Peptides have a range of therapeutic applications. The building blocks of proteins, they occur naturally in the human body, regulating a wide range of biological functions and processes, but tend to decrease in abundance and function with age. People with different health and performance goals often consider therapeutic peptides. These may be used for hormone replacement, weight loss, pain relief, and even for anti-aging purposes.
A peptide is a chain of 50 or fewer amino acids. A dipeptide consists of two amino acids linked together, while a tripeptide comprises three amino acids joined together by two or three peptide bonds. Longer chains are referred to as polypeptides. These long, continuous, unbranched chains are what form large molecules called proteins, which are responsible for managing metabolic activity, DNA replication, biomolecular transport, and other important functions in the body.
How Are Peptides Used?
Peptides are involved in many bodily functions, including neurological activity, digestion, hormone release, and cardiovascular, renal, respiratory, and immune system function. In fact, there are more than 7,000 known peptides in humans alone. Some are used for signaling the production of proteins, while a few function as hormones themselves. Carrier peptides deliver elements to where they are needed. For example, they can transport magnesium or copper to the skin to aid collagen production. Other peptides can act as enzyme inhibitors to regulate biological processes.
Age, stress, and changes in diet can disrupt peptide production. Peptide supplements are widely available and can offset the effects of peptide degradation. They’re often used by athletes, fitness buffs, and those who want to look more youthful. Peptides are often injectable, thereby delivering them directly into the bloodstream where they can circulate throughout the body. Some may be injected under the skin, into muscle tissue, or near the site where the greatest benefits can be expected, such as an injury.
As the production of hormones has become better understood, peptide therapy has become more precise. Replacing regulatory peptides is useful for treating injuries and a range of health conditions. The production of hormones, largely managed by peptides, regulates many bodily functions, including healing. By delivering peptides to a targeted area, the concentration of amino acids increases in areas of concern. For example, introducing the regenerative peptide Thymosin Beta 4, or TB4, to damaged tissue can stimulate cell healing/migration, muscle generation, and hair regeneration.
Treating injuries isn’t the only reason to replace peptides in the body. Many different peptide therapies are now available, each with its own unique benefits. Here is a look at some of the most common uses and benefits of peptides:
Peptides can deliver hormones directly into the bloodstream. Ipamorelin is one example; it can promote memory retention, increased metabolism, and pain relief. By administering this peptide, the pituitary gland can be stimulated to produce more of it naturally. Ibutamoren, or MK677, is an alternative to hormones associated with growth and can reduce fatigue and improve energy and muscle tone. These compounds stimulate the body’s natural processes rather than inducing health benefits with artificially produced substances.
Some peptides induce lipolysis, or the break down of fat cells. Therefore, they enable the body to burn more fat and calories in a shorter amount of time. An example is CJC 1295. Although artificially produced (unlike many other therapeutic peptides), it can boost protein synthesis and have various health benefits. Originally an anti-obesity drug, AOD 9604 can also burn fat by stimulating the pituitary gland and regulating metabolism. It can even inhibit the formation of fat in the body, while benefits to bone health have been observed.
PT-141, also known as Bremelanotide, is used a safe and effective treatment to combat female and male sexual dysfunction without the need for pills or other medication. Sexual benefits derived from this peptide includes increased sexual desire in men and women without an adverse effect on the vascular system, boosted sex drive, and increased energy. Results depend on the individual, however many women reportedly felt effects in as little as within a few minutes, and lasting up to 72 hours following injection. As of June 21, 2019, Bremelanotide PT-141 received approval by the FDA for treatment of hypoactive sexual desire disorder in premenopausal women under the brand name Vyleesi.
Some peptide supplements have anti-aging properties. These include CJC 1295, which can also help burn fat, a process that is slower in older adults. It can also improve memory and cognition, while allowing the body to process more protein. Aesthetic advantages include improved skin quality and tightness and reduction of frown lines, crow’s feet, under-eye bags, wrinkles, and other signs of aging. In addition, it can help stimulate hair growth and improve energy. Another peptide, glutathione, is an antioxidant found in animals, plants, and some bacteria and single-celled organisms.
Endorphins are naturally occurring peptides that reduce pain. Opioid-based therapies have many side effects and come with the risk of dependency and abuse. Peptides do not. They naturally bind to receptor sites in the brain, alleviating discomfort due to acute or chronic pain whether it’s caused by trauma, neurological damage, or disease. Clinical studies have shown that Thymosin Beta-4 can provide pain relief when injected into an injury site, while treatments in development include a nasal spray that can increase peptide uptake into the brain.