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Pregnenolone Supplement: The Grandmother of Your Hormones

Evidence-based Reviewed Article

An image of someone holding capsulesPregnenolone is a steroid and a precursor to many different hormones in the body. If there are imbalances with hormones, a pregnenolone supplement is a common recommendation.

However, while pregnenolone can assist with rectifying imbalances in the body, it is important to consider what is happening with the hormones in the body and why, before deciding if this is a good course of action.

This article will explore what pregnenolone is as well as the benefits and side effects of a pregnenolone supplement.

What Pregnenolone Does In the Body

Your body produces pregnenolone from cholesterol. This mainly occurs in the adrenal glands. However, it can also be produced in the liver, skin, brain, gonads, and even in the retina of the eye.

Pregnenolone is considered the grandmother of hormones since it is used to produce many different hormones in the body. Hormones are the messengers between organs and organ systems, helping to control and regulate functions. They stimulate organs to “turn on” and perform certain vital functions or secrete other hormones. For example, hormones stimulate the adrenal glands to turn on and secrete cortisol, the stress-fighting hormone.

Pregnenolone is a precursor to many hormones, including:

  • DHEA
  • Progesterone
  • Testosterone
  • Estrogen

Pregnenolone levels naturally decline with age and are considered to be biomarkers of aging. Since it is the precursor for many other hormones, these other hormones also tend to decline as you get older.

To remedy low hormone levels, pregnenolone is often recommended. This may help to help manage hormone imbalance.

Stress, AFS, and Hormone Imbalances

One condition that is commonly associated with hormone imbalance is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). This is the non-Addison’s form of adrenal dysfunction, where the body’s stress response cannot keep up with life’s chronic stressors. It is generally caused by chronic stress that leads to hormone imbalances.

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response System is a six-circuit system that helps your body to respond to stress. One of the main responses to short-term stress is the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. However, in long-term stress, your adrenal glands can become depleted, resulting in low levels of cortisol. This can then cause imbalances within the NEM system and AFS.

Symptoms of AFS will depend on where in the NEM system the imbalance is occurring. One of the primary circuits involved is the Hormone circuit. This circuit consists of the adrenal glands, thyroid glands, and reproductive organs. The main job of the Hormone circuit is to produce hormones that help to control important processes such as metabolism and reproduction. These hormones can become imbalanced if you have low levels of pregnenolone.

How Chronic Stress Reduces Overall Pregnenolone

When your body comes under stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is stimulated, resulting in the adrenals secreting one of the main stress hormones, cortisol. If the stressor is removed, the adrenals stop secreting cortisol. However, if stressors continue long enough, the pressure on the adrenals ultimately increases and this depletes the adrenal glands of cortisol. When this happens cortisol levels can change from high to low.

During periods of stress, the conversion of pregnenolone to cortisol is prioritized, known as the ‘pregnenolone steal’.

This reduces the amount of pregnenolone available for conversion into other hormones such as DHEA, testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen. When this happens, these hormones can become imbalanced and result in symptoms such as:

  • Infertility
  • Low libido
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue

How to Increase Pregnenolone

An image of various pregnenolone sourcesConsidering the importance of pregnenolone in the body, increasing levels of pregnenolone may help with imbalances of these hormones.

One way to do this is through diet, such as by consuming sources of healthy fats such as:

  • Flax seeds
  • Avocados
  • Fatty fish

However, if pregnenolone is low, consuming dietary sources of pregnenolone may not be enough. This is when a pregnenolone supplement may be of use.

Preg-Easy is a pregnenolone supplement that is on the market, providing 25mg of pharmaceutical-grade pregnenolone. This supplement is available in vegetarian capsules and the recommended dose is one capsule on waking.

Benefits of A Pregnenolone Supplement

Brain Health

Pregnenolone has multiple effects on your brain. It helps to boost the growth of brain cells, also called neurons; it helps to increase the production of myelin, which insulates nerves and protects them from damage; and it helps the brain cells form more connections, also known as synapses. This helps to preserve and boost brain health. This effect on the brain helps to improve memory and learning.

Pain Management

Not only can pregnenolone help to enhance brain health, but research suggests that pregnenolone may help to reduce pain. One recent study demonstrated this, with individuals with back pain experiencing less pain when pregnenolone was used compared to a placebo (2).

Boosts Mood

Multiple different factors can influence the occurrence of depression and anxiety. One of these factors is pregnenolone, with low levels increasing the risk for depression and anxiety. Additionally, it may help to reduce negative emotional responses and improve functioning in social and emotional situations.

A 2022 study researching the effect of a pregnenolone supplement on individuals experiencing addiction found that this supplement helped to reduce stress and craving-induced anxiety (2).

