Over the past decade, the use of anti-depressants in North American has skyrocketed. In 2013, 1 in 10 Americans taking a prescribed anti-depressant. The advent of SSRI anti-depressants in the 1980s was, in some ways, a c-change in mental health treatment and the scores of prescription formulations that treat depression have been lifesaving for millions who suffer with chronic recurring depression. But all anti-depressants have side effects and many Americans are questioning whether their mild depression can be treated with natural remedies and supplements.
The benefits of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) have been widely touted in recent years, but the precursor to DHEA, pregnenolone, is less well known. Without it, your body couldn't produce DHEA or other hormones like estrogen, testosterone and cortisol. Pregnenolone is the "mother hormone" and its effects are far-ranging and powerful. It has been been studied for over 50 years and studies have shown it improves memory, quality of sleep, sex drive, and mood. Sometimes called the "ultimate raw material" for the entire human body, pregnenolone is made not only in the sex organs and adrenal glands but also in the spinal cord.
Some of the effects of pregnenolone are directly related to brain function and depression. These include:
Overall brain function: Pregnenolone increases acetylcholine levels in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter needed for complex thought processes and is often low in patients suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
Memory: pregnenolone appears to have the ability to boost memory and protect against memory loss, according to at least 2 studies
Sleep: One of the hallmark signs of depression is disrupted sleep. In studies on animals, pregnenolone was shown to be vital to supporting healthy sleep.
Anxiety: Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. Two studies at the University of California, San Francisco suggest that pregnenolone supplements taken regularly decrease anxiety levels. Not coincidentally, many people who suffer from Schizophrenia and are also very anxious, have low pregnenolone levels.
Stress: pregnenolone helps balance hormones and counter the effects of stress, lessening fatigue and the feeling of being constantly run down.
Chronic Pain: The connection between chronic pain and depression is undeniable. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, chronic pain can worsen symptoms of depression and is a risk factor for suicide in people with depression. Pregnenolone has been shown to reduce symptoms of painful inflammatory illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, gout and Behçet's Disease.
PMS and Menopause: Recent research has preliminary evidence of a connection between low levels of Pregnenolone and increased risk for PMS symptoms. Pregnenolone deficiency may also be linked to the risk of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and low sex drive.
Addiction: Substance abuse and dependence are often linked to depression. At least one study found that Pregnenolone supplements may help reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Research is ongoing on the connection between Pregnenolone levels and addictive behaviors.
Why Haven't I Heard of It?
Pregnenolone's role in brain function has been studied since the 1950s and many scientists are aware of its critical role in overall health and hormone balance. But it may be precisely the fact that it's been studied for so that keeps it from being newsworthy: it's not "new" and can't be marketed as an "exciting, fresh discovery". But this often overlooked mother hormone deserves attention. As study after study is finding, its benefits are hard to ignore.
How to Use It
Pregnenolone in its natural form in the body is made from cholesterol. The laboratory-made version is created from wild yam, so it's not steroid-based, like many hormone-replacement therapies. Perhaps this is why a growing number of health professionals are recommending it as a natural alternative to other types of hormone replacement. It is available in capsule, liquid and tablet form, sometimes combined with other vitamins and supplements. Using it in combination with other nutrients that are known to have anti-aging and mental health benefits, like B vitamins and Thiamine, may increase its effectiveness and is a great way to begin a pregnenolone regimen.