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Pregnenolone Benefits and Side Effects

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Pregnenolone is the grandmother of hormones such as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and progesterone, and is synthesized from cholesterol
  • Maintaining healthy levels of pregnenolone through supplementation may help improve the symptoms of schizophrenia, glioma, bipolar depression disorder, rheumatoid arthritis and wrinkles
  • Although it may help boost cognitive health, pregnenolone supplementation may cause side effects such as mild rashes, headaches, mood swings, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, acne, facial hair growth, hair loss and palpitations

Aging can expose you to certain health conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes and dementia, as well as physiological changes such as slow reaction time and impaired balance, vision and hearing.1 While these may be inevitable, some studies have found that pregnenolone, a key hormone, may help slow down cognitive aging.2

But what exactly is pregnenolone and what does it do to your body? Continue reading this article to know about its functions, benefits and potential side effects.

What Is Pregnenolone?

Pregnenolone is a steroid hormone synthesized from cholesterol. It is produced from the gonads, adrenal cortex3 and the brain,4 where it can be found in higher levels, compared to the blood.5

Essentially, pregnenolone is known for its anti-inflammatory properties that may help boost cognitive functions such as memory and learning, and to suppress depressive disorders.6 In fact, authors of a 1995 study considered it the “most potent memory enhancer” at the time.7

Pregnenolone is considered the grandmother, or root, of all other hormones, including:8

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)9 This hormone produces testosterone in men and estrogen in women.10 Both DHEA and pregnenolone provide beneficial effects to the central nervous system,11 and have been found to control behavioral activities and the function of GABAA receptors,12 which are responsible for most brain physiological functions.13

DHEA is also known to help boost glucocorticoid levels, which is necessary to help reduce the risk of depression.14 DHEA levels are high in the morning and low at night, similar to cortisol.15

Progesterone — Also known as the pregnancy hormone, progesterone is essential in female reproductive functions such as menstrual cycle, implantation and pregnancy.16 It is the precursor to allopregnanolone, a hormone linked to mood swings in teenagers17 and negative mood symptoms in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder.18

6 Pregnenolone Benefits That You Should Be Aware Of

Pregnenolone benefits the brain by helping regulate myelination,19 the process wherein myelin sheath forms around a nerve, allowing it to move quickly 20 and resulting in a healthy nervous system.21 Pregnenolone may also benefit the following health conditions:

  • Schizophrenia A 2011 study found that adjunctive or supplemental pregnenolone may help reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia.22 According to another study, cognitive improvement may also be associated with adjunctive pregnenolone.23
  • Glioma — Pregnenolone was found to exhibit a strong antiglioma activity through apoptosis or programmed cell death,24 which may help suppress tumor growth in the glial cells of the brain or spine.25
  • Bipolar disorder depression When used as add-on therapy, pregnenolone may help minimize the symptoms of depression caused by bipolar disorder.26
  • Rheumatoid arthritis — A study involving people with rheumatoid arthritis found that taking daily doses of pregnenolone may help reduce the symptoms of this autoimmune disease, such as pain, stiffness and fatigue. Increased muscle strength and gradual decline in joint swelling were also observed.27
  • Wrinkles — When combined with acetate cream, 0.5 percent pregnenolone may help hydrate the skin, resulting in diminished wrinkles.­28
  • Cancer — A 2019 study found that pregnenolone exhibits an antiproliferative activity that may help suppress ovarian cancer cell growth.29

Aside from these, pregnenolone may deliver benefits30 against chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, ulcerative colitis (digestive tract ulcers and inflammation)31 and inflammatory bowel disorders. When added to beauty and cosmetic products, pregnenolone provides beneficial effects to the skin by helping:32

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Known Pregnenolone Side Effects to Watch Out For

Although maintaining a normal pregnenolone level provides benefits for better cognitive health, taking pregnenolone supplements may have side effects that you should be aware of.

In one study, pregnenolone intake was found to cause mild rashes.33 Other known pregnenolone side effects are: 34,35

  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Acne
  • Facial hair growth
  • Hair loss

Some people may also experience abnormal heart rhythms when taking pregnenolone supplements because this hormone produces DHEA, which is associated with the risk of palpitations. When taken in high doses or over a long period, you may suffer headaches as well.36

What Are the Symptoms of Low Pregnenolone Levels?

Pregnenolone helps neurons to communicate and carry out daily functions well. But when its level drops, you may experience a number of conditions, such as:37

  • Dementia
  • Tiredness
  • Lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Low blood pressure
  • Joint pains
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Salty food cravings
  • Loss of pubic and underarm hair

Determine Your Pregnenolone Levels Through This Test

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) is a condition when you lack enzymes that produce hormones, affecting your adrenal glands. This condition may be inherited, and it may also be associated with other illnesses such as Addison’s disease and ovotesticular disorder of sex development. People with this condition may experience the following symptoms:38

  • Inability to retain salt and water
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood volume
  • Ambiguous or atypical sex organs
  • Dehydration
  • Early puberty
  • Fast body growth
  • Premature growth

To be able to determine your pregnenolone level and monitor this condition, a pregnenolone blood test must be performed.39 This test will detect your level to identify which enzyme is lacking. If a high pregnenolone level is observed, you may have an enzyme deficiency that hinders your body from producing hormones.

