By TAP Integrative

Every year, about 3,000 pregnancies in the United States involve neural tube defects, including spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele. These defects can result in serious health problems or even death.

Neural tube defects arise early in pregnancy. In normal development, the neural tube starts out as a small, flat ribbon that transforms into a tube by the end of the first month of gestation. When the tube doesn’t close completely, neural tube defects occur.

In 1991, the Medical Research Council Vitamin Study demonstrated that peri-conception supplementation with folic acid could prevent neural tube defects in many pregnancies. However, some women who take folic acid still have pregnancies affected by neural tube defects.

In an effort to find a way to prevent defects in these non-responsive cases, researchers have looked to another B vitamin: inositol. In animal studies, inositol deficiency is the only vitamin deficiency that leads to neural tube defects. And in a human study of women whose previous pregnancies involved neural tube defects (putting them at higher risk for having the same complication in future pregnancies), supplementing with inositol appeared to have a protective effect.

In 2016, a randomized placebo controlled pilot trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition enlisted 47 women with previous neural tube defect pregnancies who planned to become pregnant again. These women were randomized to take folic acid (5 g/day) with either inositol (1 g/day) or placebo. Supplementation began before conception and continued until the 12th post-menstrual week. In total, 33 pregnancies occurred. One neural tube defect occurred in the placebo plus folic acid group, which included 19 pregnancies. No neural tube defects occurred in the 14 pregnancies that occurred in the inositol plus folic acid group. In addition, 52 other women were recruited for the study but did not want to be randomized. Of these, the supplementation regimen and outcomes of 22 pregnancies were documented. In those, two neural tube defects occurred—both in women who took folic acid but not inositol. In the women who took inositol in addition to folic acid, no neural tube defects occurred.

These numbers are small, but they point to the need for further studies. In the meantime, since inositol supplementation has been proven safe for both mothers and babies and may help prevent neural tube defects, it might be wise to add it to the supplement plan of any woman who intends to become pregnant.


Greene ND, Leung KY, Gay V, et al. Inositol for the prevention of neural tube defects: a pilot randomised controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2016;115(6):974-983.


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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.