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What Is Inositol Used For?

By Tracey Roizman, D.C.

Inositol, a carbohydrate molecule that your body manufactures from glucose, functions in part as a signaling molecule in insulin regulation, nerve transmission, and calcium, serotonin and cholesterol regulation. Inositol is regarded as a member of the B-complex family of vitamins, and you'll find it in beans, brown rice and nuts. Inositol has several potential therapeutic benefits, but more research is required to learn exactly how well it works.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Inositol may improve symptoms associated with polycystic ovary syndrome, according to a study published in the February 2011 "Fertility and Sterility" journal. In the study, patients with insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndrome -- an endocrine disorder that impairs fertility -- who underwent fertility treatments and took inositol showed a 33.3 percent improvement in rate of pregnancy compared to 13.3 percent in the control group that did not receive inositol. The researchers concluded that inositol may be useful in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome.

Anti-Cancer Function

Inositol may have anti-cancer properties, say researchers of a study published in the December 2010 "Biochemistry" journal. In the tissue culture study, inositol inhibited blood vessel formation and decreased tumor growth by inhibiting the activity of acidic fibroblast growth factor -- a gene that normally promotes cell growth and tissue repair, but can also promote cancerous tumor growth and invasiveness.

Effects on Serotonin

Myo-inositol is the most commonly occurring form of inositol. Myo-inositol may offer benefits in the treatment of depression and anxiety, according to a study published in the June 2004 "Metabolic Brain Disease" journal. High doses of inositol also improve obsessive-compulsive and panic disorders, say the researchers. The tissue culture study compared the effects of inositol to the drugs imipramine and fluoxetine, also known as Tofranil and Prozac, and found that myo-inositol reduced serotonin receptor function, similar to fluoxetine, and prevented the re-uptake of serotonin, thereby keeping it active. The researchers concluded that the results of their study provide new understanding about how inositol works to improve depression.

Conflicting Evidence for Depression

A meta-analysis study -- a review of previously published research -- on the effects of inositol for depression found no clear benefit. The report concluded that in four short-term trials, including 141 participants, no evidence of therapeutic benefit for depression was observed for inositol as a single therapy or in combination with another form of therapy. The researchers noted that no adverse effects were observed for inositol, and called for further studies to more clearly define the role of inositol in preventing or treating depression. The report was published in the 2004 "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews."

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