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Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., CNS

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Mother of All Hormones?

Posted: 06/29/2012 12:11 pm

Yes, you read that right, and we're not talking DHEA here. Without this "mother" hormone your body couldn't produce other hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol, or dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), for that matter. This neuroprotective hormone -- that nobody is really talking about -- has really powerful effects on aging, memory, mood, sexuality, and even sleep. It is the critical building block in the production of all other hormones that you have heard me writing, talking, or blogging about these days.

In fact, this uber-hormone may be the ultimate raw material in your entire body. It's so essential to health that it's produced not only in the adrenal glands and sex organs, but also in the brain and spinal cord.

There's solid science to back up all the benefits of pregnenolone:

Brain function: Pregnenolone helps raise brain levels of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter needed for thought processes that is typically low in Alzheimers' patients.

Memory enhancement: It can not only boost memory but also prevent its loss and support memory-protecting sleep, according to animal studies.

Depression and anxiety: Several studies, including two at the University of California, San Francisco, show that pregnenolone can help relieve depression and anxiety. Schizophrenia patients, who are very anxious, generally have the lowest levels of pregnenolone.

Stress and fatigue: Pregnenolone helps counter the effects of stress to lessen fatigue and increase endurance.

Joint pain: Scientists believe it can relieve joint pain as well as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, even when conventional therapies may not help.

PMS and menopause: Researchers conclude that pregnenolone plays a promising role in the pathophysiology of PMS, and according to my colleague and hormone expert Ray Sahelian, M.D., it can help alleviate PMS and menopause symptoms, particularly hot flashes and loss of libido.

Cholesterol: In one study, pregnenolone helped decrease subjects' total average cholesterol levels from 263.5 mg/dL to 187.9 mg/dL, suggesting that balanced hormone levels may stabilize the body's production of excess cholesterol.

Addiction and chemical dependency: A study in the Journal of Pharmacological Science finds that pregnenolone can help combat addictive behaviors and chemical dependency. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill find that pregnenolone plays an important role in alcohol tolerance and withdrawal.

Overlooked, But Oh So Essential

If this hormone is as terrific as it sounds, why haven't you heard of it before? Good question. Because pregnenolone is the precursor of the more-familiar hormones like cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA, it seems to have been ignored and overlooked. But, I find the research on this "mother" hormone incredibly compelling. Over the years, I have come to regard it as an adaptogen that will transform itself into whatever your body actually needs, hormone-wise.

I have found that so many of my clients do really well on low doses of this supplement -- especially when estrogen levels need some support. I have been working with salivary hormone testing for nearly a decade. Raising low estrogen levels without resorting to synthetic hormones (which are not tolerated well by many women) has been very challenging. I find that pregnenolone can help.

In the body, pregnenolone is made from cholesterol. In the laboratory it is derived from wild yam -- so it is not a steroid-based product. Perhaps this is why a growing number of health professionals are recommending it as a natural alternative to other types of hormone replacement.

I generally recommend that people start with one tablet of 5 milligrams of pregnenolone per day and slowly progress up to two per day -- max.

The body's production of this "mother" of all hormones declines with age, stress, depression, hypothyroidism, and environmental toxins. It is outstanding for memory enhancement -- perhaps because it can cross the blood-brain barrier!

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