Pregnenolone, like DHEA, is a steroidal hormone manufactured in the body. Pregnenolone is a precursor hormone synthesized from cholesterol, principally in the adrenal glands, but also in the liver, skin, brain, testicles, ovaries, and retina of the eyes. Steroids are a large family of structurally similar biochemicals that have sex-determining, anti-inflammatory, and growth-regulatory roles. Indeed, pregnenolone is the grand precursor from which almost all of the other steroid hormones are made; including DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, the estrogens, and cortisol. Despite its powerful metabolites, pregnenolone is acknowledged to be without significant side effects, with minimal or no anabolic, estrogenic or androgenic activity.
Pregnenolone has been found to be 100 times more effective for memory enhancement than other steroids or steroid-precursors in laboratory mice. Pregnenolone appears to be the most potent memory enhancer yet reported in animals. Pregnenolone has been reported to not only make people smarter but happier and enhance ones ability to perform on the job while heightening feelings of well-being. Pregnenolone has also been reported to reduce high stress induced fatigue.
As is the case with the steroid-hormone precursor DHEA, pregnenolone levels decline with age. Many physicians and scientists believe that replacement of pregnenolone to youthful levels is an important step in the treatment of aging and symptoms of aging. Pregnenolone may be one of the most important hormones because it seems to have a balancing effect. It is a precursor to many other hormones and may be able to bring the levels of other hormones up or down as needed.Other benefits of pregnenolone may include stress reduction and increased resistance to effects of stress, improvement of mood and energy, reduced symptoms of PMS and menopause, improved immunity, and repair of myelin sheaths.
Pregnenolone also operates as a powerful neurosteroid in the brain, modulating the transmission of messages from neuron to neuron and strongly influencing learning and memory processes. As with DHEA, pregnenolone levels naturally peak during youth and begin a long, slow decline with age. By the age of 75 our bodies produce 60% less pregnenolone than the levels produced in our mid-thirties. For this reason pregnenolone is one of the biomarkers of aging. Like counting the rings of a tree, by measuring the level of pregnenolone at any given point of a person’s life, it is often possible to make an educated guess as to his or her age.
Some other hormones that decline with age are DHEA, the estrogens, testosterone, progesterone and growth hormone. These are considered biomarkers of aging as well. Since pregnenolone provides the initial raw material from which all the other steroid hormones are made, some of our other hormones will decline in a parallel fashion. While our youth-giving hormones are diminishing, loss of quality-of-life progressively settles in. We slowly begin to experience physical and mental decline; loss of energy, memory loss, visual and hearing impairment, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and sexual decline, just to name a few. Supplementing small amounts of these neuro- hormones may slow these age-related processes, improving one’s quality of life by rejuvenating the body to more youthful functioning.
Pregnenolone… A Little History
Research on pregnenolone, as well as usage of pregnenolone, dates back as far as the 1930’s. Human studies were conducted in the 1940’s on factory workers to test the effect of pregnenolone on anti-fatigability and autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis. The results were successful and improvements were noted. Even though pregnenolone was proving to be not only effective, but safe as well, it was discarded when Merck’s newly introduced pharmaceutical agent, cortisone, was announced to be a cure-all for rheumatoid arthritis in 1949.
Soon after cortisone and cortisol came into use, the synthetic steroid hormones dexamethasone, and later prednisone, were introduced. Remember that these steroids are hundreds of times more powerful than pregnenolone (or DHEA for that matter). Because they could be patented, it was more politically and economically advantageous for pharmaceutical companies to promote these drugs rather than pregnenolone. Additionally, these steroids were very fast acting compared to pregnenolone. Users and doctors preferred the quick fix. However, these steroidal compounds proved to have serious downsides, including compromising the immune system and inducing osteoporosis, among other serious complications.
Even though cortisone and cortisol are stress hormones that are natural to the body, they have historically been and continue to be administered in pharmacological doses rather than at physiological amounts natural to the body. The pharmacological levels at which cortisone and cortisol are generally administered give them a risk profile not unlike that of the synthetic hormones. Scientists have been studying the impact of hormones on learning and memory for many years. Various studies have found that pregnenolone enhances motivation, the ability to acquire knowledge, and long-term memory. A research group of industrial psychologists conducted studies in the 1940’s to test pregnenolone on students and workers for the ability to enhance job performance. They found that the students/workers had a markedly improved ability to learn and remember difficult tasks.
It is also amazing that pregnenolone not only enhanced job performance of the students/workers; but they additionally experienced heightened feelings of well-being. The same research group performed a study on factory workers to see if pregnenolone could improve their work productivity. Productivity increased most notably in the workers whose situations were considered the most stressful; for example, the workers who got paid per piece and whose living depended on their productivity. Improvement was noted, but less so, in workers who got paid a fixed wage regardless of their productivity levels. Not only did pregnenolone improve productivity for both groups, but the workers also reported enhanced mood.
As previously mentioned, despite successful results, research on pregnenolone halted in the 1950’s when cortisone became available as an immediate cure-all. Because pregnenolone, unlike cortisone, couldn’t be patented, pharmaceutical companies had no financial incentive to pursue the research. It is unfortunate that pharmaceutical companies are governed by a financial system and healthcare system that imposes the requirement that for a molecule to be profitable it must be patentable. If there were half as many studies done on pregnenolone as the patented drugs, pregnenolone’s therapeutic potential would be expected to be far reaching.
Where is pregnenolone found?
Human studies show that there are much higher concentrations of pregnenolone in the nervous tissue than in the bloodstream. Animal studies indicate that pregnenolone is found in the brain in ten-fold larger concentrations than the other stress-related hormones (including DHEA).