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    The science behind peptide injections

    All the risks behind the so-called miracle treatments

    Once considered one of Hollywood’s best-kept beauty secrets, Jennifer Aniston, who swears by them, recently revealed her secret to long-lasting youth: peptide injections. 

    From New York to Los Angeles, clinics in the USA have emerged, boasting the label‚ ‘metabolic wellness’. Their promise? Through peptide therapy you will be restored to the younger version of yourself. 

    Starting at around $100 (approx Dhs368) per injection, the alleged results include firmer skin, healthier cells, more muscles, less fat, increased libido and an overall better mood. A quick fix for all signs of ageing, one might get the impression that if you’re not boosting with peptides, you’re missing out. But what exactly are these miracle molecules? 

    “Peptides are the little siblings of proteins. They have very short chains of amino acids which are easily absorbed. They are the components of our bodies, such as hormones and neurotransmitters,” explains Dr. Andrea Caletti, a specialist in plastic and aesthetic surgery. “They activate signals in the body. That’s why there’s great interest in peptides in the anti-aging field. Cell activity decreases over the course of our lifetime but with the administration of certain peptides, you can boost the cells into action again.”

    The principle is not new, either. Over 100 years ago, the first medical peptide, insulin, was developed. It received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1923, and the advancement of the drug is considered one of the hottest topics in medical research to this day. In addition to diabetes, this type of medication is used against many diseases, such as cyclosporine, which suppresses organ rejection after transplants, or teriparatide for osteoporosis. The Pharmaceutical Newspaper reported at the beginning of the year that currently, 80 peptides are approved as drugs, and more than 150 others are in clinical development. In 2019, a turnover of over $50 billion was generated from peptides, and market researchers predict a further $65 billion in 2025. Outside of the pharmaceutical market, peptides are not approved as drugs. Nevertheless, they are used in the USA as part of anti-aging therapies. You can even have them delivered to your home and find tips for the best injections on YouTube. “Today, you can get access to any substances on the internet, whether they are legal or not,” Dr. Caletti soberly states. “In the case of these peptides, it is a legal grey area that works because the packaging is labelled ‘for research purposes only’.”

    So far, so confusing? The jury is still out on peptide use. The term peptide therapy is vague. The drugs are mixed in the treatment, too. “Substances used for doping are combined with collagen, hormones, or completely ineffective agents,” says dermatologist Dr. Stefan Duve. “The huge hype in the USA is spilling over to Europe. Therefore, the standardisation of peptide therapies is key.”

    In general, the following substances – either alone or in a cocktail – are used in anti-aging peptide therapies.

    Cell Regeneration

    Cell regeneration TB500, also known as Thymosin Beta-4, accelerates healing processes within the body. It can help to facilitate a faster recovery from muscle and tendon injuries, improve skin regeneration and even promote muscle growth. “This peptide is used in veterinary medicine, for example, to prevent tendon scarring in racehorses,” says Dr. Caletti. In bodybuilding, it is a popular choice for connective tissue regeneration while growing body mass. So far, there are no serious side effects known to us, but the peptide may test positive in doping tests.”


    The same applies to Body Protection Compound 157, or BPC 157, a peptide that occurs in the digestive system. Among its functions, it protects the stomach lining from stomach acid. It accelerates blood vessel formation, wound healing and acts as an anti-inflammatory. The body is believed to benefit from this because inflammation can accelerate the ageing process. “BPC 157 is often used in sports injuries because it stimulates the production of new vessels, even in poorly perfused tissues, such as ligaments and tendons,” says Dr. Caletti. “It is not illegal, but it’s also not officially legal. As BPC 157 is still in the research phase, consumption cannot be considered safe.” Side effects observed so far include digestive disorders, high blood pressure, heart rhythm disturbances, fatigue, headaches and dizziness.

    Solid tissue

    Another component of peptide therapy can be GHK-cu. Promoted as the ‘Hollywood peptide’, it is also not officially approved as a medication. “GHK-cu is available via an injection or drops. It activates specific genes, has a positive effect on wound healing, is an antioxidant and stimulates collagen production. Therefore, it can be used preventively,” explains Dr. Caletti. However, his colleague Dr. Duve warns, “I would be cautious with metals. It is not yet known whether they accumulate in the body and nothing is known about possible side effects.”


    Injections with various growth hormones, on the other hand, have a long list of side effects. These include forehead and hand growth, water retention, diabetes, joint problems and an increased risk of cancer. Nevertheless, growth hormones have been considered the fountain of youth for the rich and famous for decades – albeit discreetly. Though they support wound healing, muscle building, collagen synthesis, promote the formation of new blood vessels and densify bones, it is illegal to use them for anti-aging purposes. The German Society for Endocrinology states: “Anti-aging effects regarding hormone administration in old age are not proven, cause unnecessary costs, and should not be carried out outside clinical studies.”

    Weight loss

    A peptide substance with weight loss effects made headlines around the world last year, Ozempic. Formed from Semaglutide (which is used in diabetes therapy) and known under trade names including Ozempic and Wygovi, the drug has been touted as a solution to weight loss. “Patients taking the medication reportedly lost up to 15 percent of their weight,“ Dr. Caletti explains. “As a result, there was a huge rush for Semaglutide. It meant that there were shortages in the pharmaceutical industry and patients who urgently needed the medication couldn’t get it.”

    The doctor is sceptical about using it on healthy individuals, “It would be more sensible to change one’s lifestyle and seek professional nutritional advice. Because once Semaglutide is discontinued, the yo-yo effect occurs.“According to Dr. Caletti, side effects can include inflammation of the pancreas and depression, as it leads to a blunting of dopamine release. Dermatologist Dr. Duve also points out: “The side effects in healthy individuals are unknown as the medication was only tested on diabetics.”

    In general, the problem with peptide therapies lies in the lack of testing. The benefits have only been proven in animal experiments, meaning the side effects are not sufficiently researched and long-term studies are yet to be completed. “From my experience, the injections work, but we don’t know the risks,” concludes Dr. Caletti. “Substances that have not received approval are questionable and they require strict  medical supervision. Before injecting anything, a person should undergo a comprehensive blood test, as well as a holistic assessment from a doctor.” Dr. Duve advises, “If one decides to use these therapies, they should inform themselves thoroughly about the peptides being injected and their side effects. If there is any resistance or reluctance, something is not right,” warns the doctor. “Because one thing is clear: with every miracle cure that promises to make life longer, more beautiful and more enjoyable, a lot of money can be made.”

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