Anxiety and panic are often joked about, showing up in catchy memes with statements like, “My neck, my back, my anxiety attack,” but anyone who deals with mental health issue knows they are incredibly serious issues. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States, impacting the lives of 40 million adults—a whopping 18.1% of the population—annually.
Despite their commonality, seeking treatment for anxiety issues is far less frequent than one would think; less than 37% of those who deal with anxiety disorders ever receive help for them. The main causes for not seeking treatment are embarrassment or shame and not knowing where to go to get help. Treatments for anxiety disorders are known as anxiolytics, and there is no shortage of options: Psychotherapy and medication are the standard Western medicine route, while exercise, meditation, and/or supplements are effective choices for those looking to take a different approach. While all approaches have their merits, let’s look up close at a natural treatment proven as effective as prescription antidepressants in reducing the symptoms of anxiety disorders—inositol.
What Is Inositol?
Inositol is often referred to as “vitamin B8,” but, confusingly, it is neither a vitamin nor a member of the vitamin B family; it’s a naturally occurring sugar found in foods such as fruits, beans, grains, and nuts. From the foods we eat, inositol is consumed in quantities of about one gram per day on average. Conversely, inositol supplements are dosed significantly higher, at up to 18 grams per day, so it’s unlikely anyone could get an amount of inositol from their diet that would function similarly to supplementing with it. You’re likely wondering how it functions as a supplement, and how it could possibly be as effective as a prescription medication.
Serotonin and dopamine are two of the four brain chemicals responsible for our minds feeling good (the other two being oxytocin and endorphin), and inositol functions as a messenger for their production in the brain. Knowing this, it isn’t surprising people suffering from anxiety and depression have reduced amounts of inositol in their systems. Therefore it’s a fairly straightforward move to try and help the body produce more serotonin and dopamine by way of providing the brain with more inositol.
Inositol has been studied both on its own against prescription medications, as well as in comparison to a placebo. The results of these studies show inositol is a viable and effective treatment for numerous anxiety disorders.
Fluvoxamine: It's a prescription medication used to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Panic Disorder. It was evaluated in a double-blind study against inositol, with participants taking either fluvoxamine or inositol daily for one month.
- “Improvements on Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety scores, agoraphobia scores, and Clinical Global Impressions Scale scores were similar for both treatments,” were the study’s result, and inositol reduced panic attacks better than the prescription drug. Participants taking inositol experienced four fewer attacks per week, compared those taking fluvoxamine—they experienced two less panic attacks per week.
- Taken in comparison to a placebo, inositol was studied for its effects on adult depression, panic, agoraphobia, and OCD. For depression, inositol had “significant overall benefit,” with no side effects. Panic disorder patients “frequency and severity of panic attacks declined significantly.” Agoraphobia patients also experienced severe decline in symptoms, and inositol “significantly reduced scores of OCD symptoms” for the patients with OCD.
It’s worth noting in addition to inositol effectively reducing symptoms of anxiety, panic, and depression, it did so without any major side effects; there was no impact on organ function, and side effects like nausea were only experienced by those taking the prescription drug, in that study. Because inositol is a naturally occurring sugar that we already ingest on a regular basis, and not foreign to our bodies, it makes sense side effects were not a major issue in these studies.
How to Take Inositol
Prescription medications can be so helpful, and ultimately how you take care of your mental health is up to you (and your personal doctor). That said, it's fair to examine all options to find what works best for you. Eastern modalities of medicine have utilized natural methods for millenia. East Asian medical practitioner Audrey Richards, MS, EAMP, was trained to prescribe herbs and/or supplements in conjunction with acupuncture and regularly utilizes them with her patients. She says of the practice, “I have found herbs and supplements to be very effective in mental health. We must treat the whole body, not just the idea that seems out of balance,” because that is the way to achieve a comprehensive result of: “Healthy body. Healthy mind. Healthy human.”
If you’re interested in using inositol to potentially improve your mental health, it’s important to know how to take it. Inositol is available as a powder or in pill form, and standard dosing for anxiety issues ranges from 12-18 grams daily. Because tolerance should be built, it is suggested that you start at a smaller dose and add an additional gram one at a time, knowing that it may take up to one month to see the full effects. Taking too much at once initially can result in loose stools, headaches, or fatigue. Because it may cause drowsiness, it’s best to first take it in the evening, not the morning, to discern how it affects you.
Warning: It's Not For Everyone
It’s also useful to know that there are some disorders for which inositol has been shown to not be an effective treatment. These include:
- ECT-Induced Memory Impairment
Additionally, the usage of inositol for bipolar disorder is complex: Mental Health America says of it, “There have been case reports of inositol-induced mania in people with bipolar disorder. It is uncertain how significant this effect would be if inositol were in wider use as a supplement. People with bipolar disorder should exercise appropriate caution, including consideration of using a mood stabilizer while using inositol.” Because it has been shown to have potential benefits, bipolar disorder does remain on Mental Health America’s list of disorders that inositol shows “promising” results for.
Inositol can be effective as a treatment for anxiety disorders, but trying a mental wellness supplement on your own is not as ideal as working with a professional. If you’d like to try inositol, it is best to first consult with your doctor, naturopath, or mental health practitioner. Together, you could be on the road to a calmer, cheerier tomorrow.