Pregnenolone serves as a precursor to other hormones, including dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and progesterone. The functions of pregnenolone in the body are not well known. It has been suggested the role of pregnenolone in the body is to serve as a "mother steroid" (precursor hormone). Aside from that role, it has no known functions in the body. The cells of both the adrenal gland and the central nervous system synthesize pregnenolone.
Pregnenolone Studies. Human Studies show there are much higher concentrations of pregnenolone in the nervous tissue, than in the bloodstream. Animal studies indicate the concentration of pregnenolone in the brain is ten-fold higher than that of other stress-related hormones (including DHEA). Pregnenolone is present in the blood as both free pregnenolone and a more stable form, pregnenolone-sulfate.
Effect of Pregnenolone. Many effects of pregnenolone on the nervous system have been studied. Rat studies indicate powerful memory-enhancing effects, far beyond that of other neuroactive substances. In healthy men aged 20 to 30, administration of pregnenolone (1 mg daily) was found to improve sleep quality and decrease intermittent wakefulness.
Pregnenolone and performance. It has been suggested this hormone may play a role in the neuroendocrine response to stress. In a study of airplane pilots subjected to stress, administration of pregnenolone (25 mg twice daily) improved performance without causing adverse side effects. In a study of the stress response in rats, an increase in anxiety was observed following administration of pregnenolone. The researchers suggested this was a beneficial response during a stressful period and was initiated through the nervous system.
Pregnenolone appears to exhibit an antagonistic effect on the calming receptors in the brain (gamma-amino butyric acid [GABA] receptors), resulting in an excitatory effect. It is possible this alteration in nervous system transmission could contribute to seizure activity. Steroid hormones are known to affect mood and behavior via effects on the nervous system.
Pregnenolone and reducing depression. In people with either current depression or a history of depression, pregnenolone in the cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that bathes the brain) was significantly lower, than levels in healthy people. In addition, it was found that patients with active depression had lower levels of pregnenolone compared with those with a prior history of depression.
Pregnenolone and improving skin wrinkling. In a double-blind study of elderly women with wrinkles, daily application of a 0.5% pregnenolone acetate cream improved the visible wrinkling of the skin. When the treatment was discontinued, the benefit was not maintained. Because the results were only temporary, it is suggested the beneficial effect of the cream was due to improved hydration of the skin.
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