Pregnenolone has been called "the grandmother of all steroid hormones." The body manufactures it from cholesterol, and then uses it to make testosterone, cortisone, progesterone, estrogen, DHEA, androstenedione, aldosterone, and all other hormones in the "steroid" family.
One reason given for using pregnenolone is that the level of many of these hormones declines with age. By taking pregnenolone supplements, proponents say, you can keep all your hormones at youthful levels. However, pregnenolone levels themselves don't decline with age,1 and there is no indication that taking extra pregnenolone will increase the levels of any other hormones. Furthermore, even if it did, that doesn't mean using pregnenolone is a great idea.
Steroid hormones are powerful substances, and they can cause harm as well as benefit. Long-term use of cortisone causes severe osteoporosis; estrogen can increase the risk of cancer; and anabolic steroids (used by athletes) may cause liver problems and stress the heart. We really have very little idea what long-term consequences the use of pregnenolone might entail.
Actually, it is ironic that pregnenolone is legally classified as a "dietary supplement" at all. Pregnenolone is not a nutrient. It is a drug, just as estrogen, cortisone, and aldosterone are drugs. We recommend not using it until we know more about what it really does.
At present, there is only one effect of pregnenolone that has been documented via double-blind, placebo-controlled studies: for reasons that are not at all clear, regular use of pregnenolone may greatly decrease the sedative effect of drugs in the Valium family.4
Pregnenolone is not normally obtained from foods. Your body manufactures it from cholesterol. Supplemental pregnenolone is made synthetically in a lab from substances found in soybeans.
A typical recommended dosage of pregnenolone is 30 mg daily, but some studies have used as much as 700 mg.
If you browse the Internet or read health magazines, you'll find pregnenolone described as a treatment for an enormous list of health problems, including: Alzheimer's disease, menopausal symptoms, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, fatigue, stress, depression, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is also supposed to help you lose weight, improve your brain power, and make you feel young again. However, like so many overhyped new supplements, there is little to no scientific evidence for any of these uses. Studies involving rats suggest that pregnenolone may enhance memory,2,3 but there have been no human studies.
Pregnenolone is a powerful hormone, not a nutrient we would naturally get in our food. You should approach this supplement with caution, as if it were a drug. For all intents and purposes, it is a drug. It would be best to consult your doctor before taking it. Pregnenolone is definitely not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with liver or kidney disease.
As noted above, pregnenolone may decrease the effectiveness of sedatives in the Valium family (benzodiazepines). This means that if you are using benzodiazepine drugs for sleep or for anxiety, they may not work as well.
If you are using:
1. Meldrum DR, Davidson BJ, Tataryn IV, et al. Changes in circulating steroids with aging in postmenopausal women. Obstet Gynecol. 1981;57:624-628.
2. Flood JF, Morley JE, Roberts E. Pregnenolone sulfate enhances post-training memory processes when injected in very low doses into limbic system structures: the amygdala is by far the most sensitive. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1995;92:10806-10810.
3. Flood JF, Morley JE, Roberts E. Memory-enhancing effects in male mice of pregnenolone and steroids metabolically derived from it. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1992;89:1567-1571.
4. Meieran SE, Reus VI, Webster R, et al. Chronic pregnenolone effects in normal humans: attenuation of benzodiazepine-induced sedation. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004;29:486-500.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015
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