Peptides are naturally synthesized structures built from amino acids into chains. The body produces peptides to aid in healing, fight infection and inflammation and rebuild tissues. Cell construction and duplication depends on them. Because of the near-infinite number of structure combinations of the constituent amino acids, peptides are widely used in medicine and industry for everything from healing to sweetening coffee.
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Products marketed as anti-aging creams contain a variety of peptides, often from ocean plants such as sea beet, sea fennel and sea jasmine. The medical literature suggests causation between an abundance of peptides surrounding inflammation or injury in the body and collagen production. Collagen gives skin its elasticity. External use of peptides that are absorbed into the skin tricks the body into sending collagen production into high gear, especially compared with the lower collagen production rates common in older individuals. More collagen, and more elasticity, means fewer wrinkles.
When the skin is abraded by sun damage, injury or acne lesions, the body mounts its usual defenses in preparation for an invasion of ambient microbes. Lesions provide an opening for such an invasion. The body recognizes this and floods the area with white blood cells and antimicrobial peptides. A joint study by the VA San Diego Health Care Center and the University of California, San Diego, concluded that topical applications of certain peptides were efficacious as fast-acting antibiotics, even against drug-resistant bacteria, because they actually damage the cell wall of the invading pathogen, which leaves the bacteria few mutation defenses.
Body scans work by sending dyes through the bloodstream that fluoresce when they come in contact with certain tissues. The amount of dye concentrated in the area, be it an inflammation, arthritic site or tumor, could mean the difference between spotting a problem early, or missing it because of a lack of contrast with the surrounding tissue. Peptides, according to study for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, are drawn to acidic and hypoxic tissues, both of which characterize tumor and inflammation sites. Specific peptides in the fluorescing material, the researchers found, accumulated at the sites of even early stage tumors, fluorescing at magnitudes five times greater than in control experiments without peptides. The imaging studies provide doctors with another weapon in the fight for early detection of potentially life-threatening cancers.
The zero-calorie sweetener found in many diet beverages is a synthesized peptide. Aspartame was created in the lab during trials of an anti-ulcer medication when asparatic acid and phenylalanine were combined, forming a dipeptide bond that proved to be 200 times sweeter than sugar. The accident was discovered when chemist James M. Schlatter unconsciously licked some of the new substance from his finger. Neither of the elements is innately sweet on its own.