Steroid hormone production relies on a supply of cholesterol, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find there are other links between the two – but could falling levels of hormones really encourage high cholesterol?
Research by nutrition experts Life Extension® shows that replacing steroid hormones when levels start to decline could lower your total cholesterol (TC) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which are key risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease.
Steroid hormones are chemical compounds produced in three of your body’s glands — the adrenals, testes, and ovaries (plus the placenta during pregnancy). These hormones include:
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
These steroid hormones and their precursor, pregnenolone, are all made from cholesterol and control numerous functions in your body, from libido and fertility to blood pressure and metabolism.
By the time you reach around 75 years of age, your body is producing significantly less pregnenolone, which means levels of all the other steroid hormones fall as well. It’s common practice now for women struggling with symptoms of menopause (as a result of declining estrogen and progesterone levels) to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to address the shortfall. Men going through andropause (the male menopause) can often benefit from testosterone replacement therapy too.
Developments in HRT have taken the science beyond synthetically produced hormones to bioidentical ones (BHRT) that match human hormones at the molecular level. You can also get DHEA and pregnenolone in BHRT form, but few doctors currently prescribe these hormones. This is unfortunate, as restoring pregnenolone and DHEA to the levels you had when you were young can also lower your cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular disease.
If hormones are at their optimum levels and well-balanced, studies show your body is less likely to produce excess cholesterol. Lower steroid hormone levels (particularly pregnenolone) also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Does steroid hormone replacement therapy genuinely lower cholesterol?
Research by nutrition experts Life Extension® refers to a paper from 2004 that reported on a successful trial of steroid HRT in a group of patients with raised lipid levels. The research team measured the participants’ steroid hormones and supplemented them as necessary to achieve youthful levels. The results showed that every person had lower cholesterol levels after HRT, with an average of 35.5% lower triglycerides.
These and other studies indicate that there could be a relationship between the body’s increased production of cholesterol and reduced steroid hormone levels as you get older. The theory is that as hormone levels fall, your liver starts creating extra cholesterol because your body needs it to make steroid hormones. With this in mind, it’s possible to compensate for the lost hormones by using HRT, thereby significantly reducing the need for your body to engage in cholesterol overproduction.
While some studies support the idea that HRT reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, there’s a lack of consensus on the issue. Furthermore, the risk of side effects from taking HRT needs to be factored into your decision to take any form of HRT. It’s also important that your provider accurately measures your hormone levels and each patient receives precisely the correct quantity of supplementation. The aim is to restore natural levels of hormones (or as close to them as possible), not to create further imbalances by taking excessive amounts.
What should my pregnenolone readings be for optimal benefit?
Life Extension® suggests that optimal serum pregnenolone levels would be 180 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) for men and 200 ng/dL for women. When receiving HRT, it’s vital for your practitioner to measure your current pregnenolone levels and adjust the hormone supplement so your overall levels match these guidelines. That way you can gain maximum cholesterol-lowering benefits from your treatment.
It’s also important to regularly attend blood tests to monitor your hormone and cholesterol levels and make sure you’re taking the right dose of medication. These tests will also show your doctor how effective the treatment is at lowering your cholesterol.
There’s still a great deal to discover regarding this topic before it’s possible to be sure about the validity of any link between age-related hormone loss and high cholesterol. Some interesting things have come to light as the subject undergoes further investigation, though. For example, the greater the impact HRT has on cholesterol and triglyceride levels in men than women. In addition, some papers report that HRT treatment in women is most effective when they don’t already have cardiovascular disease but that it’s less useful in women who already have atherosclerotic arteries. As new studies produce better evidence for HRT treatment’s effectiveness against high cholesterol, its usefulness will increase. In the meantime, it’s certainly worth considering this novel approach to lowering cholesterol and LDL.