Vol.3, # 4
January 28, 2006

Q: What is inulin and pinitol? - Layperson

A: Inulins are a group of naturally occurring oligosaccharides (several simple sugars linked together) produced by many types of plants. They belong to a class of carbohydrates known as fructans. Inulin is used by some plants as a means of storing energy and is typically found in roots or rhizomes. Most plants which synthesize and store inulin do not store other materials such as starch. Inulin is major constituent of some of the most famous of the "old-standby" herbs, such as burdock root, dandelion root, Echinacea, elecampane root, chicory root, and the Chinese herb codonopsis. Each of these plants, with the exception of Echinacea, have been used in ethnomedicine to improve intestinal health. Echinacea has not been traditionally consumed as a decoction or eaten in food quantities, and thus the amount of inulin ingested would not be significant. It would not necessarily be desirable to prepare it as a tea, because key immune-stimulating constituents are only soluble in alcohol. Saussurea is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine as a "spleen tonic" or digestive tonic. In some regions of China, Inula helenium {D} is freely substituted for saussurea (Hsu). Note that elecampane, although pigeonholed by modern North American herbalists as a lung tonic, was used by the Eclectics both as a lung and digestive tonic (Felter). Another common Chinese digestive and "spleen" tonic that contains inulin is codonopsis, an ubiquitous ginseng substitute in contemporary traditional Chinese medicine.Botanically, inulin is a storage food in the plants of the Composite family. Inulin when injected interacts with complement system, which has resulted in rumors in herbal circles that it is immunostimulant. It is not digested or absorbed, however, (except perhaps in mico-amounts) and such effects are not observed with oral use. Inulin is recommended sometimes for diabetics; it has a mildly sweet taste, and is filling like starchy foods, but because it is not absorbed, it does not affect blood sugar levels. Despite the similarity of its name to insulin, inulin has no connection with that hormone either chemically or through physiological activity. Inulin is soluble in hot water, but only slightly soluble in cold water or alcohol, so is not present to any significant extent in tinctures. All the above herbs have traditionally been taken in decoctions, and in this form may deliver significant amounts of inulin.

Inulin is used increasingly in foods, because it has excellent nutritional and functional characteristics. It ranges from completely bland to subtly sweet and can be used to replace sugar, fat, and flour. This is particularly advantageous because inulin contains one-third to one-fourth the calories of sugar or other carbohydrates and one-sixth to one-nineth the calories of fat. It also increases calcium absorption and promotes probiotics.

Nutritionally, it is considered a form of soluble fiber, and it is important to note that over-consumption (particularly for sensitive and/or unaccustomed individuals) can lead to gas and bloating. Inulin has a minimal impact on blood sugar, making it generally considered suitable for diabetics and potentially helpful in managing blood sugar-related illnesses.

Recent research has shown an important physiological action for inulin. Like some pectins and fructooligosaccharides, inulin is a preferred food for the lactobacilli in the intestine and can improve the balance of friendly bacteria in the bowel. Subjects in one trial were give 15 grams of inulin a day for fifteen days. Lactobacillus bifidobacteria increased by about 10% during that period. Gram-positive bacteria associated with disease declined. Bifidobacteria digest inulin to produce short chain fatty-acids, such as acetic, propionic, and butyric acids. The first two may be used by the liver for energy production, while butyric acid has cancer-preventing properties within the intestine . Inulins are mainly comprised of fructose units and typically have a terminal glucose. The fructose units in inulins are joined by a beta-(2-1) glycosidic link. Plant inulins generally contain between 2 to 140 fructose units. The simplest type of inulin is 1-kestose, which has 2 fructose units and 1 glucose unit.  Recent animal research also shows that inulin prevents precancerous changes in the colon . 

Inulins with a terminal glucose are known as alpha-D-glucopyranosyl-[beta-D-fructofuranosyl](n-1)-D-fructofuranosides, abbreviated as GpyFn. Inulins without glucose are beta-D-fructopyranosyl-[D-fructofuranosyl](n-1)-D-fructofuranosides, abbreviated as FpyFn where n is the number of fructose residues and py is the abbreviation for pyranosyl.

People have used plants containing inulin to help relieve diabetes mellitus – a condition characterised by hyperglycemia and/or hyperinsulinemia.

Inulin is indigestible by human enzymes ptyalin and amylase, which are designed to digest starch. As a result, inulin passes through much of the digestive system intact. It is only in the colon that bacteria metabolize inulin, with the release of significant quantities of carbon dioxide and/or methane. Inulin-containing foods are therefore notoriously gassy and not recommended for the socially sensitive.

