Should you be taking peptides?

If you’re following the longevity trend, you’ve probably seen peptides making the news a lot lately, either touted as the future of regenerative medicine, promising to turn the tide on aging, or banned by the FDA. 

My patients and friends are pinging me and asking, what gives? I even had an investor reach out and ask if I would advise their investment thesis in the space. Everyone wants to know: Should I be using peptides? Are they safe? And, if so, which peptides have the most promise?

Honestly, I found myself asking the same question. No one at Columbia or Mount Sinai trained me on peptides as the fountain of youth—but no one at Columbia or Mount Sinai trained me to spot the root cause drivers of acne or anxiety either. Our current medical education system has its limits.  

I am in my “brains, bones, booty” phase of life—post-babies and pre-menopause—I’m looking to optimize the aspects of my health that help me feel fit, strong, energized, and vital now (and will keep me that way decades into the future). I am willing to try things that are safe, make sense to me based on my years of training and patient care, and that people I respect are big on. 

So, will I be taking peptides? And do I think you should be? Let’s dive in. 

What are peptides and what do they do?

Peptides are like voice notes to your cells—they give cells instructions on what to do. Scientifically speaking, peptides are short strings of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. There are hundreds of thousands of peptides at work in your body right now (including hormones you probably recognize like oxytocin, insulin, and prolactin).  

Some peptides are readily available as supplements

You may already be taking one or two of them. Collagen (typically found in skin care products and supplements but also studied for its potential to support bones and joints) and creatine (used to help build muscle) are two of the most popular and well-researched peptides on the market. 

Other peptides are available as drug therapies

Like GLP-1s (aka Ozempic). These medications trigger appetite suppression and have revolutionized the way we treat chronic conditions like diabetes. 

Then there are the experimental peptides. 

Buzzy peptides like BPC-157 and Ta1 (thymosin alpha 1) are popular among biohackers and are being used experimentally in the regenerative medicine and athlete communities, where animal-based research suggests they may be able to slow cellular aging or supercharge the immune system, for example. 

These experimental therapies are being used in people despite not always having the kinds of randomized controlled trials that drugs go through to prove that they are both safe and actually work. (The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency actually banned the use of BPC-157 back in 2020 amid concerns it may pose a risk of negative health effects for athletes.)

Where there are randomized controlled trials for peptide use in humans—like this one investigating the use of peptide serum to treat wrinkles—the data is what we call “small data.” This particular study found that using peptide serum called Revox B77 twice a day for 12 weeks reduced the appearance of frown lines—but there were only 55 women in the study. So I find myself asking ok, but was it better than botox? Are there any long-term side effects? 

The answer: we don’t know.

The TL; DR: Most peptides have not been studied as drugs, and while there is promising early research on the use of peptides for diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammatory diseases, and even sexual dysfunction, the jury is still out. 

Why did the FDA ban some peptides?

Last year, the FDA banned compounding pharmacies from selling 17 popular peptides—including BPC-157 and Ta1. Are they being appropriately conservative or overly cautious?

For most of the peptides in question, the ban is due to the lack of sufficient evidence on safety, the risk of impurities in the formulation (a risk for any unregulated supplement), and the potential for a substance to trigger a negative immune response. 

But there are a few peptides on this list linked to more concerning risks in humans including “serious adverse events” (AOD-9604), “detrimental effects on male reproduction” (Cathelicidin LL-37), “heart toxicity” and arrhythmia (Cesium chloride), and certain cancers in women (Diethylstilbestrol). 

My POV: I’ve rarely seen a shortcut work in the long run. 

Okay, so what does this all mean? There is a huge range of peptides being isolated from plants and animals and even derived from the human body. With the appropriate research, there is massive potential for medicine and longevity. Many of them are already promising and more research is coming. But the bottom line is, you should talk to your doctor before taking anything new.  

To me peptides feel like that hot new makeup or trendy bag that your cool girlfriends had in high school. They are doing it, so shouldn’t I be too? Before you walk off a cliff because the popular kids did it, take a beat and look over the edge. 

Because experimental peptides don’t have established safe dosages, minimum effective dosages, or side effect profiles, I’m cautious. If you’re taking them, you’re running an experiment on yourself that isn’t really necessary—there are other more proven ways of achieving the exact same goals. 

What I’m doing for my own body when it comes to peptides. 

I’m using vetted peptides like marine collagen (10 grams daily), to improve skin elasticity, hair and nail strength, and muscle and bone strength. (I used this during pregnancy to help improve skin elasticity with all the belly stretching and I am convinced it’s partially why I don’t have stretch marks.)

I’m also considering adding creatine to my regimen on weight training days to support building muscle mass. Getting a trainer is on my list of to-do’s this summer and taking 5 grams of creatine like this one from Thorne in water post-workout may help increase strength and lean muscle mass

But for now, I’m a pass on experimental peptides like BP-157 for regenerative medicine purposes. 

Will I change my mind? Maybe! If more compelling evidence for how to best use these types of experimental peptides in humans comes forth, I’m all in for recommending them. Point of view plasticity is a sign of cognitive health just like brain plasticity 🙂

What I recommend for you: 

When it comes to your health, supplements like peptides can help you advance your goals, but will never on their own come close to having the impact that the following four pillars of health can: 

  • Nutrition: Eat real unprocessed foods, get sufficient protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Hint: It’s almost impossible to overeat unprocessed foods because your body’s natural GLP-1 kicks in. Processed foods override our GLP-1 derived satiety (i.e. feeling full) signal leading you to overeat.  
  • Exercise: Focus on weight training to build muscle mass and optimize body composition, cardio for heart, mood, and brain health, and functional movements like yoga for balance and connective tissue stimulation.
  • Metabolic health: Keep blood sugar (both fasting and post-meal) balanced and fasting insulin low (< 5.0). Hint: Use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) if you want to see how you respond to meals
  • Emotional wellbeing: Invest in community, connection, and stress-reduction through practices like meditation.

These four pillars will give you 90% of the results you are looking for and are essential to health. Without them, no supplement or drug will make or break how you feel today or meaningfully impact your healthspan tomorrow. 
If you’re looking for a leg up, enhance your well-being through key supplements that are personalized to you. Ideally, by working with us at Parsley Health where we can tailor recs for things like peptides to your body and your unique goals.