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What Are Peptides? Peptide Benefits for Skin & More

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Peptide - Dr. Axe

Peptides have been getting a lot of attention for their skin-improving effects lately, but did you know that peptide benefits also promote tissue repair, improve muscle strength and lower blood pressure levels?

Supplementing with hydrolyzed collagen peptides or applying copper peptides topically are popular because of their many health benefits.

Whether you’re looking for healthier skin in winter, want to stimulate hair growth or need relief from joint pain, using peptide formulas may be an effective natural option.

What Are Peptides? (Types and What They Do)

Peptides are fragments of protein that are made up of amino acids. When these amino acids link together, they form an amino peptide, and when peptides link together, they form the basis of proteins.

Peptides are the building blocks of collagen and elastin fibers in the skin. One of the most well-known peptide types is the collagen peptide — found in the dermis layer of your skin.

There are hundreds of peptides, which are generally grouped into the following categories:

  • dipeptides: made up of two amino acids
  • tripeptides: made up of three amino acids
  • oligopeptides: made up of two to 2o amino acids
  • polypeptides: made up of more than 20 amino acids

Some of the most well-known natural peptide types include:

  • Glutathione
  • Bradykinin
  • Aspartame
  • Oxytocin
  • Somatostatin
  • Endothelin
  • Netropsin
  • Glucagon
  • Insulin
  • Growth hormone

You may notice peptides in youth serums or gels, which is because they are known for their ability to improve tissue firmness and elasticity.

Beyond their skin health benefits, peptides play a role in a number of other body functions. They serve as the building blocks of important enzymes and hormones.

They also boost the healing process by promoting tissue repair and stimulating the production of collagen.

Peptides have several important functions, including their ability to:

  • serve as precursors of protein
  • promote collagen and elastin production
  • fight bacterial and fungal infections
  • act as hormones
  • reduce oxidative stress
  • act as constituents to alkaloids

Benefits for Skin (and More)

1. Boost Skin Repair

Peptides boost skin health by improving tissue repair, reducing inflammation and increasing collagen.

According to research published in Clinics in Dermatology, they can be used in the dermatology and skin care industries to improve skin issues, such as inflammation, pigmentation, cell proliferation and migration, and changes in angiogenesis (making new blood vessels).

A review published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology indicates that antimicrobial peptides are being used as pharmacological agents to modulate the immune response, promote wound healing and prevent post-surgical adhesions.

2. Reduce Lines and Wrinkles

Peptides increase the body’s natural production of collagen and elastin. Using them on your skin may leave it looking firmer and smoother.

Fine lines and crow’s feet may improve with anti-aging serums or gels that include peptides and can improve the texture and clarity of your skin too.

A study published in the International Journal of Tissue Reactions indicates that collagen-like peptides act “deeply and intensely on wrinkles.”

Twenty healthy women volunteers, aged 40–62 years old, applied either a gel formula containing collagen-like peptides or a placebo gel around their eyes twice a day for four weeks. The results showed that applying the peptide gel significantly reduced the total surface of wrinkles and decreased the average depth of winkles.

3. Improve Tissue Repair

According to new data published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, a human peptide called GHK (glycyl-L-histidyl-L-lysine) has demonstrated the ability to improve tissue repair for the skin, lung connective tissue, boney tissue, liver and stomach lining.

4. Boost Muscle Strength

In a study conducted in Germany, elderly men with degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass added collagen peptide supplementation and resistance training into their regime for 12 weeks.

Researchers found that the participants had improved lean body mass and muscle strength, as well as decreased fat mass when compared to the placebo group.

5. Fight Diabetes

Research indicates that isolated peptides help reduce blood glucose levels and significantly improve glucose uptake.

Literature published in Life Sciences suggests that peptides are currently among the most widely investigated potential therapeutic agents for diabetes, and a number of natural and synthetic peptides have proved to cause anti-diabetic effects.

6. Lower Cholesterol

Our bodies need healthy levels of cholesterol for the proper production of vitamin D and steroid hormones. However, we all know that too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to some serious health issues, including the formation of plaques in the arteries and even reduced oxygen flow to the heart.

Studies show that peptides are able to inhibit lipase activity and bind to bile acids, which allows for its ability to lower cholesterol levels.

7. May Reduce Blood Pressure

A meta-analysis published in Nutrients found that peptides from casein may be effective in blood pressure reduction. Researchers found that this was especially true among Japanese studies, compared with European studies.

8. Stimulate Hair Growth

Studies show that GHK peptide works to stimulate hair follicles and accelerate hair growth.

When copper peptide is applied topically, for example, researchers have found that it works to repair cells, reduce inflammation, suppress free radicals, increase hair follicle size and improve hair transplant success.

Copper Peptide vs. Collagen Peptides

Copper peptides (GHK-Cu) are often touted as the best type of peptide for skin health. They are found naturally in our bodies and made up of the element copper with three amino acids.

Copper peptides are known for their ability to promote the production of collagen, elastin and glycosaminoglycans, a family of carbohydrates that support the maintenance of collagen. Formulas containing copper peptides are typically created for topical uses to boost skin health.

Collagen peptides are often found in protein powders or supplements that are meant to ingest. When collagen undergoes a process called hydrolization, this involves the breakdown of individual hydrolyzed collagen peptides in order to maximize absorption by the body.

Simple put, reducing the size and molecular weight of peptides allows for better absorption so they can be utilized by the body.

Supplements containing collagen peptides also go by other names, including hydrolyzed collagen and collagen hydrolysate.

Really, all of these types of protein powders or supplements are the same. They undergo the same process in order to increase absorption.

How to Get More

Bioactive peptides are found naturally in plants, animals, fungi and microbes. They are released from proteins during digestion, with the help of proteolytic enzymes.

Peptides are also released during food processing, when proteins are cooked, fermented or ripened.

One of the best ways to get more is by consuming collagen-rich foods, like bone broth, or adding a collagen protein powder to your daily regime. The collagen peptides you get from these sources help improve skin, plus support the health of your hair, muscles, joints, heart and gut too.

When it comes to using copper peptides topically for skin health, GHK-Cu is often used as an ingredient in youth serums and creams. Peptides for skin work best when applied and left to absorb, like a serum or moisturizer, not a face wash.

The most effective topicals are said to include a combination of peptides, antioxidants and other skin-restoring compounds.

Risks and Side Effects

Using peptides topically to improve skin health is likely safe. When using them for cosmetic purposes, be sure to purchase a product made by a reputable company and read the ingredients carefully.

If you are consuming collagen peptides, be aware that some types of collagen are made from common food allergens, like shellfish and eggs. If you have food allergies, read the ingredients on collagen products carefully before using them.

Antimicrobial peptides, also called AMPs, are sometimes used to speed up the wound-healing process. There isn’t enough research to determine the efficacy and safety of these types of therapeutic agents.

Be sure to consult your health care professional before using AMPs.

Final Thoughts

  • Peptides are fragments of protein that are made up of amino acids. When these amino acids link together, they form an amino peptide, and when peptides link together, they form the basis of proteins.
  • They are well-known for their ability to boost skin and hair health. They can also be ingested, usually in the form of collagen powder or supplements, to boost muscle strength and improve tissue repair.
  • In addition to cosmetic purposes, research indicates that peptide benefits may including fighting type 2 diabetes, reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol levels.
  • Peptide serums, creams and powders are available online and in many health food or beauty stores. Be sure to purchase a product from a trustworthy company and read the ingredient list carefully for potential allergens.
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