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 Natural Hormones: Pregnenolone: The Grandmother of All Steroid Hormones 

For instance, testosterone, the male hormone, is only slightly different chemically from estrogen, the female hormone. Yet that slight difference causes men to grow facial hair and women to develop breasts.

Many people think of the word steroid as a synthetic substance used by body builders and weight lifters to boost muscle mass. These types of synthetic steroids are called anabolic steroids and do influence muscle growth at the expense of potentially serious side effects. Preg and DHEA are not considered anabolic steroids since they have only a weak anabolic influence.

How is Preg Made?
There is a type of vegetable called a wild yam that is grown in certain parts of the southern U.S. and in Mexico. This wild yam contains a compound called Diosgenin that is the precursor to steroid hormones. In a laboratory, Diosgenin is converted into Preg. Further metabolism can convert Preg into DHEA.

The human body does not have the ability (the required enzymes) to convert Diosgenin into Preg. Therefore, if you swallow pills that are extracts of wild yams (Diosgenin), you will not get Preg or DHEA. The conversion of Diosgenin to Preg has to be done in a laboratory. If you want Preg or DHEA, the bottles you buy must say that they contain actual Preg or DHEA, not extracts of wild yams.

Where and How is Preg Made in the Body?
Preg is made in many organs and tissues that produce steroid hormones. The most common of these organs are the adrenal glands, liver, skin, and gonads (testicles and ovaries). Until 1981 scientists thought that steroids found in the brain came from elsewhere in the body. We now know that the brain has the capacity to use cholesterol to make Preg and other steroids (Warner, 1995). Preg is even made in the retina of our eyes (Guarneri, 1995).

There are enzymes in cells that convert cholesterol to Preg. Each of the tissues and organs in our body have a different activity of this enzyme and thus Preg is made in varying amounts in different parts of our body.

The parts of the cell where Preg is made are called mitochondria. These are tiny little enclosures within cells that digest and break down sugars, fats, and proteins. Mitochondria are the chemical factories of a cell, and also are the places wher e steroids are produced.

The amount of Preg made depend s on how much cholesterol is brought to the mitochondria. Cholesterol usually floats within the cell in tiny clumps. When the body needs Preg and other steroids, it brings the cholesterol to the mitochondria, which then break a few side chains from the cholesterol to turn it into Preg (Stocco, 1992).

What other Hormones does Preg Turn Into?
The chemical name for Preg is 3-alpha-hydroxy-5-beta-pregnen-20-one. You see why it's called Pregnenolone. Preg can be easily converted into DHEA which in turn is converted into androgens, estrogens and other steroids. There is also another pathway that Preg can take. It can be metabolized into progesterone which in turn can turn into aldosterone or corti-sol. This is what makes Preg different from DHEA. It has the ability to form other hormones such as progesterone. DHEA has often been called the "Mother hormone." I call Preg "The mother of DHEA, and Grandmother of all steroid hormones."

(Excerpted from Pregnenelone: A Practical Guide ISBN: 0895297779)
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 About The Author
Ray Sahelian MDRay Sahelian, M.D., is a popular and respected physician who has been seen on numerous television programs including NBC Today, Dateline NBC, and CNN, and quoted by countless major magazines such as Newsweek He......more
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