Table of Contents
- What is Pregnenolone?
- Pregnenolone Health Benefits
- Improves Sleep
- Regulates Immune Function
- Stabilizes Mood
- May Relieve Anxiety
- Reduces Symptoms of Schizophrenia
- Increased Libido
- Increases Memory and Learning
- Enhances Cognitive Functioning and Provides Nootropic Benefits
- Protects Brain Cells from the Effects of Cannabis Intoxication
- Destroys Brain Cancer Cells
- May Help Reduce Alcohol Intake
- Pregnenolone Side Effects
- Pregnenolone Dosage
If you did a double-take when you looked at the title of this piece, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Although the first few letters of the words are similar, pregnenolone is not a pregnancy hormone.
In fact, it has nothing at all to do with being pregnant.
Well, maybe a little, but in an indirect way.
If you’re wondering, “What is pregnenolone?” and what it could be good for, keep on reading to find out more.
What is Pregnenolone?
Pregnenolone, also referred to as PREG, is a neurosteroid and an endogenous steroid.
It’s the precursor to the biosynthesis of most of the sex hormones within the body.
You could call it the “mother of all steroid hormones.”
PREG also increases the number of other neurosteroids in the body.
As an excitatory neurosteroid, it provides stimulating effects to the brain (1).
The body utilizes cholesterol to produce this important steroid, which is manufactured by the body mainly in the brain, the adrenal glands, and the gonads (2).
If you think that all steroids are bad, you would be mistaken.
Steroids are naturally produced within the body to play many vital roles in its proper functioning.
Pregnenolone benefits can include a reduction of inflammation throughout the body, an increase in the growth of neurons within the brain, and an overall decrease in cell death.
Because cholesterol is required to make PREG within the body, cholesterol levels may decrease in the production of this neurosteroid.
It can help with brain functioning, mood, certain types of mental health issues, and sleep, as well as with the functioning of other areas of the body.
Depending on your genetic makeup, you may or may not produce enough pregnenolone on your own.
This would mean that it could be important for you to take some sort of supplement to make sure that your body has enough of this steroid to function appropriately, as well as to produce the correct hormones that are also required for your body’s proper functioning.
Pregnenolone Health Benefits
Many of the benefits provided by pregnenolone are due to its ability to trigger the production of other hormones.
Regardless of its mechanism, research is showing that there are a vast array of benefits that are associated with PREG production in the body in both animal and human studies.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that you might see from pregnenolone.
If you’re a woman, you may know all too well how monthly fluctuations in hormone levels can dramatically affect your sleep.
While changes in hormone levels may not be as apparent in many men, they can still affect the quality of sleep.
As a pro-hormone responsible for the production of many of the sex hormones, PREG in the appropriate levels in the body can be extremely relevant to your ability to get a good night of sleep.
Hormones, especially cortisol, also control wakefulness following sleep.
Research into sleep is showing a strong connection between steroid hormones and their ability to help regulate sleep (3).
Studies in rats have found that there is a connection between pregnenolone and sleep (4).
Rats that were given low doses of PREG showed an increase in REM sleep.
As you probably already know, REM (or rapid eye movement) sleep is the stage when dreaming occurs.
This is important, as this is when the brain files away memories.
It’s during this stage that your brain may also regulate mood and learning.
Rats that were given larger doses of pregnenolone experienced an increase in both REM sleep and deep sleep.
Deep sleep is when the body is really in a resting state.
It’s also when the body makes repairs, and boosts can occur in immune functioning.
One study showed that PREG may help with sleep when it comes to humans.
Volunteers who took pregnenolone experienced an increase in deep sleep.
However, more studies need to be done.
Regulates Immune Function
In addition to being produced by certain glands, PREG may also be produced within the immune system by certain lymphocytes.
This would indicate that the immune system produces pregnenolone in order to reduce excess immune action and to cause homeostasis in the immune system (5).
I like to think of it as adding a bit of ice to a beverage that is too hot to drink.
Because many autoimmune disorders are a result of the body’s immune system being overstimulated and targeting healthy cells, PREG might be good for balancing out this system.
Immune system regulation might be only one way that pregnenolone helps with proper immune function.
It seems that this steroid pre-hormone might also have antimicrobial properties as well.
In a recent study, researchers created a synthetic steroid from pregnenolone.
This compound was found to have antiherpetic effects, meaning that it could help to eliminate the herpes virus (6).
The trouble with the current treatment for herpes is that it can lead to strains of the virus that become resistant to contemporary treatments.
This was not the case with the synthetic compound derived from PREG.
It was found to inhibit the spread and progression of the virus, even in those strains that are resistant.
If you’re like me, you might notice that your mood may change during cycles when your hormones fluctuate.
This just may be because decreased levels of neurosteroids, such as pregnenolone, have been associated with depressed mood (7).
Another neurosteroid, allopregnanolone, helps to control the activity in brain regions that are associated with negative emotional responses (8).
