Steroid Hormones Part 1: Introduction, Cholesterol, Pregnenolone, and DHEA

We now turn our attention to the steroid hormones, and particularly the sex hormones (a subset of the steroids). These hormones are made in a variety of organs and their production is linked with sex and life cycle. We will briefly discuss Pregnenolone, DHEA, and Cortisol, while our main emphasis will be on Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone (the sex hormones). We will learn how these hormones are impacted through both the male and female life cycle. And we will better understand the involvement of the ovaries, testicles, and adrenal glands in producing these hormones.

These hormones will work together and in opposition. One hormone may turn something “on” while another may turn that same function “off.” Some hormones may have what appear to us as similar functions, yet at the end of the day there is some interaction or synergistic effect that we experience, but not completely understand. (Perhaps this is where we get into trouble – when we think we know a little bit more about what is going on than we really do!)

The steroid hormones have a variety of roles. While we will get into more specific details later, at a high level this includes stress handling (which includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual stress); reproduction (both cellular and sexual); the production of energy; body repair and regeneration; healthy brain function (including mood, cognition, and memory); regulating blood sugar levels (which relates to energy production); supporting the immune system; and managing inflammation.

When discussing the steroid hormones we must return to this very important chart and remember it all starts with cholesterol. Yes, the substance that so many supposed experts are telling us is deadly. We do not have the time or space to have that discussion here, so you will have to take my word for it – we need cholesterol!


Pregnenolone is made from cholesterol mainly in the adrenal glands, but also in the liver, skin, brain, testicles, ovaries, and retina of the eyes. It is the precursor hormone for the entire steroid family. Pregnenolone has many functions of its own, but for our present discussion we need to be aware that it is converted to DHEA or progesterone for downstream functionality. Since we will be focusing mostly on the downstream sex hormones we will limit our discussion of pregnenolone.

How does the body decide between DHEA and progesterone? This is the native intelligence of the body and the entire endocrine system at work. The glands and the brain are communicating and setting priorities. However, the key factor to remember is that blood sugar and stress handling get top prioritization. If the body is under stress this favors conversion to progesterone which will be converted to cortisol.

What is the implication of this? It is common for a test result to show low DHEA. One accepted approach is to then supplement with DHEA. Guess what happens often times on the next test? Yes – the person is still low on DHEA. This is likely because the person is not suffering from a DHEA shortage! They are more likely under constant stress and the body is prioritizing cortisol.


DHEA is made primarily in adrenal glands. Its main functions are to support blood sugar regulation; reduce fat; increase muscle mass; stimulate the immune system; enhance bone deposition and remodeling; reduce breast proliferation; improve libido; and decrease PMS. You will soon see that it is not alone in any of these functions.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Coeur d’Alene, ID. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at, call (208) 771-6570 or go to