What to know about peptides for health

Peptides are smaller versions of proteins. Many health and cosmetic products contain different peptides for many uses, such as their potential anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, or muscle building properties.

Recent research indicates that some types of peptides could have a beneficial role in slowing down the aging process, reducing inflammation, and destroying microbes.

People may confuse peptides with proteins. Both proteins and peptides are made up of amino acids, but peptides contain far fewer amino acids than proteins. Like proteins, peptides are naturally present in foods.

Due to the potential health benefits of peptides, many supplements are available that contain peptides that manufacturers have derived either from food or made synthetically.

Some of the most popular peptides include collagen peptides for anti-aging and skin health, and creatine peptide supplements for building muscle and enhancing athletic performance.

In this article, we discuss the potential benefits and side effects of peptide supplements.


What are peptides?

peptides powder about to be poured into a sports bottle.
Peptides may help build strength and muscle mass.

Peptides are short strings of amino acids, typically comprising 2–50 amino acids. Amino acids are also the building blocks of proteins, but proteins contain more.

Peptides may be easier for the body to absorb than proteins because they are smaller and more broken down than proteins. They can more easily penetrate the skin and intestines, which helps them to enter the bloodstream more quickly.

The peptides in supplements may come from plant or animal sources of protein, including:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • meat
  • fish and shellfish
  • beans and lentils
  • soy
  • oats
  • flaxseed
  • hemp seeds
  • wheat

Scientists are most interested in bioactive peptides, or those that have a beneficial effect on the body and may positively impact human health.

Different bioactive peptides have different properties. The effects they have on the body depend on the sequence of amino acids they contain.

Some of the most common peptide supplements available are:

  • Collagen peptides, which may benefit skin health and reverse the effects of aging.
  • Creatine peptides, which may build strength and muscle mass.

Some people may take other peptides and peptide hormones to enhance athletic activity. However, the World Anti-Doping Agency have banned many of these, including follistatin, a peptide that increases muscle growth.


Uses and benefits

a man smiling in a kitchen next to a protein shake.
Possible benefits of peptides include reducing inflammation, improving immune function, and preventing the formation of blood clots.

Research indicates that bioactive peptides may:

People often use peptides to try to achieve the following effects:

Slow down the aging process

Collagen is a protein in the skin, hair, and nails. Collagen peptides are broken down collagen proteins that the body can absorb more easily. Taking collagen peptides may improve skin health and slow the aging process.

Some studies indicate that dietary food supplements that contain collagen peptides can treat skin wrinkles. Other research indicates that these supplements may also improve skin elasticity and hydration.

Peptides may stimulate the production of melanin, a skin pigment, which may improve the skin’s protection against sun damage.

Topical anti-aging cosmetics can also contain peptides, which manufacturers claim can reduce wrinkles, help skin firming, and increase blood flow.

Improve wound healing

As collagen is a vital component of healthy skin, collagen peptides may facilitate faster wound healing.

Bioactive peptides can also reduce inflammation and act as antioxidants, which can improve the body’s ability to heal.

Research is currently ongoing into antimicrobial peptides, which may also improve wound healing. Having very high or very low levels of some antimicrobial peptides may contribute to skin disorders, such as psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema.

Prevent age-related bone loss

Animal research links a moderate intake of collagen peptides with an increase in bone mass in growing rats who also did running exercise.

The study may point to collagen peptides being a useful way to counteract age-related bone loss. However, more research is necessary, especially on humans.

Build strength and muscle mass

Some research on older adults indicates that collagen peptide supplements can increase muscle mass and strength. In the study, participants combined supplement use with resistance training.

Creatine peptides may also improve strength and help to build muscle.

While fitness enthusiasts have been using creatine protein powders for many years, creatine peptides are increasing in popularity.

These particular peptides may be easier for the body to digest, which means they may cause fewer digestive problems than creatine proteins.


Side effects

a senior woman sat at a computer
A person should always buy supplements from a reputable company.

For healthy individuals, peptide supplements are unlikely to cause serious side effects because they are similar to the peptides present in everyday foods.

Oral peptide supplements may not enter the bloodstream as the body may break them down into individual amino acids.

In one study where females took oral collagen peptide supplements for 8 weeks, the researchers did not note any adverse reactions.

However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate supplements in the same way they do medications. As a result, people should exercise caution when taking any supplements.

Topical creams and ointments containing peptides may cause skin symptoms, such as skin sensitivity, rash, and itching.

Individuals should always buy from a reputable company and discontinue use if adverse reactions occur.

Also, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor before taking peptide supplements or using topical products that contain peptides.

Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, taking medications, or living with a medical condition should avoid using peptides until they speak to their doctor.


How to use

The timing and dose of peptide supplements will vary, depending on the type and brand.

Always follow the package instructions when taking peptide supplements or using topical peptide creams or lotions. Never exceed the recommended serving size. Discontinue use and consult a doctor if adverse reactions occur.

Summary

Peptides are naturally present in protein-rich foods. It is not necessary to take peptide supplements or use topical sources of peptides.

However, some people may wish to use collagen peptides with the aim of slowing down the aging process. Others may take creatine peptides to build muscle and strength.

There is still limited evidence to indicate that these products are effective, and much more research is necessary to assess their efficacy and safety thoroughly.

Research into peptides is in the early stages, and in the future, scientists may discover health benefits of different types of peptides. Until then, people should exercise caution when taking any supplement and discuss the potential benefits and risks with their doctor beforehand.

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