Vitamins belong to the class of nutrients which are needed in very minute quantities for the human body to function normally. Hence they are known as micro nutrients. Out of all the vitamins, the B complex group, comprises of several types of Vitamin B components, each of which performs a specific function. Inositol is the chemical name of Vitamin B 8. Being part of the B complex group, it is a water soluble vitamin. There is a slight controversy regarding the chemical classification of inositol. While some studies classify it as a vitamin, some research says that chemically, inositol is a type of polyol which is basically a complex chemical structure containing multiple alcohol groups. Since inositol is derived from sugar, it is known as a sugar alcohol. It performs several important functions which are essential for the normal day to day activities of the human body. It has several isomers, which have multiple uses. The isomer which is however most useful to the human body, is myo-inositol.
Inositol is known to form chemical bonds with phosphate and phytate groups and that makes it more useful for the human body. It seems to be having a meaty role to play, in the calcium metabolism. Channels which control the concentration of intracellular and extracellular calcium are often guided by Inositol in doing so. Cytologists have revealed that many functions of the individual cell structure in the human body are controlled by Inositol. It performs many functions which are essential for maintaining homoeostasis. It has its action on several cell membranes and maintains membrane potential. Influx and outflow of ions via the cell membrane is controlled to an extent by Inositol. The genesis of the cell and its components, and the assembly of these components within the cell wall are regulated by inositol.
Apart from working at the cellular level, this vitamin, also has its action on the genetic system. Dominant and recessive, both genes are present in each chromosome. But out of these, which characteristics are expressed is part of gene expression. Inositol has its role to play in this function as well. DNA strands replicate whenever they have to multiply. They are so delicate, that they are likely to suffer from damage while replicating, which disturbs the entire genetic code. Inositol acts as a protective agent and prevents the DNA from undergoing any damage during replication.
Several other vital functions are executed by inositol. Its importance for hormone regulation cannot be forgotten. Insulin is an important chemical for regulation of the glucose level in the human body. The mechanism by which insulin acts on each individual body cell, is facilitated by inositol. It is interesting to note, that while inositol indirectly helps in the metabolism of glucose, its synthesis also happens from glucose. While discussing about hormonal health conditions, PCOD cannot be missed out. Physicians may prescribe inositol supplements to patients of PCOD, apart from the standard medication for better results. Inositol helps in lowering the elevated testosterone levels in women and also in regulating the levels of Luteinizing hormone. By helping in regulation of testosterone levels, inositol also helps in maintaining normal blood pressure. In post menopausal women, metabolic syndrome is known to develop, due to sudden change in the hormonal levels. Inositol supplements if consumed adequately, is known to prevent the development of metabolic syndrome by maintaining normal levels of lipid and blood glucose. Another important role which has to be fulfilled by inositol is that of fat metabolism. Breakdown of lipids and its disposal is one of the important functions of inositol, which makes it a very sought after supplement, needed for weight loss.
Along with the endocrine system, the Central Nervous System is another major benefiter of inositol. Psychologists and psychiatrists also find good use of inositol in treating many mental health conditions. Depression is a problem many people battle with. Psychotherapy and psychiatric medication if given along with inositol supplements, offer a better result in such patients. This component of the vitamin B complex, is known to have anxiolytic properties. Mental health conditions like Anxiety Neurosis, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic disorder, are associated with a lot of stress and anxiety. The mechanism by which inositol works so well in all these psychiatric conditions, is due to its ability to elevate serotonin levels in human body. This creates a feeling of positivity and pleasure in the human mind. In olden days, physicians were known to treat many psychiatric disorders with vitamin B8 supplements only, using minimal of the harmful strong medication which is usually needed for such diseases.
One might think, that since inositol performs so many vital functions for the human body, its requirement must be large. Its daily requirement is however very minute which is easily fulfilled by the amount synthesized in the kidneys of the human body and hence its deficiency is not commonly encountered. Foods rich in vitamin B8 should be consumed in daily diet, to keep the amount of vitamin B8 replenished constantly. This will help all body functions to be executed smoothly. Some such foods include green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, cereals, nuts etc. For non vegetarians, beef and liver are rich sources of inositol.
This said, there are certain health conditions as the ones mentioned earlier, increase the human need for inositol. Very rarely, in absence of any underlying cause, a person may be inositol deficient. This could be due to low synthesis of vitamin B8 or low consumption of its sources. The deficiency maybe diagnosed by presence of symptoms like eczema, constipation, hair loss, disorders of the liver. It is not each individual symptom but the grouping of these symptoms that is diagnostic of the deficiency. Inositol supplements are usually available as capsules or powder and are taken orally. It is usually a part of vitamin B complex supplement rather than individual inositol supplement. There is no reported harm even if inositol is consumed in excess quantity, since it belongs to the class of water soluble vitamins.
Inositol is a very underrated source of nutrition which performs many functions, but not many are aware of its functions and importance. More research and study will reveal more of its uses and functions. Physicians and nutritionists alike, must educated people on the advantages of consuming inositol regularly and optimally.