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Exploring the Hype: Key Ingredients in Anti-Ageing Supplements, Skincare and Male Pattern Baldness

· health,vitamins,alopecia,anti-ageing,hormones

If you have pets, you might have noticed at one time that dogs usually like to lick their wounds, and if they have suffered any scratches and injuries, they will immediately begin to coat the wound by covering the area with their saliva. Well, it appears that there is an evolutionary reason why dogs engage in this sort of response. Saliva and mucus both contain copper-binding peptides which have the ability to regenerate skin tissue, in addition to changing the gene expression of many cells to enhance health by stimulating growth promoting effects.

Copper-Binding Peptides

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These cute little shelled gastropods create slime, which contains copper binding peptides, and has become a hyped up ingredient in skincare.

There are a lot of copper-binding peptides on the market today, and the most ubiquitous is snail slime or snail mucus, which has gained popularity through Korean Beauty products promoting the ingredient a key factor in youthful skin. Snail slime contains proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, glycoprotein enzymes, hyaluronic acid, copper peptides, antimicrobial peptides, and metal ions. Copper peptides are small chains of amino acids that are bound to copper ions, hence due to their ability to penetrate the cell, they are able to deliver non-toxic copper into the cell, promoting regeneration.

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Royal jelly, produced from the saliva of worker bees, also contain copper binding peptides.

Another substance that contains copper peptides is royal jelly, which is derived from the saliva of worker bees. Royal jelly is a substance that is only eaten by Queen bees, in which they become larger than other bees, and consequently expands their lifespan and has an interesting factor in which Queen bees also retain their fertility for life. In addition to copper peptides, royal jelly contains a fatty acid (E)-10-hydroxy-2-decenoic acid (10HDA) which suppresses the actions of the enzyme DNA methyltransferase (DNMT3) in bees and also in mammals, so that the genetic code to retain their fertility doesn’t switch off when they mature. This means that although Queen bees and Worker bees have identical genetics, royal jelly changes the gene expression of Queen bees so that they live longer and remain fertile by silencing DNMT3.

GHK-Cu was first isolated in human plasma protein serum in 1973 by biochemist Dr. Loren Pickart. He noticed that liver cells in people aged 60-80 had a higher density of fibrinogen (glycoprotein formed during injury) and that when liver cells were incubated in blood with the younger group, the older cells started to behave the same way as younger cells.

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The myth of vampires may have had a basis in reality. Copper binding peptides in human serum has the ability to regenerate cells and when incubated in blood with younger cells, older cells behave in the same way as younger cells.

GHK-Cu can also be synthesized in a laboratory so does not require harvesting snail mucus and bee saliva proteins. Aside from being a key ingredient in beauty products, GHK-Cu has been studied for its ability up-and-down regulate a variety of human genes which are essential for neuronal development and as a potentially therapeutic agent for age-related neurodegeneration and cognitive decline.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is another ubiquitous ingredient in many skincare products. Although hyaluronic acid is necessary for lubrication in muscular connective tissues, and a major component of skin in tissue repair, and is primarily found in the basal layer of the epidermis. However, HA when applied topically cannot penetrate the uppermost layers of the epidermis, therefore being ineffective in skin hydration. In fact, application of HA on skin could result in moisture being released from the skin, leading to a dehydrated appearance.

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The K-Beauty trend in attaining "glass skin", a reflective quality that embodies healthy skin is probably derived from products that contain glycerin or glycerol, which is a humectant that draws moisture to skin, and not from other hyped up ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, which actually has the opposite effect when applied topically to skin, and can draw moisture out.

However, what the producers of cosmetics products usually also include in hyaluronic acid formulations is glycerin or glycerol, which is a type of humectant that allows skin to maintain moisture and gives a glistening or “glass skin” appearance. Most likely, the effect of skin hydration is from glycerin itself and not due to HA, although it itself is the hyped ingredient in the product.

Instead, hyaluronic acid (HA) is most effective on tissues such as in the mouth or on gums in periodontal diseases in which direct penetration can occur due to the lack of the barriers of the uppermost barrier of the epidermis since the tissues in the mouth do not contain a status corneum. HA in a topical gel has been shown to reverse receding gums in periodontitis by regenerating tissue inside the mouth.

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Hyaluronic acid can quickly penetrate gum tissue, and may be ideal for periodontal diseases, but cannot penetrate the upper layers of the epidermis in skincare.

Hyaluronic acid (HA) has also been studied in patients who have suffered from heart attacks. Injection with a hydrogel base of HA has been shown to regenerate the myocardium and reduce infarct size after an acute myocardial infarction.

Another novel use of HA has been dermal fillers in the face and also in penile enhancement to increase girth. HA is injected intradermally (just below the epidermis) in order to “plump” up appearance. Similar to the effect of water gain, it can lead to a bloated or puffy appearance. The problem with intradermal injections is that HA might migrate to a different area, or lead to infection, resulting in the death of skin cells. The most serious side effects can lead to blocked blood vessels and restrict blood supply to tissues. HA fillers can also cause vision impairment, blindness, stroke and damage in addition to necrosis of skin in the face.

