How Unregulated Peptides Became the Hottest Thing on the Fringes of Fitness and Anti-Aging

There are promising studies on peptides, says Milazzo. But many of them are very early, and focused on mice. Still, the term “peptide” sounds more advanced than vitamins and less sketchy than steroids. “People are thinking about this as like, Oh, is this basically an opportunity for me to get a drug, without me having to get a prescription or being expensive or having to go to a pharmacy,” he says. “Communications about peptides and media discussions of peptides definitely outpaces the research.”

The booming interest in peptides also highlights a broader problem with scientific research. “Ultimately, scientific journals are interested in putting out stuff that at least has the appearance of being important,” Milazzo says. Something like collagen-peptide research is “still young,” so the findings—both positive and negative—should be expected to be extreme.

Compounds like BPC-157, Milazzo says, are “closer to an experimental drug than something that would be considered a supplement.” The peptides that increase growth hormone production, like BPC-157 and Ipamorelin, might work, but carry serious health risks. When it comes to any peptides that affect growth hormone production, “I would professionally dissuade people from doing it,” Milazzo says. “Because you’d have to be prepared to risk your own health to consume the thing.”

The ability to create peptides has outpaced the time needed to test them for safety and efficacy.

Layne Norton, PhD, is a natural bodybuilder, IPF powerlifter, and a fervent debunker of weight room woo-woo. (He also recently squatted 617 pounds.) Norton attributes the booming interest in peptides to advancements in chemistry that allow researchers “to more easily mass-synthesize various compounds more easily.”

Technical progress in molecular modeling has also allowed scientists to rapidly determine which peptides are likely to have biological activity, and creating those compounds is now easier and faster than it has ever been before.

Norton is interested in peptides for their ability to possibly treat disease and be used as potential antiaging agents, he says. But “virtually all of them are overhyped at this point.” There are promising results popping up in petri dishes (in vitro studies) and in animal models, “but human data is very limited at this point.”

Norton says he’s cautiously optimistic about the true potential of peptides, but given that less than 50% of animal study findings carry over to humans, “these compounds really should be vigorously tested in human trials before being marketed to the public.”

The digestion process may make many of these peptides biologically inert, as digestive enzymes can break them down, though there are some measures that can be taken to protect them during this process. He’s also concerned about safety, as this space is “the Wild West” right now. Even if you decide to test out one of these bioactive peptides, he says there’s no guarantee the vial, pill, or spray you buy online actually contains that ingredient, or just that ingredient: “People should proceed cautiously before jumping on the bandwagon of untested or minimally tested compounds,” he says.

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