1973 was an important year for the field of dermatology thanks to the pioneering efforts of a young biochemist by the name of Loren Pickart (1, 2). After extensive research on anti-aging using human blood and liver tissue, Dr. Pickart discovered GHK (Glycyl-L-Histidyl-L-Lysine), a human tripeptide with an affinity for binding to copper in the body (1). Much to Dr. Pickart’s surprise, this “copper peptide,” or GHK-Cu had the ability to revert the aging process of cells. Although GHK-Cu cannot be acquired through diet, you can still enjoy its rejuvenating properties by applying it topically as an oil or cream (3, 6).
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Use in Skin Care
In the words of Emerson: “As we grow old, the beauty steals inward (8).” With the advancement of modern cosmetic technology, this statement embraces entirely new significance as scientists examine health and beauty at the cellular level. According to experts at the Cleveland Clinic, the benefits of GHK-Cu range from lengthening the life of your skin’s stem cells to scar tissue removal and repair (3, 4). GHK-Cu encourages your skin to produce the collagen and elastin necessary for a healthy glow and improves your body’s natural tissue regeneration cycles (2, 3, 4, 6). In the world of beauty, GHK-Cu products can improve your skin’s quality, firmness and elasticity, while minimizing unsightly wrinkles, discoloration and sun spots(6).
Metal homeostasis is the process of your stem cells maintaining optimal levels of essential metals for necessary bodily functions. Interference with this system, coupled with oxidative stress and inflammation, can put you at risk for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and overall cognitive decline (1). GHK-Cu’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may play a therapeutic role in treating such degenerative diseases because of one simple factor – copper’s ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier (1). This natural impasse prevents a slew of dietary antioxidants from reaching your brain and relies on the antioxidant properties of your body’s stores of copper and zinc (1). While GHK-Cu's ability to cross into the brain remains unclear, Dr. Pickart and colleagues remain confident. In a 2012 overview published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, Pickart’s team noted that GHK-Cu can easily pass through the lipids of the epidermal layer of your skin and is likely able to reach your brain to deliver protective effects (1).
Copper peptides have long been used as a safe and effective treatment for wound restoration -- a blessing if you suffer from diabetes mellitus or other illness that impair your body’s healing mechanism (1, 6). GHK-CU helps prevent inflammation and infection by inhibiting damaged body tissue from releasing iron, protecting you against harmful free-radicals and safeguarding tissue repair (1, 6). An ischemic wound occurs when the passage of blood is blocked, often leading to amputation and other life-altering complications. In 2003, a team of researchers at the University of Florida used laboratory rats to exhibit that applying GHK-CU to the surface of these wounds was enough to hasten restoration and shrink the wound area at rapid rate (5). This discovery and GHK-Cu’s capacity to renew blood-flow to damaged tissue may indicate that health professionals will be able to save limbs and reverse blood vessel disease as standard procedure (1, 5).
Sources and Side Effects
Copper peptide is found in human urine, saliva and plasma and decreases as you age (6). It must be isolated in a laboratory and can be given intravenously, via liposome capsule or topically (1, 6). Although there are no known food sources of GHK-CU, researchers hope to develop a dietary supplement for skin healing (6). There is scarce documentation of the harm in taking GHK-Cu internally or using topically, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise caution – having high levels of copper in your body can cause jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain (7). Before you try a new product lauded for its benefits, be sure to have a detailed discussion with your doctor.