I first came across peptides in my quest for a more tanned appearance. I have really fair skin, but sunbeds, tanning lotions and peeling skin from sunburn haven’t exactly had the desired effect for me. Turns out, the uses and benefits of these little miracle molecules apparently know no bounds and extend far beyond the perfect tan.
Peptides are used for almost every health concern you can think of, including brain health, immune health, improving sleep, losing weight, gaining muscle, longevity and anti-ageing, regrowing hair, improving metabolic health, eliminating joint pain, and the list goes on.
However, peptides are still met with a lot of distrust and fear, which is largely due to the fact that they’re not very mainstream. They’re not FDA-approved in the US and they cannot be patented because they’re a naturally occurring protein. This means that there’s a bit of weariness around using peptides, which is rather unfortunate because the smartest functional medicine doctors are using them with great success.
While mainstream health may not quite be there yet, there’s nothing really scary about them. As you’ll see below, they’re naturally occurring molecules (between an amino acid and a protein) and definitely worth keeping an eye on or experimenting with yourself!
In this piece, we answer all your burning questions: what are peptides, why do they work, how do you choose them, how do you take them and are they safe?
What are Peptides?
Peptides are naturally occurring biological molecules that contain two or more amino acids, connected together by peptide bonds. What are amino acids? Amino acids are simply molecules that combine together to form proteins. Amino acids and proteins are the building blocks of life.
Nothing scary there. A peptide is then (generally) short chains of 2 – 50 amino acids, and proteins are (generally) long chains of 50 or more amino acids. That’s really all there is to it! Nothing fringe to see here folks! In fact, peptides have been around for over a century: medicines like morphine, penicillin and insulin are all peptides!
The reason why we’re only really starting to see peptides being used more frequently now, is because it’s only recently that scientists have figured out how to make them stable and potent enough for effective use and because they’re now available to buy online. Very importantly: where you get your peptides from is exceptionally important; it has to be from a trusted, reputable source that complies with the highest of compounding standards!
Why do Peptides Work?
From the list of above uses, you can see that peptides have the ability to affect almost all parts of our bodies. I’ve literally used different peptides to get rid of knee pain and get a glorious tan and to improve my deep sleep!
The best analogy I’ve heard for this is that peptides are like little “heat-seeking missiles”. They have a strong affinity for chasing the part of the body that needs them. They’re teeny tiny and as such can easily pass through cell membranes to do their job. They also have super low toxicity levels because they have a short half-life, which means they never accumulate in your organs.
How are Peptides Used?
Using peptides is probably the biggest drawback of peptides because the most common method is by injection. Depending on which peptide you use and the purpose you’re using it for, the method of administration will differ. They can be applied in a cream to your skin, which is good for external benefits like skincare. There are also oral options (spray or tablet), but this is rare as peptides often can’t survive your gastric digestion. The two most common methods are intranasal with a nasal spray (popular for peptides that target the brain like Oxytocin or Semax) or via injection.
An injection (similar to how a diabetic would inject insulin) is generally the most effective and most common method of administration. Unfortunately, it also sucks the most! Again, depending on which type of peptide you’re using and for what purpose, you’ll either have to inject yourself subcutaneously (under the skin but not piercing the muscle, usually in your tummy) or intramuscularly (like the basic flu shot).
To use peptides via injection, you get to bring out your little inner scientist. When you buy these peptides, they’ll generally be delivered to you in powder form, which needs to be “reconstituted” into a liquid solution using sterilised water. The manufacturer will provide you with instructions, but in simple terms, you’ll inject the water into the vial containing the powder and let it dissolve without shaking the vial. Once it’s dissolved, it’s ready to go! You can now draw the required amount of reconstituted liquid out of the vial with a needle and get injected! There is a multitude of YouTube videos on how to inject yourself, but it’s a scary experience the first time! After that, it becomes a piece of cake, really!
You should always keep your reconstituted peptide solution in the fridge (heat and light are bad news for peptides) and always finish your vial within a month of reconstituting, otherwise, you’re not going to achieve anything with those peptides.
