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What is the Pregnenolone Steal?

By Lucy Rose Clinic

February 15, 2021

Sometimes we get a cluster of hormones wreaking havoc in our bodies, and then the immune system becomes affected, gut imbalances add another layer of complexity, symptoms are intense, and it feels impossible to understand what is going on.

This is very much the case when estrogen, insulin and adrenal hormones don’t play nice.

And it is more common than you may know.

This also email touches on Men’s Hormone Health and we most definitely treat men in our clinic as well – read about that further down.

Is stress really that bad?

Not all stress is bad. In the right dose is great! It keeps us healthy!

But if it is affecting your hormones, your mental wellness, and your vitality, then there are steps to put into place to bring balance to your body.

Todays email dives into the effect stress has on our hormones, and the science behind it.

Adrenal hormones in more detail

Pregnenolone is the very 1st adrenal hormone. It’s the precursor to most of the other hormones, including the progestogens, androgens, estrogens, glucocorticoids, and mineralocorticoids..

Cholesterol is the precursor to pregnenolone – meaning that our hormones are built from cholesterol.

The enzyme that converts cholesterol to pregnenolone is limited, and it requires a lot of ATP (cellular energy). It’s an energy-intensive process and the amount of pregnenolone we can make in the body is limited.

Where stress and worry come into it

The pregnenolone steal is a process where the majority of the pregnenolone that we produce on a daily basis is channeled into cortisol production, which happens when we’re under a lot of pressure. Essentially it is the byproduct of the Fight Flight or Freeze (FFF) response, which is controlled by our central nervous system (CNS).

The types of situations which will cause a pregnenolone steal are:


      • Poor sleep
      • Autoimmune conditions
      • Infections – such as dysbiosis in the gut
      • A poor diet full of refined and processed foods
      • Any kind of chronic illness/injury/pain problem
      • Psychological stress, worry, concern, emotionality
      • Workplace stress
      • Family drama, sicknesses, pressures and relationships
      • Study, particularly when fitting it into your daily life in your spare time

    Low DHEA levels on a test result can be a sign of pregnenolone steal.

    The only solution is to identify the reasons for the stress and fix that, otherwise you can’t correct the disfunction. If you just add more pregnenolone it is like adding fuel to the fire.

    This leads to the next step of the adrenal imbalance….

    HPA-d or Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal disfunction

    When we have been in a FFF state for too long, our brain actually changes in response to the demands it is under. The amygdala shows growth, the hippocampus atrophies, and the medial pre-frontal cortex can have dendric atrophy.

    This makes healing a chronic stress condition a sometimes lengthy process where multiple factors need to be considered and appropriately supported.

    The good news is that the brain is plastic in nature, and these changes can be reversed in many cases. The earlier treatment starts the better the outcome.

    Blood sugars

    Blood sugar issues can also be a stressor on the body, activating a FFF response.

    Insulin resistance can lead to elevated cortisol levels, and high cortisol levels can lead to insulin resistance.

    Checking these markers with functional testing is recommended as a part of a complete health review.

    Belly Bugs – your gut bacteria

    Gut dysbiosis has been shown to increase the activity of beta-glucuronidase, which reverses hormone conjugation in the liver, and results in a recirculation of deconjugated hormones like estrogen back into the circulation. That can cause estrogen dominance.

    Low testosterone and Andropause

    This is something that’s quite common in men dealing with andropause, which is also known as “manopause,”. If there is insulin resistance, an enzyme called aromatase gets up-regulated and that increases the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, which for men is not a good thing. It leads to higher levels of estrogen. Interestingly, this metabolic process is also how post menopausal women make estrogen.

    Symptoms of manopause:


        • Loss of concentration.
        • Low energy levels and fatigue.
        • Change in attitude and mood swings.
        • Depression.
        • Low sex drive.
        • Impotence.
        • Other symptoms may include loss of muscle mass and strength, problems with memory and insomnia.

      We help men with hormone imbalances as well!

      PCOS – polycystic ovarian syndrome

      In women, insulin resistance or high insulin affects hormones by up-regulating an enzyme called 17,20-lyase, and this increases the production of testosterone and leads to PCOS, which is the number one cause of infertility. There is often an underlying immune dysfunction involved, and a deep iodine deficiency.

      Symptoms include:


          • thinning of the hair or hair loss in the scalp
          • facial hair growth
          • weight gain
          • depression
          • acne

        I think you can see the complexity of these types of imbalances, and the only way to navigate the myriad of symptoms someone presents with is by testing using functional testing.

        Functional testing picks up the more subtle changes in the system, and the level of change, giving us the best picture possible to build an accurate and effective treatment plan.

        Please feel welcome to book a call with a naturopath to discuss your health. If you are living with symptoms of imbalance, the earlier you can address it, the better the outcomes.

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