it in the book Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain by Dr. William Walsh, and started experimenting with it soon after finishing the book.
It’s called inositol, or myo-inositol.
Researchers extracted and isolated it in 1849, but it wasn't until the 1980s that they discovered high levels of it in the central nervous system, and found that it plays a key role in neurotransmission (1, 4).
Studies show that it can increase GABA-A receptor function and enhance serotonin receptor sensitivity, working similarly to anti-anxiety (benzodiazepines) and antidepressant (SSRIs) medications (2-3, 5).
Inositol levels in the brain have also been shown to be lower in people with several neuropsychiatric conditions (30).
If you have one of the following anxious and depressive conditions, inositol could help you.
They’ve also found significantly less inositol in brain samples of suicide victims (16).
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a form of neurostimulation that helps treat depression, and one of the reasons it works may be because it causes a significant increase in brain inositol levels (15).
But you don’t need to do tDCS to increase inositol levels in the brain.
Another study had depressed patients take 12 grams of inositol every day for four weeks. Researchers found that these depressed patients experienced significantly greater improvements in their depression compared to the patients who took placebo (19, 22).
And people with bipolar disorder who were going through a major depressive episode supplemented with inositol for six weeks, and it led to a 17.4% reduction in their depressive symptoms (20).
Despite all of this research, it’s important to point out that I found one meta-analysis concluding that “it is currently unclear whether or not inositol is of benefit in the treatment of depression” (21).
That’s not to say it won’t work for you though.
If SSRI antidepressants don't improve your mood when you take them, it’s less likely that inositol will help you.
Overall, it’s worth a try though.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a condition in which a woman has severe depressive symptoms, irritability, and tension before menstruation, which disrupts her social and/or occupational life. PMDD symptoms are more severe than symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (12).
Inositol has been shown to help treat PMDD.
Researchers concluded that they “were able to clearly prove the efficacy of myo-inositol in PMDD” (13).
Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia
Panic disorder is diagnosed in people who experience sudden panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack.
Some people stop going into environments in which they previously had a panic attack, anticipating that it will happen again. This is considered agoraphobia. They may avoid public places such as shopping malls, public transportation, or large sports arenas.
Many patients with panic disorder and agoraphobia don’t respond well to current treatments, or they discontinue drugs because of their side effects.
Luckily, there is research showing that inositol can help treat both of these conditions with little to no side effects.
Twenty patients with panic disorder took 18 grams of inositol every day for one month, and then took 150 mg of fluvoxamine every day for another month.
Researchers found that inositol decreased the number of weekly panic attacks per week by four, while fluvoxamine only reduced them by two. Fluvoxamine also had side effects such as nausea and lethargy, and inositol didn’t have any side effects (6).
In another study, twenty-one patients with panic disorder (with and without agoraphobia) took 12 grams of inositol daily for four weeks.
Compared to placebo, the frequency and severity of panic attacks, and the severity of agoraphobia, significantly declined after taking inositol. And there were hardly any side effects!
The researchers concluded that inositol is an “attractive therapeutic for panic disorder” (7, 8).
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
I personally noticed a reduction in my obsessive-compulsive tendencies while supplementing with it.
And there is some research to support this.
In one study, patients with OCD took 18 grams of inositol or placebo daily for six weeks.
At the end of the six weeks, the patients who took inositol had significantly lower scores on the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale.
The researchers concluded that inositol can effectively treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (9, 10).
Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a condition characterized by frequent and recurrent binge eating episodes, while bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating followed by purging.
Research has shown that inositol supplementation can help with both of these conditions.
In one study, people with these disorders took 18 grams of inositol daily for six weeks, and researchers found that it reduced symptoms of binge eating significantly better than placebo. It also reduced depressive and anxiety scores.
The researchers concluded that “inositol is as therapeutic in patients with bulimia nervosa and binge eating as it is in patients with depression and panic and obsessive-compulsive disorders” (11).
Inositol Dosage and My Personal Review and Experience
As a standard dietary supplement, many people take between 1 and 3 grams of inositol daily.
But for the brain and mental health benefits, you need to take much higher doses.
The usual dosage for anxious disorders ranges between 12 and 18 grams. One of the depression studies used just 6 grams, but I haven’t found any research suggesting that it works neurologically at doses any lower than that.
However, some people find relief with lower dosages.
Therefore, it’s best to start with a lower dose and work your way up to 18 grams if necessary.
Since you’ll likely need to take large amounts, and capsules usually only contain 500 mg of inositol, I recommend inositol powder.
You may need a scale like this one to measure your doses.
I started taking it while taking medication, and soon realized I was experiencing more side effects from my antidepressant. This is sometimes a sign that you're on too high of a dose of medication. At that point, I could lower my SSRI dose easily because inositol was helping.
If you struggle with anxiety or depression, supplementing with inositol is worth a shot.
The current research suggests it can help with illnesses that respond well to SSRI antidepressants, but probably isn’t beneficial to people struggling with other disorders, such as autism, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and ADHD (26-29).
Unfortunately, researchers don't have a financial incentive to continue looking into the benefits of inositol. This is because inositol is a natural compound and cannot be patented by pharmaceutical companies that fund and significantly influence "science-based medical research".
But that doesn’t mean you can’t just go ahead and try it yourself and see if it helps you.
I hope it does.
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About the Author
Jordan Fallis is a health and science journalist and researcher, and the founder of Optimal Living Dynamics, a website that has helped more than 1.5 million people improve their brain and mental health. His work has been featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Canadian Pharmacists Journal. Jordan has also interviewed, consulted, and worked with more than one hundred medical doctors, health practitioners and leading researchers. He spends a lot of time scouring medical research, writing about what he finds, and putting the theories to the test on himself.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Fred Hui, MD, CCFP, CAFC