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The Explainer: What is Peptide Therapy?

Peptide-based products are growing in popularity. Here’s what you need to know about what they are, and whether they might be right for you.
peptide therapy

First, what are peptides?

From digestion, to cell repair, to hormone regulation, the biological compounds known as peptides play a vital role in the human body. At their core, peptides are simply a chain of amino acids encoded to do very specific biological tasks. 

Think of a peptide as a conductor directing a symphony of physiological responses, explains Dr. Carrie Lam, MD, a physician board certified in family medicine, and anti-aging and regenerative medicine. From hair growth, to metabolism, to libido, these chemicals create the cascade of hormonal reactions needed to keep your body at its best. Insulin is perhaps the best-known peptide, which binds to cell receptors and communicates the need to bring glucose to the cell. 

As we age, peptide production can start to lag, causing a host of effects—from sagging skin to a slower metabolism. But scientists have found promise using peptide therapy to mimic the function of the body’s natural peptides in order to help deliver anti-aging and body regenerative benefits. 

Related: Vaginal Rejuvenation 101—What You Need to Know about Lasers, Labia Puffing, and More

“Because they are already working in your body, peptides supply a remediation approach resembling natural pathways,” says Dr. Lam. “This allows changes inside your body that closely mimic your body’s natural structures.”

The different types of peptides

You can find peptides in certain foods, as well as over-the counter supplements. Specific peptides are now being researched to help with a wide range of conditions. A few of the most common women’s health concerns that seem primed to respond well to peptide therapy include: 

  • Anti-Aging.   

    Two specific peptides, BPC-157 and Bremelanotide, have been shown to help improve a wide range of typical symptoms of aging. “They work by correcting hormone imbalances,” says Dr. Lam. Studies have shown that these peptides improve skin elasticity, increase sex drive, deliver added energy and mental focus, help grow thicker hair, improve muscle tone, and lower overall body fat. BPC-157 is also often combined with TB-500 to help with ligament and soft tissue repair.

  • Weight Loss.   

    The peptides CJC1295, Ipamorelin, Sermorelin, Tesamorelin, Hexarelin, GHR2, and GHR6 are growth hormone releasing peptides, which may help to reduce visceral fat from the abdomen and improve deep wave sleep, says Dr. Lam. CJC1295 does appear to have side effects of flushing and headaches, but both go away within a few hours, she adds.

  • Increasing Libido.   

    A combination of HCG and growth hormone-releasing peptide-2 (GHRP-2) has been shown to improve the lack of libido that specifically comes along with aging. “Working together, these two substances send strong signals to your body to produce hormones that tend to drop with age and physical issues,” says Dr. Lam. The peptide PT 141 also increases libido by working on the central nervous system, and is FDA-approved to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder in premenopausal women.

Related: These Better-Than-Viagra Libido Boosters Will Put You in the Mood—Fast

 

  • Mood Enhancement.   

    A few different peptides have shown promise at regulating the brain’s mood. DHH-B works to alleviate anxiety that can accompany depression. The peptides Selank and Semax both work to improve depression. “Both can be administered in a nasal spray,” says Dr. Lam, making these especially easy to take.

  • Sleep.   

    A well-known neuromodulator and natural sleep-inducing peptide, DSIP promotes more restful sleep and can be used in conjunction with other sleep aids such as the amino acid glycine.

 

What are peptide therapy treatment options?

Peptide therapy is typically administered via injection, an oral capsule, or a transdermal cream, depending on the issue being addressed and the peptide being delivered. Injection tends to be the most frequent delivery mechanism, simply because the digestive system can destroy peptides before they can be properly used by the body. Researchers are continuing to study methods to improve bioavailability and delivery mechanisms. 

Though some peptides, like skin-boosting collagen, can be purchased over the counter, many peptides remain prescription-only. What’s more, many scientists agree more research is needed to fully understand how these peptides work to treat specific conditions, as well as their safety. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re interested in incorporating peptide therapy into your routine. A licensed physician can help ensure you’re getting the right peptide therapy for your needs and manage any side effects that might arise, adds Dr. Lam. 

Lindsay Galloway is a writer and editor with more than 15 years experience covering health, beauty, travel, and business. Her work has been published in major online news outlets like BBC and The New York Times, as well as print magazines and travel guidebooks. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she enjoys local food, walking her dogs—a Shiba Inu and pug—and making fun art in her spare time. 
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