Inositol is a nutrient that is a vital cofactor for the brain’s major neurotransmitters. Learn how inositol supplements benefit many mental health issues.
Inositol is available as a natural supplement that’s very effective at treating a wide range of mental health conditions, in some cases even better than the usually prescribed medications.
For reasons not yet understood, it works particularly well in women to relieve anxiety, binge eating, PMS and more.
As a mood-enhancing nutrient, inositol doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
At one time, it was known as vitamin B8 and considered part of the family of B complex vitamins.
But once it was discovered that the body could make its own inositol, it was no longer considered a true vitamin.
Now it’s a pseudovitamin, a neglected stepchild of the vitamin B complex.
But used as a remedy or a supplement to augment deficiency states, inositol is actually quite valuable.
Benefits of Inositol for Mental Health
Inositol is found in high concentrations in the brain where it facilitates communication between the billions of brain cells.
All major neurotransmitters — dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and GABA — rely on inositol to relay messages.
Just as you can’t talk on your smartphone when there’s no signal, neurotransmitters can’t do their jobs when there’s no inositol.
And neurotransmitters play a major role in most aspects of your life — mood, productivity, ability to handle stress, ability to learn and remember, sleep, cravings, addictions, and more.
Because inositol is a part of so many brain chemical systems, it can help a wide array of mental health conditions.
Here are 6 ways inositol can improve your mental health and well-being.
1. Inositol is a valuable natural remedy for anxiety and panic attacks.
Anti-anxiety medications don’t work for everyone and many users can’t tolerate their side effects.
Inositol is a natural anti-anxiety remedy that has proven useful for all kinds of anxiety including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and agoraphobia. (1)
Fluvoxamine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) used to treat anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and social anxiety disorder.
Study participants taking fluvoxamine experienced nausea and fatigue, while those taking inositol experienced no negative side effects.
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2. Inositol may be helpful for depression.
Depression is the most common modern mental malady and it affects women twice as often as men. (3)
Inositol levels are lower than average in people with depression.
So while treating depression with inositol seems logical, the evidence for inositol as a natural depression remedy is mixed.
In one study, there was a significant improvement in depression symptoms even when patients discontinued their antidepressants. (4)
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Interestingly, this effect was more pronounced in women than men. (5)
However one meta-analysis of studies concluded that, while there were no negative side effects, the evidence for using inositol for depression was insufficient. (6)
Mood disorders that respond positively to SSRIs also generally respond to inositol supplementation. (7) If you are one of those people who does not benefit from SSRIs, chances are you will not benefit from inositol either.
3. Inositol diminishes obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.
Inositol looks promising for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a type of anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted, recurring thoughts and behaviors.
One study found that inositol reduced symptoms of OCD as well as the usually prescribed medication, minus the side effects. (8)
Just as was found with inositol and depression, those who are not helped by SSRIs are generally not helped by inositol.
4. Inositol significantly reduces symptoms of bulimia.
Inositol is an excellent natural supplement for bulimia nervosa, a serious eating disorder that involves binge eating and purging.
High doses of inositol (18 grams) reduced the depression, anxiety, and binge eating associated with bulimia. (10)
As with depression, the effects of inositol on bulimia is stronger in women than in men.
5. Inositol mitigates one common side effect of bipolar disorder medication.
Not a lot of research has been done on inositol for bipolar disorder and some was done on patients acknowledged to be resistant to standard medical treatment.
There’s some evidence that it may be useful specifically for the depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder.
But it has been found to be extremely helpful for one common side effect of lithium drug therapy — lithium-induced psoriasis.
Lithium is thought to work by depleting inositol which leads to psoriasis. (11)
Inositol greatly improves this skin disorder without negating the drug’s mood-calming effects.
Treating bipolar disorder is complicated.
Do not attempt to self-medicate with inositol before discussing this with your doctor.
6. Inositol diminishes the mood swings of PMS and PMDD.
Inositol may be a woman’s best friend.
As mentioned previously, it works better in women than in men for depression and bulimia.
It also diminishes the mood swings, depression, and anxiety of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). (12)
Inositol is particularly useful for treating polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
This disorder is caused by hormone imbalances and affects 10% of women, and is characterized by menstrual irregularities, infertility, and tendency to retain weight. (13)
It seems to work by normalizing levels of the hormones testosterone and insulin. (14)
Some nutritional supplement formulations specifically designed to promote fertility contain inositol.
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Mental Health Disorders Inositol “May” Help
But that does not mean inositol will not be found useful for these conditions in the future.
More research is definitely needed on this largely ignored supplement.
Unfortunately, a lot of the research done on inositol was done in the 1990s — ancient history in the fast-moving field of neuroscience.
The Best Form of Inositol Supplements and Dosages
Inositol collectively refers to a group of nine forms of the substance, with myo-inositol being the one most commonly used in supplements.
If a supplement doesn’t specifically say what form it is, you can assume it’s myo-inositol, which is also the most abundant form in nature. (18)
Neurological uses for inositol require substantial doses, usually between 6-18 grams daily. (19)
Since most inositol capsules contain 500 mg, this means swallowing a lot of pills, however you can buy inositol as a powder that mixes with water.
Most people find this the most convenient and economical way to take it and since it’s a carbohydrate, it tastes slightly sweet.
For mental health conditions, you won’t go wrong with the myo-inositol form of supplement.
The exception is for PCOS when d-chiro-inositol is usually the recommended form. (20)
Some inositol supplements pair it with choline, another compound that was formerly a B vitamin.
Choline works much like inositol to support brain cell health and nerve transmission function while also providing the precursor to acetylcholine, the “memory and learning” neurotransmitter.
Weird fact: Ever wonder what white powder actors snort in the movies? Inositol is often used as a stand-in for cocaine.
Why You Can’t You Get Enough Inositol from Food
Inositol can be found in all of the basic food groups — dairy, meat, fruit, vegetables, and grains.
It’s also an added ingredient in some energy drinks.
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Other foods relatively high in inositol are cantaloupe and citrus fruits.
But to consume one gram of inositol you’d have to eat almost an entire melon or 1½ cups of cooked beans!
A 2,500 calorie diet will yield at most 1 gram of inositol while our kidneys make another 2 grams or so. (23)
The upshot is that it’s not practical to try to get therapeutic levels of inositol from food alone.
Inositol Side Effects
Inositol is generally considered safe and there are no known interactions with medications or other supplements. (24)
In general, inositol is very well tolerated up to doses of around 12 grams.
But when megadoses are taken to treat mental health disorders, some reported side effects include digestive upset, insomnia, dizziness, headache, and the rare report of mania. (25)
Inositol might induce uterine contractions in pregnant women, so should be avoided during pregnancy. (26)
Inositol Benefits for Mental Health: The Bottom Line
Inositol, formerly known as vitamin B8, may not be a top-of-the-mind nutrient, but it is a top-notch remedy for mental health conditions of all kinds.
For reasons not fully understood, it works better in women than men for certain conditions like depression and bulimia.
And it’s particularly useful for “women only” conditions like PMS and the more severe PMDD.
It’s considered safe but must be taken in substantial amounts for therapeutic results.
For this reason, inositol powder is often preferred over pills or capsules.