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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine November 2007
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Enhancing Cognitive Function with Pregnenolone


By Julius G. Goepp, MD

Combating Mental Health Disorders

There is increasing evidence that lower levels of pregnenolone are associated with a variety of mental health conditions beyond anxiety, including depression, phobias, and even schizophrenia.9,47-49 In fact, one study published just this year revealed that schizophrenic patients with the lowest levels of pregnenolone were also most likely to have high levels of anxiety.50

Overcoming Chemical Dependency

Many of the addictive substances humans consume can have potent negative effects on learning and memory—effects that are exacerbated by aging. Both alcohol and nicotine impair learning and leave long-term marks on memory as well. However, a number of studies have shown that pregnenolone sulfate overcomes the memory impairment caused by addictive substances such as alcohol and nicotine.51,52

These impressive findings have been echoed by another study looking into the effects of neuro-steroids in nicotine and morphine dependence—two problems that are faced by millions of older adults.53 Again, pregnenolone and other neurosteroids were shown to counteract the anxiety-like behavior that is associated with nicotine or morphine withdrawal. In fact, this study together with the recent discovery that pregnenolone and other neuro-steroids have potent effects on the so-called sigma receptors, which have long been associated with addictive behaviors,36 have generated tremendous excitement in the scientific community with the prospect that neurosteroids such as pregnenolone may offer powerful relief to sufferers of these tragic conditions.22

Safety Considerations

The possibility that thousands of older adults may suffer from low pregnenolone levels is of concern. However, there is plenty of evidence favoring careful supplementation to prevent or mitigate memory loss and a host of other mental and emotional health issues. Because cancers of the breast, uterus, ovaries, and prostate may grow faster in the presence of sex hormones derived from pregnenolone,54-59 it’s important to collaborate with your health care provider if you have any such conditions, to be sure that supplementation is right for you.

Neurosteroid Levels May Help Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

The levels of neurosteroids in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease may be so profoundly low that testing for them has been suggested as a means of making an early diagnosis and distinguishing the condition from other forms of dementia.32 Researchers in the Czech Republic tested blood samples from 40 men and women with Alzheimer’s disease and 24 with vascular dementia (related to impaired blood flow to the brain).41 They analyzed the samples for a host of neurohormones as well as amino acids known to be associated with vascular disease. When they ran the results through a standard mathematical model called regression analysis, the researchers were able to correctly detect 89% of the patients with Alzheimer’s disease from among the entire group.

If these findings hold up to further scrutiny, they suggest that by using this simple blood testing screen of neurosteroids and amino acids, physicians might be able to identify cases of Alzheimer’s disease early enough to treat in order to slow down the disease.

Conclusion

Our knowledge of pregnenolone and its “family members,” the neurohormones, is at an exciting early stage. What we know is that these powerful molecules exert rapid and profound effects on vital brain structures, intimately affecting how we think, learn, and remember. It’s fair to say that studies of pregnenolone and other neurosteroids are changing the way we think about steroids and the actions of hormones in general. Animal studies and early human trials show promising results of supplementation with this exceptionally versatile natural substance. Furthermore, dozens of new trials that are now in progress will surely shed even more light in the future on how pregnenolone can help protect and promote healthy brain function.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Health Advisor at 1-800-226-2370.

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