There’s no denying the fact that for some women with PCOS, inositol supplements can be an absolute saving grace.
After all, there are studies showing that inositol improves the body’s response to insulin.
And any improvement in insulin sensitivity is a plus for ovulation, fertility, androgen levels and many other PCOS symptoms.
However, as with many supplements, inositol doesn’t work for every woman with PCOS.
So, this begs the question: is inositol really worth it?
Well, this post is going to answer that for you because we’re going to look at:
- what research has to say about using inositol for pcos.
- the side effects of inositol supplementation.
- the best food sources of inositol.
NOTE: for a complete list of references and research used in this article, see the “References” section at the end.
WHAT IS INOSITOL AND WHAT TYPES ARE HELPFUL FOR PCOS?
Although it was once considered a B-vitamin, inositol is actually a carbohydrate that is essential for various functions, such as:
- reproductive health.
- bone formation.
- maintaining the structure of our cell walls.
- proper insulin function and blood sugar regulation.
- balancing “brain chemicals” like dopamine and serotonin, both of which affect our mood, as well as conditions like depression and anxiety.
In total, there are 9 different types of inositol. However, the two most abundant ones – and the two that are the focus for PCOS – are:
- myo-inositol (MI)
- D-chiro-inositol (DCI)
Now, there are four main things to note about inositol.
- First, inositol is abundant in our food supply (we’ll talk about this later).
- Second, our bodies also make inositol from d-glucose (the natural form of glucose that is in our food).
- Third, the body converts myo-inositol to D-chiro-inositol. However, this mechanism is usually broken in PCOS patients (mostly likely due to a combination of poor gut health and poor digestion).
- Fourth, the chemical structure of all the inositols is similar to glucose.
Isn’t it interesting that inositol, which is a carb and is structurally similar to glucose, happens to be the thing that can improve insulin-related symptoms?
So, how exactly does inositol work for PCOS? Let’s have a look at that next!
HOW INOSITOL HELPS PCOS
In order to understand why inositol can help PCOS, we need to look at a few technical details first. I promise to keep it as brief as possible! 🙂
First thing to note: inositol is found in our cell walls in the form of phosphatidyl-MI (phosphatidyl-myo-inositol). This phosphatidyl-MI is a precursor to something known as inositol triphosphate (InsP3).
Now, this is where things get interesting.
You see, InsP3 is a second messenger for various hormones. This means that InsP3 regulates the activity of other hormones, including:
- thyroid stimulating hormone
- follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)
Since InsP3 regulates the activity of insulin and FSH, that means that any malfunction in the InsP3 pathway is going to negatively affect the things that insulin and FSH are responsible for!
And research shows that in women with PCOS, the pathways that involve InsP3 don’t work correctly.
So, it’s no wonder that egg quality, irregular menstrual cycles and lack of ovulation are very common PCOS symptoms…they’re all affected by FSH.
It’s also no wonder that elevated blood glucose levels, elevated androgen levels and ovarian dysfunction occur with PCOS….they’re all affected by an imbalance in insulin.
So, how does inositol help with all this?
Well, studies show that inositol acts as an insulin sensitizer; meaning that inositol improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
And as a result of this insulin sensitization, inositol supplements are able to improve things like:
- ovarian function.
- insulin function.
- triglyceride levels.
- blood pressure.
Of the 9 forms of inositol that are available in nature, myo-inositol (MI) and D-chiro-inositol (DCI) are the two that lend the most benefit.
As a result, most inositol supplements on the market contain a combination of both MI and DCI.
Now, having said that, there are also studies showing that MI is also quite helpful by itself.
This isn’t very surprising given that MI is the most abundant form of inositol in our bodies and in our food!
INOSITOL DOSAGE FOR PCOS
As we’ve seen, both MI and DCI are helpful for PCOS symptoms.
So, when figuring out the ideal inositol dosage for PCOS, we have to take both types of inositol into consideration.
Now, it’s important to know that different parts of the body need different amounts of MI and DCI.
- liver and skeletal muscle need a higher proportion of DCI.
- on the other hand, the ovaries need a higher proportion of MI for the maturation of eggs.
So, keeping all of these varying needs in mind, the current inositol dose that research has shown to be beneficial is a 40:1 ratio of MI to DCI.
This comes out to 2000mg of MI for every 50mg of DCI. So, when purchasing any inositol be sure to read the label and check that it matches this 40:1 standard that has been established by research.
SIDE EFFECTS OF TAKING INOSITOL FOR PCOS
Overall, inositol supplements are considered safe.
However, at very high doses (12 grams or more per day), you can experience gastrointestinal problems like:
Also, D-chiro-inositol acts like an aromatase inhibitor when taken in high doses.
This can have very serious consequences on your reproductive health and here’s why:
- aromatase is an enzyme that converts androgens to estrogen.
- an aromatase inhibitor prevents that conversion from happening…which means you end up with higher levels of androgens in your body.
So, whether you buy separate MI and DCI supplements, or you buy a combination supplement, it’s super important that you monitor how much DCI you’re taking.
Once again, it’s best to stay within that 40:1 ratio of MI to DCI which we discussed in the previous section.
Lastly, it’s not clear whether you can safely take inositol supplements for years and years.
This is because most of the inositol studies that have been done lasted for a period of 1 year or less.
FOOD SOURCES OF INOSITOL
Even though MI and DCI are helpful for PCOS, those two forms alone do not make a complete hormone balancing diet.
Just like we need all of our vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and antioxidants…we should also make sure that our diet provides all the inositols.
After all, our bodies were designed to run on all 9 inositols!
Also, as I mentioned earlier, inositol supplements work for some women and not for others.
This is more likely to happen if you have other nutrient deficiencies.
And this highlights one of the drawbacks of over-relying on inositol supplements: they don’t provide the full spectrum of nutrients you need.
The fact is in order to balance your hormones, you also need a healthy liver, healthy gut, strong digestive system, detox-friendly nutrients and more.
So, it’s a good idea to eat whole foods that contain inositol and nutrients that support all the other hormone-balancing systems in the body.
Now, the question is: what are the best food sources for inositol?
The best food sources of inositol are fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and natural sweeteners like raw honey.
In fact, one study looked at 487 foods and found that:
- The highest concentrations of myo-inositol are found in fruits, legumes, grains, and nuts.
- Fresh fruits and veggies have more inositol than frozen, canned or cooked varieties.
Overall, some foods that are very rich in inositol include cantaloupe, oats, citrus fruits (except lemons), beans, brown rice, corn and sesame seeds.
By taking a whole food approach, you kill multiple birds with one stone since all whole foods contain a wide array of nutrients.
FAQs ABOUT INOSITOL FOR PCOS
Can I take inositol without pcos?
Yes, you can take inositol even if you don’t have PCOS. As a matter of fact, inositol supplementation is used for conditions like anxiety and depression.
Inositol is an important nutrient that regulates insulin and FSH, which are two hormones that strongly impact PCOS symptoms.
And the great thing is that you can get inositol in supplement form as well as from a large category of foods (fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, legumes and seeds).
Of course, as with all supplements, inositol delivers varying results depending on the woman.
So, while you can use the supplements to give you a “kickstart” the best way to get long-term results (so that you’re not dependent on supplements) is to also ensure that your diet includes the full spectrum of inositols.