There’s been a lot of buzz about peptides and what they can do for your skin, muscles, and maybe even your weight. But what are they, and do they live up to the hype?
Peptides are fragments of proteins that contain amino acids, the building blocks of all life. Your body makes peptides naturally, but you can also buy lab-made ones in supplements. When applied topically, they can penetrate the skin, where they can perform a variety of tasks. They can firm and tighten the skin, smooth out rough patches, minimize the appearance of pores, brighten up dull skin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and even boost collagen production. Some can also be antimicrobial and promote healing.
They can also be ingested to boost muscle strength and tissue repair. Some research suggests that they may help fight obesity, as well as improve nutrient absorption and even lower blood pressure.
Because they are so small, peptides can enter your cells more easily than larger molecules, such as proteins or vitamins. This means they can target specific biological processes more effectively than drugs that work on a larger scale, and are potentially safer. And because they are eventually broken down to amino acids, peptides have less side effects than protein-based drugs.
For example, the antibiotic vancomycin is a peptide with sugar molecules attached, and it can target bacteria without harming mammalian cells. Scientists are working to make it a more potent and selective peptide, which might be able to attack Gram negative bacteria (which are generally harder to kill). Another example is oxytocin, the peptide hormone produced by the pituitary gland that causes the uterus to contract during childbirth. It’s also known as the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone,” and it’s thought to play a role in social bonding and trust.
Among the many other potential uses of peptides are enhancing the effectiveness of existing medicines and creating new ones. One project is to use cyclic lipopeptides, which combine the peptide core with fatty acids or lipids, to develop new antibiotics that more selectively target bacterial cells. Another is to create a peptide version of the corticosteroid methylprednisolone, which is widely used to treat inflammation and autoimmune disorders.
Before using any peptide products, talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. They’ll be able to assess your health history and current medications, and determine if peptides are right for you. They’ll also be able to recommend a safe dosage. And if you’re using a topical peptide, choose a product that allows it to remain in contact with the skin for prolonged periods of time, such as a serum or lotion. A cleanser would be too quickly rinsed off, so it wouldn’t have as much effect.