An Update on the Magic Wolverine Peptide Called BPC-157
If you’re a Marvel fan, you’ll know one of my favorite characters called Wolverine. Logan is a bada$$ that can heal so quickly that he’s impossible to kill. So when companies began to advertise a peptide they named after Wolverine, the sales went nuts. After all, who wouldn’t want to heal like a superhero? However, what’s hype and what’s reality? Let’s dig in.
What is BPC-157?
BPC stands for Body Protection Compound. BPC-157 is derived from a protein in gastric juice., meaning, it is NOT a natural substance that exists in nature. It’s a small molecule with 15 amino acids known as a peptide.
BPC-157 is part of an exploding supplement sales empire as dozens of companies have promoted this stuff on social media. It’s also known on social media as the “Wolverine” drug or peptide, referring to that Marvel character’s ability to heal quickly. From looking at how commercial even the scientific searches are on Google, sellers have mastered the SEO game.
The general idea is that this stuff is supposed to help healing. However, for use in healing muscles, ligaments, and tendons, there is not a single randomized controlled trial that has ever been performed in humans. Meaning we have no clinical evidence that it works.
How Is It Administered?
BPC-157 is stable in stomach acid and unlike other growth factors, it’s stable in water. However, it’s more commonly sold as an intramuscular injection. Despite that, in one study of rats and ligaments, good effects were observed when it was provided orally (1).
Is BPC-157 Legal?
The short answer is NO. Despite that, some websites claim that it is legal with a script. We do know that WADA added BPC-157 to its banned substances list (4). Meaning if you’re an athlete and it shows up on a drug test, you are disqualified from your event. Many online sellers claim that what they’re selling is for research use only, but everyone knows (wink, wink) that this stuff is being sold for human consumption. The FDA has begun to crack down on the worst compounding pharmacies making this stuff.
Also, as I predicted with my last blog on this topic, it wouldn’t be long before FDA put a stop to the peptide compounding pharmacy game. For example, most of the BPC-157 is compounded by pharmacies from bulk research-grade ingredients. That means that the pharmacy may buy a kilogram of BPC-157 that it bought cheaply from a research supply house and then put it in bottles that are sold to patients.
In February of 2020, the FDA began to crack down on this practice by putting out an advisory. This means that anything that could be a named drug, like BPC-157, would need full drug approval before a compounding pharmacy can legally compound it for human use. Hence, BPC-157 is clearly on the “do not compound for human use” list. Has that stopped online sales? Nope.
I would expect more FDA actions soon. Meaning that we will likely see more compounding pharmacies who are making this stuff go down and also expect FTC to begin to take out online sellers. The FDA and FTC one-two punch should dent sales, but as the stem cell “wild west” has proven, that may not stop sales.
How Well Does it Work to Enhance Healing?
In one animal model, when compared to platelet-derived growth factor, after eight days it was roughly equivalent (2). Unlike platelet growth factors which will work directly on tendon or ligament cells, BPC-157 doesn’t work that way, as it has no effect for example on tendon cells in culture, but does help tendon cells in animals (3). It’s believed it either works by activating other repair cells that can help tendons or ligaments or making the human growth factor receptor on these cells more sensitive (6). This last factoid suggests it likely wouldn’t work as well in younger patients who already have maximally sensitive HGH receptors on their cells.
As I included in my last blog, experimental studies of healing with BPC-157 in fibrous tissues like tendons show that its healing effect is roughly equivalent to PRP. On the left is a diagram from a BPC-157 study and on the right from our in-vitro platelet-based tendon healing study (5).Join us for a free Regenexx webinar.
This blog was prompted by a colleague who sent me the above picture. Her comment was that a patient brought these vials in to her office visit and if you look at the vials, they look like they have inkjet-printed labels. Not exactly inspiring physician confidence.
This company is called Gorilla Healing and this is the Google street view of the address on the packing slip:
It looks like they must have a small office suite to the right behind the oil change place to the left. This company also advertises a “Wolverine Nasal Spray” to treat arthritis.
How Do You Know You’re Actually Getting BPC-157?
This is the billion-dollar question. Making these compounds is hard, especially since this compound doesn’t exist in nature. In addition, if it’s research-grade, that doesn’t mean that it’s been approved for human use, as that stuff is sold to researchers to use in lab experiments.
There simply is no way to determine if you’re getting BPC-157 without sending it to a lab for verification. Meaning the stuff being sold is NOT regulated by the FDA, which would normally make the company provide independent analyses for purity and potency. In fact, it’s clearly illegal based on the recent FDA warning.
The upshot? Would I use BPC-157 in my patients? NO. There isn’t a shred of human clinical data that it would work. In addition, when compared head to head with PRP, its effects are similar. In addition, we have dozens of randomized controlled trials in real patients where PRP works. We have ZERO for BPC-157. Finally, it’s clearly illegal to use in humans.
(1) Cerovecki T, Bojanic I, Brcic L, Radic B, Vukoja I, Seiwerth S, Sikiric P. Pentadecapeptide BPC 157 (PL 14736) improves ligament healing in the rat. J Orthop Res. 2010 Sep;28(9):1155-61. doi: 10.1002/jor.21107. PMID: 20225319.
(2) Tkalcević VI, Cuzić S, Brajsa K, Mildner B, Bokulić A, Situm K, Perović D, Glojnarić I, Parnham MJ. Enhancement by PL 14736 of granulation and collagen organization in healing wounds and the potential role of egr-1 expression. Eur J Pharmacol. 2007 Sep 10;570(1-3):212-21. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2007.05.072. Epub 2007 Jun 16. PMID: 17628536.
(3) Chang CH, Tsai WC, Lin MS, Hsu YH, Pang JH. The promoting effect of pentadecapeptide BPC 157 on tendon healing involves tendon outgrowth, cell survival, and cell migration. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Mar;110(3):774-80. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00945.2010. Epub 2010 Oct 28. PMID: 21030672.
(4) USADA. https://www.usada.org/spirit-of-sport/education/bpc-157-peptide-prohibited/
(5) Berger DR, Centeno CJ, Steinmetz NJ. Platelet lysates from aged donors promote human tenocyte proliferation and migration in a concentration-dependent manner. Bone Joint Res. 2019 Feb 2;8(1):32-40. doi: 10.1302/2046-3758.81.BJR-2018-0164.R1. PMID: 30800297; PMCID: PMC6359887.
(6) Chang CH, Tsai WC, Hsu YH, Pang JH. Pentadecapeptide BPC 157 enhances the growth hormone receptor expression in tendon fibroblasts. Molecules. 2014;19(11):19066-19077. Published 2014 Nov 19. doi:10.3390/molecules191119066