How Safe are Peptides?
Peptides are very safe and effective. However, they’re largely unregulated, even though they’re perfectly legal in South Africa (with the exception that they’re becoming far more scrutinised for professional athletes and very often are restricted in this context, which I think is a testament to how well they actually work). However, if you’re not competing professionally, they’re widely accepted today as being extremely safe.
The important caveat here is that you should only buy peptides from a source that you trust. Getting them off Amazon where you cannot verify the sourcing is, for example, a really bad idea. There are a number of good suppliers in South Africa these days but make sure to do your homework. Quality is your biggest safety concern with peptides (while you may not be harmed by them, they often don’t do anything if it’s not of good quality and is then just a complete waste of money).
It’s become the ultimate challenge for biohackers: how do you stack various peptides together to get the best result! While each peptide works well individually, there really is a lot of magic in combining them. For example, a very good stack for joint injuries is BPC-157 with TB-500. That’s the other thing: these peptides have weird and wonderful names, so at times it may sound like you’re speaking a different language when you really get into these things.
However, for introductory purposes, let’s look at a few of the more popular peptides:
This is by far one of the most popular peptides on the market and can be taken orally (especially for any intestinal issues or gut healing that is required). The most popular application of BPC-157 though is for injury and wound healing. While it is sometimes recommended that you need to inject at the pain area (for example in your knee), the latest research suggests that it’s perfectly fine to inject in your tummy – peptides know where to go to do their job! BPC-157 is typically administered daily for 2-3 months.
Thymosin beta 4 (TB-500) is also most popular for wound repair and healing and is a popular combo together with BPC-157 for joint pain healing. I’ve personally used this combo/stack for a knee injury that’s been bugging me for years, and just three months later, the difference was unbelievable. TB-500 works on the fibres in our tendons, ligaments and muscles and is best administered subcutaneously or intramuscularly. It’s also a very popular peptide in the horse-racing industry, so it works really well (and needs typically only be administered weekly for 2-3 months).
Epithalon is the primary anti-ageing peptide because it can directly activate the telomerase enzyme in humans, which is effectively the enzyme responsible for maintaining the length of our telomeres (the caps on the ends of chromosomes that protect our DNA from damage). In layman’s terms, the longer our telomeres, the younger we are. The shorter they get from “wear and tear”, the more we age. Telomerase can lengthen our telomeres and in theory, therefore, age you backwards. A popular protocol (Khavinson protocol based on a 15-year study in humans) prescribes subcutaneous injections three times a week for three weeks, once every year).
If you want to take a peptide that you see almost immediate results from, this tanning peptide is the one. It’s injected subcutaneously on a daily basis for as long as you wish, but results become visible after a couple of days. Important to note though that you need at least 20 minutes of sun exposure for the first three days of use for the Melanotan II to work properly. I think anyone who has ever wanted a deeper tan, remembers the dodgy products by the same name around 10 years ago! While those products were nothing more than a peptide either (which is just a simple protein), this demonstrates more than anything that quality matters! Buy your peptides from a reputable peptide company, preferably in South Africa with a long-standing reputation, rather than from a company where you don’t have oversight over the sourcing of ingredients! If you follow this advice, a beautiful, natural-looking tan is only a couple of days away and totally worth the daily injection!
This human copper-binding peptide is a small, naturally occurring peptide that is popular in the beauty industry. There are a number of face creams on the market and if they contain high quality and the right concentration of GKH-cu, very effective! It promotes suppleness, wound healing, and tissue regeneration for your skin but is also very popular for hair, especially regarding re-growth in balding areas. It has also been shown to increase collagen and promote blood vessel growth.
There are many more peptides that target longevity, healing, beauty, fat loss, digestive health, sleep etc, so I wish you happy exploring! However, this article is not intended as medical advice and as such, it really is important to do your own research and of course, to source your peptides intelligently! But hopefully, this gives you a glimpse into the world of peptides, why they’re not all that fringe and why it’s so exciting!