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Inositol for Healthy Nervous System

  • Published: 2008-12-19 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-14) : Author: Darrell Miller
  • Synopsis: Inositol is a member of the vitamin B complex family being referred to as vitamin B8 but is not strictly a vitamin.

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"Those that are depressed are frequently found to have low inositol levels in their spinal fluid, so it is believed to play a part in that condition."

Inositol is a member of the vitamin B complex family, being referred to as vitamin B8, but is not strictly a vitamin because it is biosynthesized in your body. Vitamins are essential substances that are not manufactured by your natural biochemistry, and must be taken in your diet. However, to all intents and purposes it works like a member of the vitamin B family.

The main function of myo-inositol (the commonest isomer of inositol) is in the health of cell membranes, particularly those that comprise the marrow, eyes, intestines and the brain. Without proper regulation of the cell membrane, the cell cannot function effectively. Some of its effects include healthy hair and controlling estrogen levels. It is also believed to help to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.

A deficiency will result in hair loss, eczema, increased blood cholesterol levels and eye abnormalities. You might also suffer constipation, although this is not as serious a condition as those preceding. It is present at highest levels in the heart and brain, which indicates where it is mostly used, although it also helps the liver to break down fats and enables the nerves and muscles to operate as they should.

Those that are depressed are frequently found to have low inositol levels in their spinal fluid, so it is believed to play a part in that condition. It is known that the substance takes part in the function of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known to play a part in depression, and initial signs are that its use in the treatment of depression could be effective. Neurotransmitters are responsible for passing messages across the gap (synapses) between nerve cells, their messages being decoded by the neuroreceptors. A healthy nervous system depends on healthy neurotransmitters.

For these reasons, inositol has also been tried on other conditions of the nervous system. These include bipolar disorder, bulimia, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder. So far, results have been inconclusive as to its effectiveness, but it is early days yet and field tests are continuing.

A test carried out in Beersheva, Israel, in 1997, found that treatment with inositol produced significant improvement in the depression of 28 patients after four weeks on the Hamilton Depression Scale1, and 21 patients tested with panic disorder (with and without agoraphobia) showed significant improvements in their condition, including agoraphobia. Results on 13 patients with obsessive compulsive disorder also showed significant improvement. These were all double-blind tests.

However, not all tests have been so conclusive, and a study on 42 people with sever depression who did not respond to conventional antidepressant, also failed to respond when inositol was added to their medication.2 Results are therefore not conclusive.

Four hundred people took part in a double-blind test that indicated a possible improvement in the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome when treated with inositol 3,4 and another that inositol treatment on patients taking lithium could help reduce the symptoms of psoriasis, a skin condition believed to be caused by a reaction of the immune system and nerves.5

The supplement has also been found to be just as effective as Luvox (fluvoxamine similar to Prozac) after four weeks treatment. Although these results are good, they are inconclusive, and more data is need before any indisputable conclusions can be drawn. However, treatment with inositol might be worth considering if conventional treatment for these conditions has been unsuccessful.

The most common natural form of inositol is myo-inositol, an isomer of cyclohehexanehexol, a carbocyclic polyol that form the structural basis for secondary messengers in the cells of eukaryotes.

A secondary messenger system is one whereby a signaling molecule is released in response to a signal from a primary messenger such as a neuroreceptor, which then activates certain intracellular proteins known as effector proteins that exert a response from the cell. An example is cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate) that is a secondary messenger that activates protein kinases and allows them to phosphorylated proteins.

Eukaryotes are organisms that contain cells composed of complex components contained within a cellular membrane, and that also contain a nucleus. Examples are fungi, plants and all animals. Examples of non eukaryotes include the bacteria family.

It is frequently recommended that inositol is most effective when taken with an equal amount of choline, although this might be due to the fact that when inositol deficiency is detected, choline is also frequently deficient. Both are vitamin B family like, and both are lipotropic, in that they aid the breakdown of fats in the body. It is not clear whether this is true or not, but taking both would certainly not harm you, and might be of great benefit.

Inositol is not essential, because it can be obtained from beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, cantaloupe, brewers yeast, liver and vegetables. Bacteria in the gut also act on the phytic acid (inositol hexaphosphate) contained in citrus fruits to form inositol.

However, be careful if you drink a lot of coffee. It destroys inositol, and if you are taking the supplement medicinally, steer clear of coffee during your period of treatment because it will lose its effect. Excessive coffee drinking can also result in a general depletion of inositol from your diet, and hence a deficiency. In such a case you are advised to take a supplement, preferably along with choline that might also be deficient.

Although there have been no adverse side effects reported, no specific longer term safety studies have been carried out on inositol. Because of the way it works, inositol should be avoided by people with liver or kidney disease, and also by expectant or nursing women. It should be avoided by young children until safety tests have been carried out, and it is believed that it can cause manic effects in those suffering bipolar disorder.

Other than for these specific cases, trials with many times the average daily intake of the substance, it currently appears safe to take inositol as a long-term supplement. However, as with all such supplements intended for specific disorders, you should seek the advice of your physician.

References: 1. Levine J: Ministry of Health Mental Health Center, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev,Beersheva, Israel ur Neuropsychopharmacol, 1997 May, 7:2, 147-55

2. Nemets B, Mishory A, Levine J, et al. Inositol addition does not improve depression in SSRI treatment failures. J Neural Transm. 1999;106:795-798.

3. Gerli S, Mignosa M, Di Renzo GC. Effects of inositol on ovarian function and metabolic factors in women with PCOS: a randomized double blind placebo-controlled trial. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2003;7:151-9.

4. Gerli S, Papaleo E, Ferrari A, et al. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial: effects of myo-inositol on ovarian function and metabolic factors in women with PCOS. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2007;11:347-354.

5. Allan SJ, Kavanagh GM, Herd RM, et al. The effect of inositol supplements on the psoriasis of patients taking lithium: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. 2004;150:966-969.

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