Improves Sleep

Pregnenolone helps to stimulate the stage of deep sleep. This can help to provide you with more restful sleep and help people who struggle with insomnia and waking up during the night. By helping to improve sleep, this indirectly can help to improve mood and hormone production as well.

Can Assist In Weight Loss

Pregnenolone can help to inhibit the release of cortisol and help to promote optimal levels of cortisol in times of stress. High cortisol levels have been associated with weight gain. Additionally, high cortisol levels can increase the frequency of cravings. By helping to control cortisol levels, it can indirectly help to promote a healthy weight and promote healthier nutritional behaviors.

Enhances Immunity

Indirectly, pregnenolone can help enhance your immunity by reducing cortisol levels. When high, these levels can affect the mucosal lining of your body’s cavities, such as in the nose and throat, the first line of defense against pathogens.

Additionally, pregnenolone has an anti-inflammatory effect and can help to reduce inflammation in the body, thus helping to maintain balance within your immune system (3).

Managing Stress

During stress, cortisol is secreted. During short-term stress, cortisol levels can become high, causing symptoms such as weight gain. Increasing pregnenolone can potentially reduce the levels of cortisol. This helps to prevent and/or minimize the negative effects of high cortisol.

Cautions for Using A Pregnenolone Supplement

Supplemental pregnenolone is made from wild yams grown in Mexico and southern areas of the U.S. It is molecularly identical to your body’s pregnenolone.

However, it's important to be cautious about the source of the pregnenolone supplement. The wild yams used in making supplemental pregnenolone contain diosgenin, a hormone precursor that is converted into pregnenolone in the lab. Your body doesn’t have the enzymes needed for this conversion. This makes it important to ensure that the supplement you use contains pregnenolone and not extracts of wild yams.

In addition, whilst there are benefits of taking a pregnenolone supplement, some side effects of this supplement include:

  • An image of a woman with rashes in the handSkin rashes
  • Acne
  • Hair loss
  • Gut symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Depression
  • Irritability

Research suggests that pregnenolone is safe to use for up to 12 weeks. There is limited evidence on whether or not this supplement is safe to use after 12 weeks.

If taken over a long period of time, withdrawal can occur. Symptoms of withdrawal include restlessness, high levels of anxiety, and nervousness. The safest way of withdrawing from this supplement is to reduce your dosage by no more than 10mg per day.

Cautions for Pregnenolone Supplement and AFS

In AFS, the use of a pregnenolone supplement needs to be carefully considered. This is due to the phenomenon of a pregnenolone steal. When the body is in need of cortisol, pregnenolone in the body tends to be shunted to make cortisol. In this case, serum pregnenolone levels appear artificially low.

In this situation, supplementing with pregnenolone will not be appropriate and may make matters worse. The more advanced the AFS, the higher the risk. Excessive pregnenolone can also lead to dependence and withdrawal issues over time. While pregnenolone has its place in supporting adrenal function, self-navigation is not recommended. Always consult an AFS-literate healthcare provider prior to beginning this supplement.

Who Should Not Take A Pregnenolone Supplement?

Whilst most individuals can take this supplement, there are individuals who may not be able to take it. These groups of individuals include:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Individuals on chronic medications
  • Those with hormone-sensitive conditions including:
    • Breast, uterine or ovarian cancer
    • Endometriosis
    • Uterine fibroids
  • Individuals taking hormones such as progesterone and testosterone
  • Individuals taking sedatives

If you are part of this group of individuals, always check with your healthcare provider before starting a pregnenolone supplement.

Pregnenolone Supplement: In Closing

A pregnenolone supplement can provide many benefits including:

  • Improving brain function
  • Reducing pain
  • Improving immunity
  • Managing weight

However, this supplement is not suitable for everyone and should be taken with caution. This makes it important to consult with your healthcare professional before beginning a pregnenolone supplement.

If you think that you may have a hormonal imbalance and are looking to address the root cause, you can call us here for a free initial call.

© Copyright 2024 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Milivojevic V, et al. “Pregnenolone Reduces Stress-Induced Craving, Anxiety, and Autonomic Arousal in Individuals with Cocaine Use Disorder.” Biomolecules, vol. 12, no. 11, 2022 Nov. pp. 1593.

Naylor JC, et al. “Effect of Pregnenolone vs Placebo on Self-Reported Chronic Low Back Pain Among US Military Veterans.” JAMA, vol. 3, no. 3, 2020 Mar.

Murugan S, et al. “The Neurosteroid Pregnenolone Promotes Degradation of Key Protein in the Innate Immune Signaling to Suppress Inflammation.” J Biol Chem, vol. 294, no. 12, 2019 Mar. pp. 3596-07.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Whilst pregnenolone is converted to estrogen and progesterone in females, in males it is converted into testosterone. This can help to increase testosterone levels if they are low. However, it is important to seek medical guidance before taking a pregnenolone supplement.

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