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?

Peptide hormones—such as hCG, hGH (or HGH), and IGF-1—aren’t safe;
they pose serious health risks.

What are peptide hormones?

They are hormones produced by the body and made of amino acids (from less than 10 to a few hundred). They circulate in the blood, where they have various specific functions. Examples of peptide hormones produced in the body include erythropoietin (EPO), human growth hormone (hGH or HGH), growth hormone–releasing peptides (GHRP), human chorionic gonadotrophic hormone (commonly known as hCG or hCGH), insulin, and insulin-like growth factor (including IGF-1). Many are also produced synthetically (in a laboratory) for use in prescription (and experimental) drugs to treat various disorders and diseases.

Why are they a dietary supplement problem?

The misuse of peptide hormones can cause serious health problems. The peptide hormones mentioned above are for medical use by prescription only. They are not appropriate for use in in any dietary supplements. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibits the use of all peptide hormones.

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 reveals no peptide hormone in the list of ingredients.

In most cases, orally consumed peptide hormones aren’t likely to enter your bloodstream. Your body typically breaks down a peptide hormone into individual amino acids during digestion. However, some drug companies are developing peptide hormones for effective oral delivery as therapeutic agents. Also, some companies market products to be taken buccally (through the cheek membranes inside the mouth) or sublingually (under the tongue), which should help avoid digestive breakdown, but such products are not considered dietary supplements. The same goes for transdermal (skin) patches, skin creams, and injectables. Dietary supplements must be consumed orally.

Synthetic peptide hormones are distributed on the black market and are often misused by athletes due to their performance-enhancing effects. Synthetic peptides such as Sermorelin and Ipamorelin are promoted for anti-aging (smoothing wrinkles), muscle-building, fat loss, and sexual vitality. In many cases peptides sold online are advertised as “not for human consumption” or “for research purposes only,” even though they clearly are marketed to bodybuilders and other athletes or for weight loss. In addition, neither the purity nor the potency of such products can be ensured.

The bottom line

In short, peptide hormones—sometimes sold as dietary supplements or in other forms without a prescription—are not safe or legal. Each peptide hormone poses specific, serious health risks, so they should only be used under the supervision of a qualified healthcare provider. They also can be a threat to your military career. Dietary supplements containing prescription or unapproved drugs—such as hCG, hGH, and IGF-1—are prohibited for use by Military Service Members.

 

Updated 21 May 2020

References

[Editorial]. (2004). Pralmorelin: GHRP 2, GPA 748, Growth Hormone-Releasing Peptide 2, KP-102 D, KP-102 LN, KP-102D, KP-102LN. Drugs in R & D, 5(4), 236–239. doi:10.2165/00126839-200405040-00011

Angeli, A. (1984). Peptide hormone analogues and novel clinical applications. Ricerca in Vlinica e in Laboratorio, 14, 123–125.

Argente, J., Garcia-Segura, L. M., Pozo, J., & Chowen, J. A. (1996). Growth hormone-releasing peptides: Clinical and basic aspects. Hormone Research, 46(4-5), 155–159. doi:10.1159/000185015

Cohen, P. A. (2014). Hazards of hindsight — Monitoring the safety of nutritional supplements. New England Journal of Medicine, 370(14), 1277–1280. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1315559

Cox, H. D., & Eichner, D. (2013). Detection of human insulin-like growth factor-1 in deer antler velvet supplements. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 27(19), 2170–2178. doi:10.1002/rcm.6678

Cox, H. D., Hughes, C. M., & Eichner, D. (2015). Detection of GHRP-2 and GHRP-6 in urine samples from athletes. Drug Testing and Analysis, 7(5), 439–444. doi:10.1002/dta.1791

Ferro, P., Krotov, G., Zvereva, I., Rodchenkov, G., & Segura, J. (2017). Structure-activity relationship for peptídic growth hormone secretagogues. Drug Testing and Analysis, 9(1), 87–95. doi:10.1002/dta.1947

Gajda, P. M., Holm, N. B., Hoej, L. J., Rasmussen, B. S., Dalsgaard, P. W., Reitzel, L. A., & Linnet, K. (2019). Glycine-modified growth hormone secretagogues identified in seized doping material. Drug Testing and Analysis, 11(2), 350–354. doi:10.1002/dta.2489

Hullstein, I. R., Malerod-Fjeld, H., Dehnes, Y., & Hemmersbach, P. (2015). Black market products confiscated in Norway 2011-2014 compared to analytical findings in urine samples. Drug Testing and Analysis, 7(11-12), 1025–1029. doi:10.1002/dta.1900

Krug, O., Thomas, A., Malerød-Fjeld, H., Dehnes, Y., Laussmann, T., Feldmann, I., . . . Thevis, M. (2018). Analysis of new growth promoting black market products. Growth Hormone & IGF Research, 41, 1–6. doi:10.1016/j.ghir.2018.05.001

Krug, O., Thomas, A., Walpurgis, K., Piper, T., Sigmund, G., Schänzer, W., . . . Thevis, M. (2014). Identification of black market products and potential doping agents in Germany 2010–2013. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 70(11), 1303–1311. doi:10.1007/s00228-014-1743-5

Laferrère, B., Abraham, C., Russell, C. D., & Bowers, C. Y. (2005). Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2 (GHRP-2), like Ghrelin, increases food intake in healthy men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 90(2), 611–614. doi:10.1210/jc.2004-1719

Meinhardt, U. (2010). The effects of growth hormone on body composition and physical performance in recreational athletes. Annals of Internal Medicine, 152(9), 568–577. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-152-9-201005040-00007

Popławska, M., & Błażewicz, A. (2019). Identification of a novel growth hormone releasing peptide (a glycine analogue of GHRP-2) in a seized injection vial. Drug Testing and Analysis, 11(1), 162–167. doi:10.1002/dta.2467

Semenistaya, E., Zvereva, I., Thomas, A., Thevis, M., Krotov, G., & Rodchenkov, G. (2015). Determination of growth hormone releasing peptides metabolites in human urine after nasal administration of GHRP-1, GHRP-2, GHRP-6, Hexarelin, and Ipamorelin. Drug Testing and Analysis, 7(10), 919–925. doi:10.1002/dta.1787

Siebert, D. M., & Rao, A. L. (2018). The use and abuse of human growth hormone in sports. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 10(5), 419–426. doi:10.1177/1941738118782688

Sigalos, J. T., & Pastuszak, A. W. (2018). The safety and efficacy of growth hormone secretagogues. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 6(1), 45–53. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2017.02.004

Thomas, A., Kohler, M., Mester, J., Geyer, H., Schänzer, W., Petrou, M., & Thevis, M. (2010). Identification of the growth-hormone-releasing peptide-2 (GHRP-2) in a nutritional supplement. Drug Testing and Analysis, 2(3), 144–148. doi:10.1002/dta.120

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2017). Import Alert 66-71. Retrieved 3 April 2019 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/importalert_204.html

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2019). Import Alert 66-41. Retrieved 3 April 2019 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/importalert_190.html

U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2019). Impact story: Developing the tools to evaluate complex drug products: Peptides. Retrieved 3 April 2019 from https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ScienceResearch/ucm578111.htm