Dietary supplements containing so-called “peptide hormones” (sometimes called “peptides”) are marketed for a variety of benefits, including muscle growth, weight loss, and even anti-aging. Do they actually contain peptide hormones? And are they safe to use?

First of all, what are “peptide hormones”? They are hormones made of up to 50 amino acids produced by the body. They circulate in the blood, and have specific functions in the human body. Peptide hormones also can be created synthetically (in a laboratory) for medical use.

The misuse of peptide hormones can cause serious health problems. In addition, very few (if any) are legal ingredients for use in dietary supplements. The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) also prohibits their use.

Advertising of dietary supplements associated with peptide hormones can be confusing and misleading. Marketing language might suggest that a product contains a peptide hormone, or the name of a product might even include the name of a peptide hormone, but examination of the product’s Supplement Facts panel often doesn’t reveal the presence of a peptide hormone as an ingredient.

In any case, orally consumed peptide hormones are not likely to enter the bloodstream in healthy adults, because they are typically broken down into individual amino acids during digestion. As a result, they would not deliver the same result as if the peptide hormone were injected into the bloodstream. Some companies market products as being delivered buccally or sublingually (through the cheek membranes inside the mouth or under the tongue) which would avoid the digestive process, but such products are not classified as dietary supplements. The same goes for transdermal patches, skin creams, and injectables.

Examples of peptide hormones produced by the body include erythropoietin (EPO), growth hormone (HGH), growth hormone–releasing peptides (GHRP), human chorionic gonadotrophic hormone (commonly known as hCG, hCGH, or Somatropin), insulin, and insulin-like growth factor (including IGF-1). Many of these are also synthetically produced by pharmaceutical companies and are used to treat various disorders and diseases and can only be prescribed under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider.

Synthetic peptide hormones are distributed on the black market and often are misused by athletes due to their performance-enhancing effects. The synthetic peptides Sermorelin and Ipamorelin, as well as others, are promoted for anti-aging (smoothing wrinkles), building muscle, fat loss, and sexual vitality. Non-oral products are not dietary supplements, and in many cases these peptides sold on websites are advertised as “Not for Human Consumption” or “For Research Purposes Only.” It is clear they are marketed to bodybuilders and other athletic populations or for weight loss. Although peptides are available for sale online, neither the purity nor the potency of such products can be ensured.

In short, peptide hormones—sold as dietary supplements or in any other form—are not safe for any use other than as prescribed under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider. They can pose a serious health and safety risk.

Updated 04 April 2019

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