Blocking this neurosteroid has been shown actually to impair emotional and social functioning.
Because PREG is vital to increasing levels of the neurosteroid allopregnanolone, this shows how important of an effect pregnenolone has on mood.
Because depression can be hard to treat on its own, with current medications requiring weeks before effects are noticed, research into pregnenolone on mood is important, especially with difficult-to-manage populations such as those with bipolar disorder or with a dual diagnosis.
While a specific mechanism of pregnenolone hasn’t yet been established, there are some theories.
In some types of mood disorders, individuals may have neuronal abnormalities within the microtubule function (11).
Current antidepressants can help but typically take a long time even to begin.
A synthetically-created derivative of PREG was found to be well-tolerated by the group studied and showed a more prompt and effective response when compared to some serotonin-enhancing antidepressants.
I think it would be great if boosting the body’s own production of this steroid could help with depression and other mood disorders, rather than having to risk the negative effects that are often associated with even the newer antidepressants.
May Relieve Anxiety
While many people may suffer from some level of anxiety during stressful situations, others may experience it on a regular basis due to a disorder.
One small study showed that the individuals with regular anxiety had lower levels of pregnenolone than those who did not (12).
PREG can help to modulate GABA(A) receptors, which are known to affect anxiety levels.
When pregnenolone increases allopregnanolone, researchers found reduced activity in the amygdala and insular areas of the brain, while activity increased in the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (8).
This helped to prevent a negative emotional response.
Participants of the study who were given pregnenolone noted decreased levels of anxiety during self-reporting.
Additionally, brain activity measurements correlated with these self-reports, showing that by increasing the production of allopregnanolone, PREG may end up being a useful intervention for those with various anxiety disorders.
Reduces Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Those who suffer from schizophrenia may experience a wide range of symptoms that dramatically impact their quality of life.
Patients may be unable to differentiate what is real from what isn’t.
As with some types of mood disorders, those with schizophrenia were found to have low levels of pregnenolone in their systems.
By giving rats pregnenolone, there was shown to be a reduction in certain symptoms highly associated with schizophrenia, specifically with the need to be constantly moving with repetitive movements that serve no purpose, and with the inability to filter out unnecessary information (13, 14).
In other studies, recipients that were given pregnenolone showed a positive change in additional areas, including improved cognitive functioning, increased levels of attention and verbal response, and enhanced memory performance (15).
These improvements were noted for patients with both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
Other benefits that PREG may provide the schizophrenic patient include a reduction in negative side effects that are associated with other medical treatments (16).
As a precursor to the development of sex hormones, it stands to reason that pregnenolone would play an important role in an individual’s sex drive.
When there is enough PREG in the body, this can react with the sex organs, such as the ovaries and the testicles, to aid in the production of the hormones that stimulate sexual desire.
While there haven’t yet been any studies done on how pregnenolone specifically influences sex drive, those who take this neurosteroid as a supplement have noticed an improvement in libido.
Perhaps it would be good for researchers to do a study to describe this benefit better.
It could be useful for those who experience decreased sexual desire due to treatment with other medications or hormones.
Increases Memory and Learning
Animal studies show that pregnenolone may play an important role in how the memory works (17).
Even in aging rats, there was an increase in activity in areas of the brain that are involved with memory, specifically in the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and hippocampus regions (18).
This was shown in MRIs done on the brain following dosing with pregnenolone.
When rats were given pharmaceutical levels of compounds derived from PREG, there was an increase in neurogenesis, neuron survival, and memory, as well as a decrease in neurotoxicity (19).
PREG was shown to help rats perform better in maze trials.
The sulfates produced by pregnenolone were also found to particularly helpful, especially in preventing chemically-induced amnesia and in preventing deficits in memory and learning that are caused by certain drugs.
Enhances Cognitive Functioning and Provides Nootropic Benefits
As we age, levels of steroid hormones in our bodies drop.
This is true of pregnenolone, as well.
In fact, it has been shown that elderly individuals, including those with dementia, were found to have lower levels of this necessary neurosteroid (19).
Pregnenolone and its derivative, pregnenolone sulfate, modulate neurotransmission by signaling the molecules within the brain that are responsible for stimulating the activity of neurons.
PREG can also increase the growth of neurons and new synapses within the brain.
Another neuroprotective property that has been associated with this neurosteroid include its ability to trigger the formation of the necessary fatty layer around neurons called myelin.
This myelination not only protects the neuron from potential damage but also helps signals to transfer more effectively between neurons (20).
PREG and pregnenolone sulfate have also been shown to provide protection to neurons against toxicity and the cell death that’s induced by toxins (21).
Whether this is due to pregnenolone’s ability to generate the myelin protective coating, or to some other unknown processes, remains to be seen with further studies.
PREG is also a powerful nootropic.
You may not be familiar with the term “nootropic.”
A nootropic is used to enhance memory and potentially other cognitive functions within the brain.
