Taking Pregnenolone for Better Brain Health

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To help keep memory sharp through the years, some people turn to a dietary supplement known as pregnenolone. A substance also found naturally in the body, pregnenolone is a steroid hormone that plays a key role in the production of other steroid hormones (including progesterone, DHEA, and estrogen).

Proponents claim that taking pregnenolone supplements can help to combat age-related memory impairment, as well as protect against a variety of health conditions.

Why Do People Use It?

In alternative medicine, pregnenolone is said to aid in the treatment of the following health problems:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • allergies
  • arthritis
  • depression
  • endometriosis
  • fatigue
  • fibrocystic breast condition
  • menopausal symptoms
  • multiple sclerosis
  • premenstrual syndrome
  • psoriasis
  • scleroderma

Pregnenolone is also used to sharpen memory, reduce stress, stimulate the immune system, promote detox, prevent heart disease, and slow the aging process.

The Health Benefits

Although a number of animal and human studies published in the 1940s indicated that pregnenolone may help manage arthritis and reduce stress, more recent research on pregnenolone is fairly limited. However, several studies published in recent years suggest that pregnenolone may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at some key findings from those studies.

1) Memory

Preliminary research shows that pregnenolone may help protect against aging-related memory impairment. In a 2001 report published in Brain Research Reviews, for instance, investigators analyzed the available studies on steroid hormones and their effects on learning and memory in the aging brain.

But while research in animals demonstrated that pregnenolone may enhance memory, the report's authors note that human-based studies on pregnenolone and memory have yielded mixed results.

2) Depression

Pregnenolone may help alleviate depression, according to an animal-based study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in 2012. In tests on rats, the study's authors determined that pregnenolone may help relieve depression by treating abnormalities in certain components of brain cells.

3) Schizophrenia

Pregnenolone shows promise in the treatment of schizophrenia, according to a report published in Neuroscience in 2011. In their analysis of the available research on pregnenolone and schizophrenia (including a number of animal-based studies and several pilot studies in humans), the report's authors found that pregnenolone may benefit schizophrenia patients by affecting steroid compounds in the brain. The report also indicates that pregnenolone may aid in schizophrenia treatment by increasing brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid.


Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of pregnenolone supplements. However, there's some concern that pregnenolone may trigger a number of side effects, including insomnia, anxiety, mood changes, headache, and irregular heart rhythm.

Since pregnenolone can influence hormone levels, avoid using pregnenolone if you have or are at risk for hormone-sensitive conditions (such as breast cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids).

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

The Bottom Line

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend pregnenolone as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using it for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

If you're seeking a natural remedy to help preserve memory, some studies show that increasing your intake of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids may have memory-enhancing effects.

A number of alternative therapies may also aid in the treatment of depression. For example, herbs such as St. John's wort might help relieve symptoms of depression, while mind-body practices like acupuncture and meditation could help improve mood.

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