If You Have High Cholesterol, Ask Your Doctor If You Should Take Inositol

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If You Have High Cholesterol, Try This Supplement J_art - Getty Images

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If you’re not familiar with inositol, it’s time to change that, as it may provide some surprising health benefits. For starters, it’s helpful to know inositol is a carbohydrate that naturally exists in the human body. “It plays a critical role in cellular function, signal transduction, cell membrane structure and neurotransmitter regulation,” explains Ira P. Monka, DO, a physician specializing in family medicine and the president of the American Osteopathic Association.

Since inositol is present in nature, it may come as no surprise that some foods contain it as well. That said, some research suggests that certain people may benefit from higher amounts of inositol that are difficult to get from food alone. That’s where supplements come in. To figure out if inositol might be a good addition to your daily regimen, we’ve highlighted the research-backed health benefits of inositol below along with safety tips to keep in mind.

Take note: Our registered dietitians in the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab review and evaluate every single supplement we recommend in accordance with our dietary supplement methodology. We then have a registered dietitian on our Medical Review Board review each article for scientific accuracy. A supplement should do just that: supplement the diet, not replace high-quality, nutritious food and important healthy lifestyle practices. Check with your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement regimen.

Inositol health benefits

These are the four most-studied health issues that inositol supplements may help with.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

People with PCOS may experience irregular periods, acne, weight gain, skin tags, darkening of the skin, thinning hair on the head and an overgrowth of hair in other areas of the body, according to the Office on Women’s Health. Interestingly, research has shown inositol supplements may be effective in treating PCOS.

Insulin resistance

Insulin resistance occurs when “cells in your muscles, fat and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood,” according to the National Institutes of Health. If your pancreas can’t keep up its production of insulin, too much glucose remains in your blood and you end up with diabetes. What’s interesting about inositol is that studies have found taking it as a supplement may help a person improve their insulin resistance, particularly patients with gestational diabetes or PCOS.

High cholesterol

“Cholesterol is one of the risk factors of coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes and sudden death,” says Dr. Monka. “This is why doing everything you can to lower your cholesterol is essential.” In research studies, inositol helped people lower their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol as well as their total cholesterol levels, but it didn’t increase their HDL (“good”) cholesterol. To improve HDL levels, Dr. Monka recommends aerobic exercises such as running, rowing, walking, biking, swimming, hiking and yoga.

Mood disorders

Some research suggests that inositol supplements may lower symptoms of depression and anxiety, but study results are mixed. “As an osteopathic physician, we see that increased inositol levels decrease mood disorders due to hormonal changes,” says Dr. Monka.

Food sources

Dr. Monka notes the following inositol can be found in:

  • Oranges

  • Grapefruits

  • Limes

  • Fresh vegetables

  • Beans

  • Grains

  • Nuts

Dosage information

Currently, there is no official recommended daily allowance for inositol, so it’s a good idea to ask your physician what they think is best for your body. “Most studies recommend 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of inositol twice daily, especially if you have polycystic ovary syndrome or insulin resistance,” says Dr. Monka. “But that still means that we need more research in the area before simply recommending increased supplements to your daily routine.”

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Inositol side effects

Inositol seems safe and unlikely to produce severe side effects, but one research analysis found that the highest doses studied (12 grams per day) could lead to “mild gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, flatus and diarrhea.”

“There is much research that needs to be done on inositol levels and its side effects,” says Dr. Monka. “We need to understand more to fully comprehend what take an additional inositol supplement can do to a person’s body.”

The bottom line: An inositol supplement may be beneficial for some people, but a lot is still unknown so it’s smart to talk to your doctor before you take any. “The medical community should invest in more trials and opportunities where inositol can be studied,” says Dr. Monka. “Anything that can potentially help your body process insulin better or relieve issues of mood disorders or depression must be analyzed and examined to see if it produces better health outcomes.”

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