Although a trendy and novel ingredient in skincare, hyaluronic acid (HA) probably has little to no effect, or most likely could worsen the appearance of skin due to its inability to penetrate the epidermis. HA is more effective for tissues such as the gums, without an upper epidermis barrier and as injectable hydrogels for conditions such as myocardial infarction, but intradermal injections in epidermis as a facial filler or penile enhancer would probably have a moderate effect with a high upkeep and high probability for negative side effects.

Dangers of Supplementation: Collagen, Zinc and Niacin

Collagen has been touted as a supplement for beautiful looking, youthful skin, but taking collagen supplements have an unintended effect: a risk for heart failure. It is true that collagen is important for skin elasticity, and collagen is a vital building block that contributes to skin, heart, blood vessels and other organs, but elevated levels of collagen in the bloodstream could lead to heart, kidney and other organ failure. This is because a net accumulation of collagen leads to fibrosis, and heart vessels become stiffer and can no longer function optimally.

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Collagen supplements have been all the rage with fitness models and beauty gurus, but an excess collagen intake can have unwanted side effects and lead to cardiovascular diseases.

Instead of collagen supplementation, one has to keep in mind that the body has the ability to produce its own collagen in necessary amounts. The vitamins in foods are naturally in balance and rarely have a danger of over consumption, however, when vitamins are isolated and taken in excess, it could lead to depletion or an excess in other minerals and vitamins that creates instability in the body, leading to a disease state.

Vitamins that allow the body to create its own reserve of collagen include foods with B-vitamins, Calcium, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Taurine and other amino acids that are necessary for whole body functioning. Vitamins and amino acids work in conjunction with other and this harmonious balance allows the body to create the right amount of collagen it needs. When one only takes collagen supplements, it is putting the body in danger of over supplementation that could lead to unintended disease states. In addition, many collagen supplements are derived from pigs and cows, and may lead to further allergic reactions.

Zinc has also been touted as a vitamin associated with virility. However, people who consume copious amounts of meat or beans probably are not in any depletion of zinc. When excess zinc is consumed, either through food or supplementation, it could lead to a copper imbalance that could present itself as iron deficiency anemia. This is primarily because zinc, copper and iron must be in balance for the body to produce red blood cells, and copper is necessary for melanin in skin and hair, to give colour, and also for healthy skin. Because zinc and copper compete for absorption in the small intestine, excess zinc could cause an imbalance leading to many unintended side effects that could result in anemia, neurodegenerative diseases due to a copper deficiency, and premature loss of colour in hair.

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Grey hair generally has a sexy attribute that is positively associated in society which may be indicative of wisdom and experience. However, premature grey hair may be a sign of a copper deficiency in which hair colour loses its pigment.

Also see how rats deficient in copper were able to regain colour in their fur after copper was reintroduced into their diets: Effect of adrenalectomy and hypophysectomy on achromotrichia in copper deficient rats.

Obviously, this does not mean that people should start to take copper supplements, as an excess could also present unintended consequences, but that a careful, harmonious balance must be attained so that zinc, copper and iron are in homeostasis in the body. This could mean for some people that perhaps a reduced consumption of iron-laden meats whilst adding copper rich foods such as mushrooms, eggplants, ginger, spinach and tomatoes might be advantageous in order to keep the body’s zinc-copper balance.

Niacin (nicotinic acid or vitamin B3) is also an interesting substance that has been linked with many anti-ageing supplements. Niacin is important in its role to regulate the human immune system response, and has been positively linked with optimal cholesterol levels. Niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3) is also important in its role of DNA repair and maintaining genomic stability. Niacinamide is also a key ingredient in skincare which stimulates skin renewal and improves hyperpigmentation when used topically.

However, although niacin and its derivatives have many positive effects, niacin also has a suppressive action on lipid (fat) metabolism when taken internally. Excess niacin could suppress collagen formation and prevent wound healing through its actions on lipid metabolism. Although niacin is necessary in conjunction with other B-vitamins and probably has a positive effect on health when in moderation or via a DNA resetting cleanse once in awhile, and niacin is necessary for many NAD+ related processes in the body, regular consumption of an extremely high amount of niacin (more than 100 mg per day) could potentially lead to reduction in the production of lipids which can lead to thinning skin due to its indirect inhibition of fat accumulation. So in essence, there can be such a thing as too much of a good thing, especially if it creates a situation that alters the homeostasis of the body’s own processes.

Hormone Replacement Therapy vs. Phyto-estrogens and Phyto-progestins

Many people use the off-label of hormone replacement therapy for supposedly anti-ageing benefits. However, much of the hormone replacements are not bioidentical hormones, but modified hormones from pigs. Although, there is much hype about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) regarding the increase of libido, skin benefits and other such anti-ageing marketing push in the media, much research has been conducted that taking these synthetic hormones actually lead to increased cancer risk.