Remember that taking supplements or medications may affect the results, so if you will undergo this test, inform your health care provider.40

Boost Your Pregnenolone Levels With This Oil

As you age, your pregnenolone levels naturally decrease,41 leading to the mentioned side effects. Essentially, it may result in impaired production of all the other hormones. Cholesterol, from which pregnenolone is synthesized, must be replenished in order to produce these hormones.42

Raymond Peat, who has a doctorate in biology at the University of Oregon,43 mentions in his research that coconut oil, when added to a balanced diet, may help normalize your cholesterol level — resulting in a stimulated pregnenolone production.44

I recommend using organic, unrefined virgin coconut oil because it may help increase your HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels.45 It also contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that may help promote metabolism and weight loss. But if you have a leaky gut, you may use MCT oil as an alternative.

Additionally, here are other tips to help maintain hormonal balance: 46,47

  • Consume organic foods that are free from chemicals and contaminants
  • Avoid using chemicals and products that may contain toxins
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Manage your stress
  • Moderate your caffeine consumption

Potential Conditions That May Affect Your Adrenal Function

In 1998, Dr. James L. Wilson, a naturopath and chiropractor, coined the term adrenal fatigue to refer to the below-optimal adrenal functioning caused by stress.48 The adrenal glands, which produce cortisol, are believed to experience too much pressure in keeping up with the body’s needs to produce more of this hormone when you deal with stress, resulting in adrenal fatigue.49

Because more cortisol is synthesized by the adrenal glands, adrenal fatigue may lead to reduced pregnenolone production. Since pregnenolone is associated with brain functions, low levels of this hormone may result in poor memory, confusion and brain fog.

Adrenal fatigue may also increase your risk of heart disease, fatigue and osteoporosis because of low estrogen and testosterone levels.50 Other symptoms include: 51

  • Coffee, sugar and salt cravings
  • Exhaustion
  • Hair and weight loss

Conventional medicine claims there is no scientific data to prove that this medical concept exists, but many alternative practitioners disagree, saying that it’s possible for the adrenal glands to become taxed.

The symptoms of adrenal fatigue, however, are common to many health conditions and diseases, including adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease. This condition occurs when the adrenal glands cannot produce the needed hormones because of pituitary gland problems. Its symptoms are:

  • Dehydration
  • Confusion
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Low blood pressure

Adrenal insufficiency, unlike adrenal fatigue, may be diagnosed through blood tests.52

Its symptoms may also be alleviated by addressing and managing your sources of stress, spending more time outdoors, getting enough sleep and sun exposure, taking nutritional supplements (as prescribed by a health care professional), doing gentle exercises such as yoga, gentle cycling and swimming, qigong and tai chi, and eating nutrient-dense foods.53

You may read the “Should You Exercise if You Have Adrenal Fatigue?” to learn more ways on maintaining optimal adrenal health. Consulting a health care professional is also advisable for proper diagnosis.

Keep This Tip in Mind if You Plan to Take Pregnenolone Supplements

Although pregnenolone supplements may be bought over-the-counter, I highly advise seeking your health care provider’s advice before buying or taking them. Too many hormones may be produced if you take it along with progesterone, testosterone or estrogen pills.54 It also may affect your hormonal balance significantly, resulting in the mentioned side effects.55

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Pregnenolone

Q: What is pregnenolone used for?

A: Pregnenolone is used by the body to produce hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. Studies suggest that it may also be used to help suppress depressive disorders and boost cognitive functions such as memory and learning.

Q: Does pregnenolone increase testosterone?

A: Although pregnenolone serves as the precursor to DHEA that produces testosterone, taking pregnenolone supplements may not increase its level.56 In fact, taking high doses of DHEA supplements may even lower your testosterone level.57

Q: What foods are high in pregnenolone?

A: There is insufficient data regarding pregnenolone food sources, but adding organic, unrefined virgin coconut oil may help stimulate your pregnenolone production.

Q: Are pregnenolone and progesterone the same?

A: Pregnenolone is considered the grandmother of all hormones from which progesterone is synthesized. It provides benefits for cognitive functions and depressive disorders. On the other hand, progesterone, known as the pregnancy hormone, is necessary for reproduction, essentially in menstrual cycle, implantation and pregnancy.

Q: Does pregnenolone increase DHEA?

A: Although pregnenolone is considered the grandmother of hormones from which DHEA is produced, taking pregnenolone supplements may not increase your DHEA levels.58

Q: What are the symptoms of low pregnenolone levels?

A: Some symptoms of low pregnenolone are poor memory, confusion and brain fog.

Q: Does pregnenolone help adrenal fatigue?

A: Adrenal fatigue is said to be caused by overproduction of cortisol. Pregnenolone not only may help reverse the damage caused by too much cortisol production, but also may help normalize cortisol levels.59,60.

Other lifestyle changes like stress management, spending more time outdoors, taking nutritional supplements (as prescribed by a health care professional), getting enough sleep and sun exposure, doing gentle exercises such as yoga, gentle cycling and swimming, qigong and tai chi, and eating nutrient-dense foods may also help improve adrenal fatigue.61

Q: Can I take pregnenolone and DHEA together?

A: Taking pregnenolone and DHEA supplements together may lead to health problems because of hormonal imbalance.62 It is important to seek a health care professional advice for proper dosing.

+ Sources and References
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