Peptides come in many forms and are used for a variety of purposes. They are found in skin care products (collagen), food supplements and are even injected as part of peptide therapy.
From peptides reputed to help with gut healing (BPC-157) to those which purportedly boost growth hormone production (CJC-1295), peptides are becoming increasingly popular. But could they actually be bad for you?
In this article, we explore what peptides are and the pros and cons of using them.
What are Peptides exactly?
Many people believe that peptides are some kind of magical elixir, but they are actually just short chains of amino acids.
These amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and peptides are simply shorter versions of these proteins. They’re found naturally in the body, and their primary function is to act as signalers between cells.
Peptides can generally be classified into 3 categories, depending on their function: those that stimulate cell growth (mitogenic), those that inhibit cell growth or are pro-apoptotic, and those that are involved in hormone signaling (such as GH release).
The peptides used in peptide therapy are often synthetic, meaning they are man-made. While the body does produce some synthetic peptides (such as insulin), most are created in a laboratory and are not found naturally in the body.
Peptides made in a lab are often used in therapy because they can be designed to target certain areas or functions in the body specifically.
For example, CJC-1295 is a peptide that was designed to increase GH release, while BPC-157 is a peptide that helps heal gut lining damage.
The half-life of synthetic peptides also tends to be longer than that of natural peptides, meaning they can stay in the body for a longer period and are, therefore, more effective.
What are the pros of using peptides?
1. Peptide therapy is generally considered to be safe.
The most common side effect is local injection site reactions, such as pain, redness, and swelling. More serious side effects are rare but can include allergic reactions, infections, and nerve damage.
It’s important to note that these side effects are more common with injectable peptides than topical peptides or those taken orally.
2. Peptides can help with fitness and weight loss.
Several studies have shown that peptides can help with fitness and weight loss, particularly when it comes to reducing body fat.
For example, one study found that CJC-1295 helped participants lose body fat and increase muscle mass. In contrast, another study showed that ipamorelin (another GH-releasing peptide) helped participants lose weight and improve their body composition.
Semaglutide, a peptide that mimics the hormone GLP-1, has been shown to help with weight loss and is even approved by the FDA for this purpose.
3. Peptides can help heal injuries and speed up recovery.
Because peptides can stimulate cell growth and repair, they are often used to help heal injuries like tendinopathy and muscle tears.
For example, one study found that BPC-157 helped heal Achilles tendon injuries in rats, while another showed that it improved recovery from muscle tears in mice. The way BPC-157 works is by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels and collagen, which helps to repair and heal damaged tissue.
4. Peptides can help improve skin health.
We’ve all heard about collagen’s importance for maintaining healthy, youthful-looking skin. Peptides can help improve skin health by stimulating collagen production and other important proteins like elastin and fibrillin.
This can help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of aging. Epitalon, for example, is a peptide that has been shown to increase collagen production and improve skin health.
5. Peptides can help boost cognitive function.
Certain peptides, such as PT21, have been shown to improve cognitive function in animal studies. Selank, another peptide, has been shown to improve memory and reduce anxiety in human studies.
And while more research is needed to confirm the cognitive-enhancing effects of peptides in humans, the preliminary evidence is promising.
6. Peptides can boost immune function.
With the onslaught of COVID-19, boosting immune function has never been more necessary. And peptides can do just that.
For example, one study found that the peptide glutathione was able to increase the production of immune cells in mice, while another study showed that the peptide melatonin was able to boost immune function in older adults.
What are the cons of using peptides?
1. There is a lack of long-term safety data.
While peptides are generally considered safe, long-term safety data is lacking. This is because most peptides are relatively new and have only been studied in the short term.
We know that side-effects such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue can occur with short-term use, but it’s unknown what long-term side effects might occur. This means we don’t know if peptides are safe to use in the long term.
2. There is a lack of regulation.
Peptides are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that drugs are. This means that there is no guarantee of their safety or efficacy.
In addition, because peptides are not regulated, there is a risk of them being counterfeit or of poor quality. This means you could take a peptide that is dangerous or doesn’t work.
Of course, you could protect yourself by purchasing only from reputable sources like Peptide World, but it’s still something to be aware of.
3. They are not suitable for everyone.
Peptides are not suitable for everyone. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a medical condition, you should speak to your doctor before taking peptides.
In addition, because there is a lack of long-term safety data, it’s unknown if peptides are safe for children or adolescents.
4. They can be expensive.
While peptides are generally not as expensive as drugs, they can still be fairly pricey. For example, a vial of CJC-1295 (a peptide used for bodybuilding) usually costs around $30.
Consider how many vials you would need to take long-term, and see how the costs could add up.
So, if you’re thinking of using peptides, you should be prepared to spend some money.
5. They are injected.
Most peptides are injected, which means they are unsuitable for people who are needle-phobic or fear needles. In addition, injecting peptides can be painful and cause bruising, redness, and swelling at the injection site.
To avoid these side effects, you could take orally active peptides, but they are often more expensive and not as effective as injected peptides.
6. They are not always effective.
If you’re considering peptides for cosmetic purposes, you should know they are not always effective. For example, a 2008 study found that the peptide palmitoyl tetrapeptide-7 (a peptide used in anti-wrinkle creams) was no more effective than a placebo cream.
Similarly, a 2009 study found that the peptide copper gluconate was no more effective than a placebo in reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
Cosmetic peptides are not always backed by scientific evidence, so you should be aware that they may not work.
The Bottom Line: Are peptides bad for you?
The answer to this question is not a simple one. Peptides are generally considered safe, but long-term safety data are lacking. In addition, they are not suitable for everyone and can be expensive.
That said, they’re not necessarily bad for you. In fact, they can offer a lot of potential benefits, from enhancing immune function to reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
But if you’re thinking of using peptides, the best thing to do is assess your circumstances, research, and speak to your doctor before taking the plunge.