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Pregnenolone is a pro-hormone that is synthesized in the brain and adrenals, but also in the liver, skin, brain, testicles, ovaries and retina. As a biochemical precursor to dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and progesterone, pregnenolone helps to keep a normal balance between these hormones in the body and as a result, helps to modulate the cortisol-driven stress response system, support nerve cell growth and modulate mood.
Pregnenolone levels naturally peak during youth and begin a long, slow decline with age. Since pregnenolone is the parent compound of other vital neurosteroids such as DHEA, declining levels of pregnenolone could leave brain cells increasingly vulnerable to overstimulation by neurotransmitters like glutamate, thereby affecting mood and cognition.
Research has shown pregnenolone to be beneficial for mood support and balance. Specifically, pregnenolone is reported to have a positive effect on neuronal excitability and synaptic plasticity, and has many other functions associated with mood regulation, neuroprotection from free radicals, balancing the stress response and improving cognitive performance.
Animal studies have demonstrated that both pregnenolone and DHEA support learning and healthy memory among the aging, initiated by balancing the activity of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA-A) receptors. Infusions of pregnenolone have been found to reverse memory deficits in animals, and the data suggests pregnenolone increases neuron regeneration and positively influences cognitive processes in senescent subjects, by increasing acetylcholine levels improving neurotransmission. Additional studies have shown pregnenolone to enhance neuritic outgrowth and growth of myelin, impart neuroprotective effects against free radicals that increase neurogenesis, promote healthy levels of inflammation, modulate the stress response system and increase GABA-A receptor responses. Pregnenolone administration has also been shown to positively modulate NMDA receptors, offering additional benefits for mental health.