The neural tissue responds to the hormones circulating in the blood stream and to the neurosteroids (i.e., the hormones produced locally by the nerves themselves). The local neurosteroid production allows for higher concentrations of hormones when and where they are needed, and these concentrations can be 20 to 50 times the level circulating in the blood stream. Different areas of the brain, or different nerve cells, may produce or concentrate different hormones. Some hormones may also trigger opposing activities, depending on their concentrations.
“Neurosteroids” which are hormones produced by nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system, independently of hormone production elsewhere in the body. In essence, the research indicates that the “sex” hormones we commonly identify as being produced by the ovaries, testes, and adrenal glands (such as the estrogens, progesterone and its derivatives, DHEA, testosterone, pregnenolone, and others) are so important to neural function that they are also independently produced by neural tissue.
Now the exciting thing is that the so-called “sex” hormones might now also prove useful for treating neurodegenerative diseases!
Steroidal hormones are believed to help heal damaged neural tissue. For example, in the disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), it has been hypothesized that motor neurons may be affected by a deficiency of receptors for testosterone. Estrogens can make it worse by causing neuronal excitement. Progesterone may help repair the neurons by repairing the myelin sheath that protects them. Notably, patients with ALS typically have low progesterone levels.
In Alzheimer’s disease, changes occur in brain cells that can be linked to hormone levels according to Dr. Ray Peat. The ability of the mitochondria (i.e., the part of a cell responsible for energy production) to use oxygen is dependent upon sufficient thyroid hormones. The enzyme needed for oxygen uptake is dependent upon sufficient thyroid hormones, and antagonized by the presence of estrogen, iron and toxins. A low progesterone level, relative to estrogen, results in increased levels of LH and FSH (pituitary hormones associated with menopause, when elevated). Both LH and FSH are themselves very inflammatory, and may be balanced by DHEA and testosterone, and even more so by progesterone.
Dr. Dalton found that progesterone helped women eliminate premenstrual epileptic seizures. Neurosteroid scientists have demonstrated the effectiveness of both progesterone and its metabolite allopregnanolone in preventing convulsions.
As this research continues, we may discover that vision and hearing could be improved by ensuring the healthy functioning of the nerves involved. Cognition, memory, and mood may be improved with a healthy nervous system. Mental diseases, such as schizophrenia, may be curtailed with neurosteroid hormones. And we may find that one of the brightest neurosteroid stars, progesterone, is not just for the uterus only.