A natural compound that comes from grains, nuts and beans may be a successful alternative medical treatment for an array of conditions, from depression to cancer, experts suggest.

The human body needs a small amount of inositol, a member of the B vitamin family, for its cells to function properly.

Elie Klein, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto, told CTV News that a number of medical doctors send their patients to natural health food stores for inositol to treat a variety of conditions.

"There is certainly growing interest in it," Klein said.

Toronto psychotherapist Dr. Harold Pupko prescribes it to his patients to treat their anxiety and depression.

"There will be less chatter or less noise in your head in terms of repetitive types of negative thoughts, anxious thoughts," Pupko told CTV News.

Although inositol is relatively unknown among the general public, studies have shown it to be effective at reducing the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic attacks.

In Vancouver, researchers have just completed a preliminary study that suggests inositol may help prevent lung cancer.

For their study, the researchers gave former smokers 18 grams of inositol per day.

The ex-smokers had what is called severe dysplasia, or high-grade pre-cancerous changes in their bronchial tubes.

After one to three months on inositol, the patients had fewer pre-cancerous growths in their lungs. As well, the compound appears to cause few side effects, even at high doses.

"So this is one agent that seems to have a very potent effect in terms of regressing, pre-existing, pre-cancerous cells in the bronchial tube," Dr. Stephen Lam of the B.C. Cancer Agency told CTV News. "That is why we are quite excited about it."

Lam and his team plan to conduct more studies into the benefits of inositol on lung cancer.

There are also ongoing studies evaluating inositol's ability to treat infertility, lower cholesterol and normalize insulin levels.

"I don't think it deserves to be a secret," Pupko said. "I think it should be public knowledge."

With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip