Juan Leija, 38, had a problem: He was a personal trainer and serious lifter whose elbow pain prevented him from performing some of the most basic lifts. “I had had tendonitis for a year,” he recalls, “but it had been extreme for about six months. It felt like something had broken in.”
Just when Leija was beginning to worry about his ability to exercise, a friend of his who owns a wellness clinic told him about something called BPC-157. It’s an injectable peptide compound that, his friend said, could do to Leija’s elbow what a year of conventional and alternative therapies couldn’t: make the pain go away.
“I went home and looked it up,” Leija says. Evidence was scarce, but enthusiasm was not. Satisfied users—including athletes, fighters, soldiers, and gym rats—dubbed it the Wolverine Peptide for its healing powers.
More about men’s health
BPC-157 is part of a growing list of compounds called peptides that are gaining interest in fitness, wellness and anti-aging circles. The buzz comes from their purported potential to help you build muscle, reduce fat, sleep better, or, with peptide PT-141, revive sexual desire — all without the side effects of riskier, more potent options such as testosterone and synthetic growth hormone.
Some peptide names, such as MK-677, sound like secret mind-control experiments. Others, like sermorelin, look like they exist only to trip 12-year-olds into a spelling bee. But what are peptides? Why are so many people suddenly promoting them? And do they work?
The promise of peptides
“Peptides are short chains of amino acids,” says Ryan Greene, DO, the chief medical officer of Monarch Athletic Club in West Hollywood, California. Your body produces over 7,000, all with specific tasks: regulating your metabolism, your appetite, your body’s natural growth hormone.
There is now a perception in gym culture that injecting peptides, even though they are made in a lab, is a safer way to gain gains than taking human growth hormone (hGH) and/or anabolic steroids. But the sales pitch is not new. Anti-aging clinics have been striving for the same promise of appearance and performance since the late 20th century.
What’s new is the price, says Graham Simpson, MD, a physician at Opt Health, a telemedicine clinic that offers peptides. For example, instead of paying $1,200 a month for injections of growth hormone — the original fountain of youth — you’d pay a few hundred a month for peptides that stimulate your body to release its own growth hormone. Or you’d pay for peptides believed to stimulate tissue-repairing cells.
The attraction is so strong that people inject the stuff daily or a few times a week. dr. Simpson considers these treatments “reasonable things we can do to” [increase] our health span and longevity.” Jeremie Walker, MD, the colleague of Dr. Simpson at Opt Health, agrees, “They mimic what your body is already doing, but with more specificity. It’s the difference between using a hammer and a scalpel.”
What Science Says About Peptides
Despite all the purported benefits of these peptide injections, the FDA has not approved any that we have listed to improve sexual function, promote healing, or delay aging. (Sermorelin is FDA-approved for use in children with pituitary problems.) The World Anti-Doping Agency has also banned BPC-157 and all growth hormone-releasing peptides, meaning no athlete participating in a drug-tested sport should come near it. them. WADA’s ban suggests they could provide an advantage — which also means there might be something for them.
But if you look for scientific research, you won’t come across much. A study with BPC-157 showed accelerated healing in rat tendon tissue. Another study, on MK-677, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, showed that it increased growth hormone levels in true older people to the normal range found in young adults. But the kind of large-scale clinical trials you rely on to know if something is worth doing? Not there yet.
Proponents argue that peptides have a relatively low risk. They are made of amino acids; the theory is that if your body doesn’t need them for a specific use, they can be broken down and used for something else, says Dr. greene. But low risk does not mean no risk.
If you constantly stimulate your body over time to produce its own growth hormone, Dr. Greene na: “Is there a potential risk for something similar to what you see with synthetic growth hormone? I think yes, absolutely.” Known side effects of taking synthetic hGH alone include an increased risk of certain cancers and diabetes.
And aside from the potential health risks, the peptide industry is a target-rich environment for scammers. “The current state of affairs is quite messy in the peptide world,” admits Dr. walker. “I kind of liken it to what we’re going through with cryptocurrency and the legacy financial system.” Opt Health doctors use phrases like “buyer, beware”, “emerging industry” and “kind of rogue right now”. Peptides prescribed by wellness clinics are made and sold by compounding pharmacies with minimal standardization.
If that sounds scary to you, you’re not alone. Take endocrinologist Karl Nadolsky, DO He’s a former NCAA Division I wrestler and a self-proclaimed “meat head at the gym, but with a focus on health.” He warns, “I would personally never take or recommend any of these peptides without clear clinical evidence of a benefit in treating a disease,” he says. dr. Greene says that if you do take them, you should only do so under a doctor’s supervision so they can check regularly and do blood tests.
A shot of reality
Which brings us back to Juan Leija, the personal trainer who turned to BPC-157 to address his worsening elbow pain. In accordance with the advice of Dr. Greene, he went to a doctor for a prescription.
And it worked. “I would say that within two or three weeks the pain in my elbow started to go away,” says Leija. “Five weeks later it wasn’t there anymore.” He has been using it ever since, injecting the peptide into his abdomen five days a week. He views the cost of treatment as money well spent.
In contrast, obesity specialist Spencer Nadolsky, DO, had a very different experience with the same peptide. Despite all the skepticism he shares with his endocrinologist brother Karl, he bought BPC-157 from a compounding pharmacy in an effort to alleviate his own tendonitis. And? “I didn’t get shit for results.”
Anecdotes won’t stop many guys. “Many bodybuilders think of themselves as lab rats,” says Rick Collins, a criminal defense attorney who specializes in steroid and dietary supplement cases. “They have a very different threshold than the average person. If they’re injured now, they can’t wait for FDA approval.” But popularity should not be confused with a recipe. Only evidence can fill that.
Bonus: Which Peptide Reportedly Does What?
These four popular peptides promise quick fixes. But there are other scientifically tested ways to get their benefits. Here’s what the promises are, along with other ways to get to the same place.
The peptide: BPC 157
The hope: Accelerates healing and training recovery.
Do this instead: If you don’t recover quickly from a workout, Dr. Greene: “My first question is ‘Why? How’s your hydration going, how’s your sleep?’ If all those things add up, it could be age or the type of training you do.” For tendons, platelet-rich plasma therapy, where your platelets are concentrated and injected to promote healing, is pricey but proven.
The peptide: MK 677
The hope: increases muscle mass and reduces fat.
Do this instead: Lift consistently, progressively and with enough effort to get bigger and stronger. Eat protein-rich meals to give your body what it needs to build and repair muscle. Creatine supplementation may also help.
The peptide: PT-141
The hope: Increases sexual function and arousal.
Do this instead: Keep blood flow strong by following a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and, of course, trying pharma (Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and other ED pills).
The Peptide: Sermorelin
The hope: Preserves muscle tissue and delays signs of aging.
Do this instead: You can increase natural growth hormone production by fasting, getting a good night’s sleep (growth hormone levels are highest when you sleep), exercising (intense exercise seems to work best), losing excess body fat, and limiting sugar and other refined carbohydrates.
This story originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Men’s health.