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Pregnenolone

edited by Dan Milosevich, C.N.

When pregnenolone was discovered in the 1930's, researchers at first thought it was an inert substance, because when they gave it to healthy young animals, it had no effect. Further studies in the 30's and 40's showed pregnenolone to be a most promising supplement for preventing and curing stress-related maladies. This indicates an amazing quality of pregnenolone: it does not cause problems when taken even if not needed, but when needed it can quickly and profoundly restore balance to the basic stress chemistry of the body. This is especially important today, as some researchers propose that unrelieved stress is the major contributing factor to chronic illness.

Before it was pushed aside by the promotion of other hormones such as cortisone and their analogs such as prednisone, pregnenolone was known to have a wide range of beneficial actions for people who were sick or under stress. These included helping arthritic conditions, countering fatigue, and in general improving the quality of life and awareness. Because it occurs naturally, it cannot be patented. We now know that these other patentable chemicals, even though promoted as "wonder drugs", have very bad side effects. For example, synthetic varieties of cortisone can weaken immunity and can cause osteoporosis, diabetes, and rapid aging, with loss of pigment in the skin and hair. Pregnenolone at worst will have no effect - in healthy, unstressed subjects - and in sick or stressed people, will promote the correction of such problems as these. Reputable researchers such as Ray Peat, Ph.D., can find no unbalancing or deleterious effect even with large doses of pregnenolone.

Although DHEA is the most abundant naturally-occurring hormone in the human body, the real "Mother Hormone" is pregnenolone, not DHEA. The internal synthesis of steroid hormones begins when the body converts cholesterol to pregnenolone, creating the basic hormonal substance. From pregnenolone, there are two major pathways: one toward DHEA and one toward progesterone. The hormones in the progesterone pathway, including aldosterone, cortisol and progesterone itself, are not directly derivable from DHEA. This means that although DHEA can be a remarkable help in the case of DHEA, estrogen, or testosterone deficiency, the truly balancing hormonal substance is pregnenolone. In fact, even when taking DHEA, better results may be obtained by taking pregnenolone as well.

Pregnenolone levels, like DHEA levels, decline with age. It is present in young people of both sexes at a very high level, in part due to the fact that it is one of our basic defenses against the harmful side effects that an imbalance of even our natural hormones can produce. For instance, when there is an abundance of pregnenolone, the side effects of excessive cortisol or estrogen are prevented or minimized. By the age of 30, men and women typically produce 30 to 50 mg. of pregnenolone a day. Taking pregnenolone does not cause masculinizing effects in women, like high levels of DHEA can, because it is much less likely to increase testosterone levels.

Recent studies indicate that it may also be the most potent and quick-acting brain nutrient ever found, working in part through its impact on N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors in the brain. It blocks the inhibitory amino acids glycine and GABA, helping to balance excitation and inhibition in the central nervous system. As early as the 1940's, human studies demonstrated that it improved performance of ordinary physical and mental tasks, and we now know why: pregnenolone is one of the major hormones in the brain. It is concentrated there, and some of it is produced by certain brain cells. It continues it's basic role even here, protecting brain cells from injury caused by fatigue. It likely has other important roles in the brain which we have yet to discover.

According to Peat, pregnenolone very quickly helps fatigued, stressed people regain their ability to handle stress, sometimes with a single dose. He has noticed that it can keep acting for as long as a week, and he theorizes that absorption continues along the intestine and "recycles" it in the body. It may even improve the body's ability to produce its own pregnenolone. It also tends to improve function of the thyroid and other glands. It can have a calming effect on the emotions, giving a mood of resilience and an ability to confront challenges. Also, people have noticed that pregnenolone has a "face-lifting" action, produced by improved circulation to the skin, and by an actual contraction of some muscle-like cells in the skin. A similar effect can improve joint mobility in arthritis, tissue elasticity in the lungs, oxygen depletion in emphysema, and even eye conditions, including the bulging eyes of Graves disease.

The conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone is aided by the presence of sufficient vitamin A, vitamin E, thyroid hormone, copper, and light, and can be blocked by too much estrogen, X-rays, ultraviolet light, unsaturated oils, and iron. From reports we have heard, it seems to be easily absorbed when taken orally. Of the many supplements which are important components of a good health plan, pregnenolone stands out as one of the best. It is a natural nutritional substance that is powerfully beneficial and yet utterly safe. If you are taking any adrenal hormones, you may want to take pregnenolone along with them. If you are still considering taking DHEA or other hormones, consider trying pregnenolone first. As always, we recommend working with your doctor and getting your hormone levels checked first, which can easily be done with a home-based saliva test from Aeron Labs. Their number is 1-800-631-7900.

Much of this information was derived from the writings of Ray Peat, Ph.D., a researcher we hold in the highest regard. Please consider getting his newsletter.

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