Pregnenolone has been called "the grandmother of all steroid hormones." The body manufactures it from cholesterol, and then uses it to make testosterone, cortisone, progesterone, estrogen, DHEA, androstenedione, aldosterone, and all other hormones in the "steroid" family.

One reason given for using pregnenolone is that the level of many of these hormones declines with age. By taking pregnenolone supplements, proponents say, you can keep all your hormones at youthful levels. However, pregnenolone levels themselves don't decline with age,1 and there is no indication that taking extra pregnenolone will increase the levels of any other hormones. Furthermore, even if it did, that doesn't mean using pregnenolone is a great idea.

Steroid hormones are powerful substances, and they can cause harm as well as benefit. Long-term use of cortisone causes severe osteoporosis; estrogen can increase the risk of cancer; and anabolic steroids (used by athletes) may cause liver problems and stress the heart. We really have very little idea what long-term consequences the use of pregnenolone might entail.

Actually, it is ironic that pregnenolone is legally classified as a "dietary supplement" at all. Pregnenolone is not a nutrient. It is a drug, just as estrogen, cortisone, and aldosterone are drugs. We recommend not using it until we know more about what it really does.

At present, there is only one effect of pregnenolone that has been documented via double-blind, placebo-controlled studies: for reasons that are not at all clear, regular use of pregnenolone may greatlydecrease the sedative effect of drugs in the Valium family.4

Pregnenolone is not normally obtained from foods. Your body manufactures it from cholesterol. Supplemental pregnenolone is made synthetically in a lab from substances found in soybeans.