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 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.
Exercising But NOT Losing Weight
“Yes, training is finally over and I did it!” I happily complete my second marathon and am excited about the high-intensity training to be over. But…I step on the scale and realize that I had gained 15 pounds while training. And no, it is not “muscle” as everyone likes to tell me. I have just truly gained weight during this endurance event. You would think that running upwards of 50 miles a week would lead to a tight and sculpted body, so what gives?
Well, after doing some research and attending a seminar on the topic, I realize that the type of exercise I am choosing is impacting how my body responds. Let me explain. There are two types of exercise-anabolic and catabolic. Anabolic means “building up” and catabolic means “breaking down.” Based on your current lifestyle, your physiological response varies person by person. If you are a somewhat stressed-out person that leads a busy lifestyle (aka: Me!), then adding more “breaking down” activities via exercise may not be the best thing for you. However, if you enjoy a pretty laid back life and feel that the stars are aligned for you, then your body most likely will respond wonderfully to these types of exercises. Why is this?
The answer is one of the most powerful hormones in our bodies made from cholesterol, pregnenolone. Pregnenolone plays an important role in balancing the biochemical mechanisms in our bodies. In addition, this influential hormone is a precursor to DHEA, progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol as well as many others.
Small amounts of cortisol are essential to promote health and even for life itself. Yet under the prodding of chronic stress and aging, our adrenal glands often over-produce cortisol. Excessive cortisol promotes a host of negative side-effects. High cortisol levels promote depression, as does chronic, unremitting stress in many people, resulting in chronically elevated cortisol. How does this occur? When under chronic stress (always racing off to the next thing/to-do item/event/meeting, etc.), we pull pregnenolone away from these essential functions to produce more cortisol. Therefore, we are not able to utilize pregnenolone to produce all of the other hormones needed, resulting in fatigue, aches, constipation, delayed healing, weight gain, and thyroid issues.