Pregnenolone has the ability to increase neuronal activity in the brain by activating certain proteins that are located in cell membranes and the cytoplasm, the material within cells (22).
This can elicit responses within the body that increase memory and learning, relieve symptoms of depression, and help neuron cells to live longer.
PREG also activates and deactivates certain receptors, including those for GABA(A) and dopamine, leading to its potentially useful benefits for symptom relief of schizophrenia.
Protects Brain Cells from the Effects of Cannabis Intoxication
Steroid hormones are important for proper brain functioning and are responsible for the modulation of activity and behavior.
As the mother of all steroid hormones, pregnenolone plays a huge role in maintaining proper brain function.
Cannabis, specifically the THC, increases the production of PREG within the brain (23).
In turn, this neurosteroid actually reduces several effects that are caused by THC through inhibition of the CB1 receptor.
While this may sound a bit weird to you, this negative feedback loop might be key in the prevention of over-activation of the CB1 receptors.
While it’s too soon to know, this information could play a useful role in treating individuals who have cannabis intoxication.
Destroys Brain Cancer Cells
In addition to its already plentiful neuroprotective benefits, PREG might also be able to help those who have a certain type of cancer that can affect the brain or spine.
These gliomas are tumors that begin in the glial cells in the central nervous system.
It has been shown that pregnenolone can lead to glioma cell death through apoptosis (24).
Apoptosis is the preprogrammed cell death that occurs as a natural part of the growth and development of an organism.
It seems that the anti-glioma activity of PREG has to do with this steroid’s ability to initiate the self-destruct sequence within the glioma.
There is a dire need for additional research in this area because of the lack of viable treatment options that are currently available for malignant forms of this cancer.
May Help Reduce Alcohol Intake
Acute studies show that rats that were injected with PREG reduced their preference for alcohol.
Additionally, intake and self-administration of alcohol were also reduced in these studies.
However, it’s important to note that in the former study, this same effect was not seen with long-term use of pregnenolone, raising a lot of questions about its potential efficacy in humans.
More studies will need to be done to identify the mechanism of action and to determine if there’s any long-term solution.
Pregnenolone Side Effects
While this neurosteroid certainly boasts a lot of health benefits, you should know that there are some risks for pregnenolone side effects as well.
Studies were performed in the 1940s and 1950s that showed doses from 25 to 500 mg per day of PREG were safe in humans, with a very little risk of adverse events (27).
We know that everyone is different, so each individual could have a different reaction to taking pregnenolone.
While pregnenolone can promote better sleep for some people, for others it’s a different story.
Some individuals notice that it takes them longer to fall asleep after taking PREG.
Some users report that their sleep is worse while taking this steroid.
In more serious cases, some people have found that this neurosteroid might even result in insomnia.
Perhaps these individuals take a dose that is too high, or they may take it too close to bedtime.
Studies show that PREG may also reduce wakefulness in the wake-sleep cycles (28).
This might be due to its ability to increase deep sleep and REM sleep.
That pregnenolone may cause anxiety seems strange, especially with its anti-anxiety benefits.
But as you know, not everyone reacts the same to medications or supplements.
So far, there have been no human studies performed to determine if PREG can actually increase anxiety, or if other factors may be at play.
This is another one of those cases where pregnenolone may help or hurt.
These studies showed that pregnenolone affected certain areas of the brain, resulting in an impairment in learning, specifically in the acquisition and retention of memories.
This steroid is necessary for the production of many other steroids within the body, so it’s essential for the body to work properly.
It’s important to note that pregnenolone can only work well if the other glands in the body that work with this steroid are also functioning properly.
Because PREG stimulates other glands, such as those of the reproductive system, if those other glands are not functioning or are missing, then an increase in pregnenolone would really have little or no benefit.
Many people see results with as little as 5 mg per day.
If you’re trying to mediate symptoms of schizophrenia, you might want to try to take 25 mg per day.
Many side effects occur with doses around 50 mg per day.
If you notice bothersome side effects, stop taking PREG.
These symptoms should go away once you stop taking the supplement.
Pregnenolone dosage should also be reduced if you notice difficulty with sleep.
One way to reduce sleep problems is to take your PREG in the morning to avoid a potential cortisol spike right before bed.
If you exercise, be sure to do so earlier in the day, since exercise can also lead to a cortisol spike that might affect sleep.
Pregnenolone is a steroid that aids in the production of other steroids and sex hormones.
It is necessary for proper functioning of nearly all body systems.
If you’d like to supplement your diet with PREG, be sure to start with a very low dose to make sure it doesn’t induce any negative side effects.
While this steroid is generally considered to be safe, there is a risk of side effects.
If these are troubling to you, you should stop taking the supplement.
Remember to take this supplement in the morning to reduce potential sleep issues.
There has not been enough research into pregnenolone’s potential use to reduce alcohol intake or cannabis use.
While it most likely won’t hurt to give PREG a try for its other health benefits, make sure you speak with your healthcare provider if you need help with an addiction.