Inulin is not broken down into simple sugars (monosaccharides) by normal digestion, so it does not elevate blood sugar levels, hence, helping diabetics regulate blood sugar levels. Inulin is, however, not chemically related to insulin; the similarities in name do not relate to any similarity in form or function.

Inulin is also a highly effective prebiotic, stimulating the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut. As mentioned, inulin passes through the stomach and duodenum undigested, it is highly available to the gut bacterial flora. This contrasts with proprietary probiotic formulations based on yogurt or milk in which the bacteria have to survive very challenging conditions through the gastrointestinal tract before they are able to colonize the gut.

Some traditional diets contain up to 20g per day of inulin or oligofructose. Many foods naturally high in inulin or oligofructose (chicory, garlic and leek) have been seen as "stimulants of good health" for centuries Recent research has shown an important precancerous changes in the colon.

Pinitol is a natural methyl-inositol extracted from natural sources.

D-pinitol is a form of pinitol, a naturally-occurring compound found in certain plants, trees and foods, such as soy. Studies show that it has insulin-like effects, driving creatine and other nutrients into muscle cells. This is thought to accelerate muscle growth and improve recovery by forcing more nutrients into the muscles.

As demonstrated in a series of well-controlled studies at St. John's University in New York, it promotes glucose transport and glycogen synthesis, making it a very attractive supplement for the serious athlete or weekend warrior looking for increased energy and endurance.

Pinitol is known to be contained in pine wood, alfalfa and legumes. Pinitol for nutritional supplements is derived from soy. Pinitol may have implications for athletes in that it may It may decrease blood sugar levels and free fatty acid levels, increase glucose uptake by the muscle cell and may enhance glycogen storage. This may lead to greater energy levels, more stable blood sugar levels, and increased cell volumization. Additionally, Pinitol may improve insulin function by theoretically increasing insulin sensitivity. As creatine hyper-accumulation in muscle may be insulin dependent, Pinitol supplementation may facilitate creatine uptake and retention.


Structural formula

Formula: C7H14O6

Molecular Weight: 194

CAS Number: 10284-63-6

Solubility: Very soluble in water


Pinitol is a monomethylated form of D-chiro-inositol, which is one chiral form of cyclohexitol. It is found throughout many living systems but commonly in legumes and other plants where it thought to be involved in drought tolerance.

It is understood that in the body, pinitol is converted to D-chiro-inositol, which has roles as a secondary messenger in several metabolic processes including blood sugar control.


8. Animal and human studies have shown that pinitol has a positive effect on glucose metabolism and therefore has potential use as a dietary supplement for the treatment of hyperglycemia.

In a recent in-vitro L6 muscle cell study, pinitol stimulated glucose uptake by isolated muscle cell cultures to an extent similar to that of insulin. In the presence of a low insulin concentration a synergistic effect was observed between pinitol and insulin, namely pinitol increased the effectiveness of insulin. At a high insulin concentration no effect was observed. In addition pinitol increased glycogen synthesis in the muscle cells, particularly in the absence of insulin. Because of these effects, pinitol has possible uses in sports nutrition.

D-pinitol is very popular with people who want to use creatine, but don't want the extra calories and sugar contained in many creatine-based supplements. In a trial completed at Arkansas State University, researchers examined whether co-ingestion of D-pinitol with creatine affects whole body creatine retention.The results show that D-Pinitol increases whole body creatine retention to the same extent as high levels of carbohydrate or carbohydrate and protein.

The effects of Pinitol have been described by noted experts such as Dr. Daniel Gwartney, M.D. Writing in Ironman magazine, Gwartney points out that "... of all the proposed so-called insulin mimickers and insulin co-factors, pinitol is the one with the most promise." The effectiveness of Pinitol has been known by top US experts for some time, and it has been awarded two U.S. Patents (#5,550,166 and #5,827,896).

Both inulin and pinitol have far-reaching implications for the regulation of blood sugar, especially borderline diabetics and diabetics. Those with allergies and diabetes should consult a healthcare professional familiar with the use of these two substances.


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DISCLAIMER:  The information in this column, is NOT intended to diagnose and/or treat any health related issues and is provided solely for informational purposes only. Consult the appropriate healthcare professional before making any changes to your healthcare regime. Even what may seem like simple changes in the diet for example, can interact with, and alter, the efficiency of medications and/or the body's response to the medications. Many herbs and supplements exert powerful medicinal effects. Neither the author, nor the website designers, assume any responsibility for the reader's use or misuse of this information.

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