Inositol can help with PCOS and insulin resistance — here’s everything you need to know about the hormone-helping supplement.
Demands for information about women’s bodies are getting louder. We’ve seen an increase in conversation around conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis, which takes on average seven years to be diagnosed.
Anecdotally, many women are ditching hormonal contraception, with research also showing that less than a fifth of women are taking the pill in comparison to over a third in the 70s.
As well as looking for diagnosis and causes of our pain, we’re also looking for solutions – so it’s not surprising that inositol was in the top 10 most searched terms on the site of health and supplement retailer Holland and Barrett.
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The supplement is designed to help regulate hormones, particularly among those with PCOS and experts suggest there will only be more people looking to harness its benefits in 2023.
“It is definitely something we’ve seen become more popular as awareness of polycystic ovarian syndrome increases,” says Jodie Relf, a PCOS dietitian from supplement brand MyOva. “It is the most common endocrine disorder affecting women, impacting one in 10, and research shows that inositol could have benefits for hormone regulation among those with the condition.”
What is inositol?
“Inositol refers to a group of molecules that are involved in the regulation of metabolic processes,” says Dr Katerina Shkodzik, a gynaecologist from menstrual wellbeing brand Mira. “Inositol is involved in several endocrine systems, including regulating insulin and thyroid hormones.”
As well as being made by our bodies, it is naturally occurring in various foods such as beans and fruits. “There are nine different types of inositol – the most common forms found in supplements are myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol,” adds Relf.
What are the benefits of inositol and what is it for?
Inositol is mainly used by the body to create cell membranes, but it also plays an important role in insulin regulation and the creation of serotonin and dopamine. “For these reasons, inositol can help manage certain conditions, including metabolic syndrome, various sleep disorders and reducing the risk of preterm birth,” says Alex Glover, senior nutritionist at Holland and Barret.
But inositol has particularly become an important tool for managing PCOS. “Some of the main characteristics of the condition include hyperandrogenism (elevated testosterone levels), anovulation (meaning no ovulation in a menstrual cycle) and irregular periods. Studies have also shown that insulin resistance is common in those with PCOS, affecting up to 80% of those with PCOS,” says Relf.
“There are plenty of studies providing medical evidence for inositol managing reproductive health, and it is included in mainstream guidelines for PCOS management,” says Dr Shkodzik.
One of the latest pieces of research into inositol found that it can help regulate hormone levels in those with PCOS. A 2022 paper reported that six months of a combined myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol supplement resumed periods in nearly 85% of women with PCOS, with average cycle length dropping from 124 days to 57 days and 27% of participants experiencing regular cycles.
It was a very small study, with just 70 participants, but three months after stopping treatment over 85% of women continued to have periods.
Other studies, including a paper published in Gynecological Endocrinology, show that 2g of myo-inositol can lead to significant reductions in insulin and testosterone, helping mitigate symptoms of poor blood sugar control and tiredness.
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“What’s more is that inositol is a naturally occurring substance and supplementation has little or no side effects. Many with PCOS are prescribed metformin as an insulin sensitiser, but the side effects can be really unpleasant. With research showing that inositol is as effective as metformin, it could be a great alternative to managing hormones without feeling rubbish,” adds Relf.
Although slow waiting times for receiving a PCOS diagnosis are frustrating, it’s really important not to self-prescribe inositol without being told you have the condition from a medical professional.
How much inositol should you take for PCOS?
As you can tell from the studies above, there are different reported combinations and prescriptions for inositol. “For most effective results, it’s recommended that you start with 2-4g of myo-inositol split into two doses – one in the morning and one in the evening,” says Relf.
However, Glover cautions that “when taking any supplement to address a specific need or symptom it is best to consult a medical professional first to ensure no contra-indications with existing medication or treatment plan”.
It’s also important to note that lifestyle changes can be useful for PCOS, and inositol isn’t a magic pill. “It’s important that lifestyle changes are made alongside taking the supplement. This includes consuming a healthy balanced diet, consuming regular meals, exercising to improve insulin resistance, managing stress levels, getting enough good quality sleep and prioritising self-care,” adds Relf.
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