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Medications for insulin, hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives are often derived from pigs and not bioidentical human hormones, leading to increased cancer risk.

In addition, other drugs that use hormone replacement therapy such as oral contraceptives and birth control pills and inserts have been correlated to cardiovascular diseases and cancer. In fact, the negative effects of birth control on female health have a series of continually ongoing civil lawsuits and class action lawsuits due to their widespread usage, but which young women are rarely warned about its consequences until it’s too late. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that hormone replacement therapy often has negative health consequences but marketed in the media as an anti-ageing product, and also pushed onto unsuspecting young women as a means to prevent pregnancy or hormonal acne.

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A staple in Japanese and Korean cuisines, tofu acts as a phytoestrogen in the body without the negative side effects of synthetic hormones derived from pigs.

However, the intake of phytoestrogens and phytoprogestins do not seem to pose the same risk, primarily because these are derived from plant sources that possess hormone-like activity in the human body and actually have been found to mitigate cancer risk. Phytoestrogens include tofu, grapefruit, licorice root, and lavender essential oil and phytoprogestins include evening primrose oil, camomile, dill, chasteberry and oregano. Phytoestrogens and phytoprogestins differ from synthetic formulations of hormones due to their ability to mimic the body’s processes exactly and not derivative from other mammals, such as pigs.

Hormonal Imbalance and Male Pattern Baldness

Other drugs that also attempt to suppress the actions of hormones are drugs that were developed to stop male pattern baldness. Although balding is generally considered a “genetic” disease by dermatologists, in actuality, balding is most often related to hormonal imbalance in the body. Drugs such as Propecia, block the effect of DHT from testosterone which causes degradation of hair follicles. However, what propecia actually does is block all effects of all testosterone, when it could be simply that someone is suffering from an excess of testosterone and may have imbalanced estradiol, testosterone and progesterone levels.

Estradiol in men is essential for modulating libido, erectile function, and spermatogenesis. Estrogen receptors, as well as aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen, are abundant in brain, penis, and testis, organs important for sexual function. 80% of estradiol circulating in men are derived from the conversion of testosterone, so it could be that a type of male pattern baldness could stem from an inability to convert testosterone into estrogenic compounds. Whether this inability is “genetic” or a gene expression due to lifestyle choices remains unclear. However, since the mineral zinc inhibits the aromatase enzyme that converts testosterone into excess estrogen. This could mean that excess zinc in the diet could prevent the conversion of androgens into estrogens in men that may lead to excess DHT circulation in the body that leads to male pattern baldness and also erectile dysfunction.

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Zinc, a necessary mineral that is in moderate amounts in many fruits and vegetables, but is the most abundant in animal products such as beef, chicken and pork. Zinc inhibits the aromatase enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen in men, potentially leading to a type of male pattern baldness and erectile dysfunction.

Excess estrogen and low progesterone could also be another reason for a type of male pattern baldness. Many researchers have concluded that the hormonal pattern of a substantial number of men with premature balding resembles in some respects the hormonal pattern of women with polycystic ovary syndrome. This type of premature balding of men before or around the age of 30 could be compounded by insulin resistance that could lead to Type 2 diabetes.

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Taurine, an amino acid that also works as a neurotransmitter, has been studied to regulate pancreatic functions, increase insulin sensitivity and eradicate the symptoms of diabetes. Taurine is most abundant in seafood and shellfish.

An impaired pancreas due to excess sugar and alcohol in the diet could lead to this type of insulin resistance. It could be that the pancreatic functions are also impaired due to its inability to produce adequate amounts of taurine. Taurine, an amino acid that also works as a neurotransmitter, has the ability to attenuate diabetes and increase insulin sensitivity. In this type of male pattern baldness with decreased insulin sensitivity, leading to a state of excess estrogen, taurine could be a potentially therapeutic treatment against alopecia.

Although in the past, male pattern baldness was considered a “genetic” disease in the 1990s, more modern research is alluding to a pattern of an imbalance of hormones in men that are the underlying factors of baldness.

The human body has evolved from millions of years of evolution and we not yet know all of its mysterious functions. However, the human body has also evolved with an ability to heal itself, and to be able to do this, a harmonious balance of hormones, nutrients, amino acids, lipids, carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins must all be in homeostasis for the body to function optimally because none of these substances work in isolation. Although generally, vitamins in foods are more readily absorbed by the body, excessive vitamin supplementation that lead to a deficiency of other competing vitamins or minerals or the usage of drugs that block hormonal functions can eventually lead to side effects and unintended disease states.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for educational purposes only and not intended as medical advice nor medical diagnosis. People should consult their health adviser, doctor and nutritionist before stopping or starting new medications or supplements.