What is pregnenolone?
Pregnenolone is an endogenous steroid hormone. It is synthesized within the body from cholesterol via an enzyme located in mitochondria. Its production is controlled by hormones from the pituitary gland, like ACTH, FSH, & LH. Pregnenolone is biologically active on its own and also is a precursor of progesterone, mineralocorticoids (like aldosterone), glucocorticoids (like cortisol), androgens (like DHEA and testosterone), and estrogen.Because it is the precursor to all of these other hormones, it is sometimes known as ‘the mother hormone.’ This hormone acts as a “neurosteroid.” It is found in high concentrations in certain areas of the brain. Pregnenolone affects synaptic functions, is neuroprotective, and enhances myelinization. Cholesterol is the precursor to pregnenolone. Then pregnenolone can convert to either progesterone or to 17 alpha hydroxypregnenolone, and thereafter it can be shunted to cortisol or down a different pathway to DHEA then testosterone and estradiol (estrogen).
Again, cholesterol is the basic molecule of the endocrine system. Cholesterol is converted to pregnenolone, and pregnenolone is building block for many of the other hormones. When a person is under a great deal of stress, the endocrine system is activated by the HPA axis- hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis- to increase production of cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine). The hypothalamus makes CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) to stimulate the pituitary gland to make ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol is then released into the blood stream. The body manufactures cortisol in response to prolonged stress. Cortisol’s actions in this setting include those to promote a fight-or-flight response: increased heart rate and respiration rate; dilated pupils; sweating; inhibited digestion; suppressed immune activities. The body uses whatever building blocks it can to synthesize large amounts of cortisol. This includes diverting pregnenolone, a building block of steroid hormones, from its normal function to increased production of cortisol at the expense of other hormones.
There are many potential uses of pregnenolone in clinical practice, some based on research in animals or humans, and some based on theoretical utility. Here are some examples of what practitioners are using pregnenolone for: PTSD, traumatic brain injury (shortly after the injury has occurred), allergies, insomnia (dosed in the morning), adrenal fatigue, focus, mental clarity, memory, social phobia, anxiety, depressed mood.
Pregnenolone in Clinical Practice
Generally it is recommended to have a blood test to determine pregnenolone levels before and during supplementation. The ideal lab range is debated and it is best to consult with your healthcare practitioner to determine proper dosage.