By Joel Brind
So I’ve been writing for a few years now about the benefits of supplementing your diet with glycine. (Full disclosure: I’ve also been selling glycine online, cleverly disguised as a sweetener called ‘sweetamine??). I got into it because my studies on nutritional biochemistry and amino acid metabolism led me to try it out myself, both on lab rats and myself. I thought it couldn’t hurt, and could only help, by helping to get rid of excess methionine from my typical high-protein diet. But after some time of experimenting and studying the relatively scant literature on the subject, it became clear that glycine’s main benefits are to the immune system.
Of course, if your immune system appears to be functioning well, that is, you don’t get seriously ill, and when you are ill at all you get over it pretty quick, etc., it’s hard to recognize any benefit at all. What I ended up discovering?among other things?was the fact that the immune system itself is widely misunderstood, even by?or should I say, especially by’the health experts.
I studied immunology (one of my areas of specialization) in grad school (actually at NYU Medical School) back in the late 1970’s. The almost exclusive focus of the texts and the course was the quest for the ?holy grail? of acquired immunity; the basis of vaccination and of specific immunity against specific bugs: The great mystery was how the immune system could be trained to make specific antibody molecules to microbes which it had never encountered before. After all, specific antibody protein molecules must be coded for by specific sequences of DNA, and you’re born with all the DNA you’ll ever have. So everyone in the field of immunology, it seemed, was consumed with the quest for a Nobel Prize for solving this great riddle. The mystery was solved, eventually, and maybe somebody got a Nobel Prize for itI don’t know?but it did not really add any knowledge as to how to make a good vaccine, for example.
But I digress. Actually, the whole field of immunology digressed, and largely still does so today; still preoccupied with acquired immunity, to the neglect of the far less glamorous innate immunity. Innate immunity is the much less specific function that actually saves the rear ends of most of us when a new plague rolls into town; some new bug that nobody’s immune system has ever seen before. The challenge to the immune system: Kill that nasty bug before it kills us! So the effector cells of innate immunity?ameba-like cells called macrophages?are summoned to the scene by general chemical markers of bacteria or viruses or fungi?and they go into action, making hydrogen peroxide and other poisons. These poisons will kill the bugs all right, but they also kill normal body cells, as well as generally creating a war zone characterized by the classic signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, heat, pain and immobility.
Inflammation is a wonderful thing. When operating properly it is so well regulated and short lived that it is hardly noticed. Yet it is because of inflammation that, for example, most people exposed to the Ebola virus don’t even get sick (but they do get immunized).
But inflammation is also generally what happens in the case of injury, including blunt injury, in which there are no microbes to kill. That’s exactly why you put ice on it initially, to suppress inflammation. Otherwise, it takes longer to heal. So why exactly does inflammation happen when there are no microbes around to defend against? Why does your immune system go into action to kill bugs that aren’t there? Sounds like immune system paranoia, doesn’t it?
And that’s the main physiological function of glycine in the immune system: It regulates the macrophages so they can just go about the boring business of cleaning up the mess after injury, without getting activated to start shooting up the place with poisons! Although glycine is normally around in fairly high concentrations in body fluids, it’s not at levels that are high enough to keep the macrophages?resident in all bodily organs, including the brain?from trying to stop an infection that isn’t there.
So how was this simple fact missed for so many years, even decades, even centuries?
Because a deficiency of glycine is so universal, and because glycine was dismissed for so long as a ?non-essential? nutrient.
When I say that glycine deficiency is nearly universal, I mean that we think of it as normal that injury produces inflammation (even though there seems to be no good reason for it). But what I learned on glycine supplementation is that it is not. So when I fell 4 feet onto a concrete floor directly onto my tailbone, but managed’through the intense initial pain’to finish what I was doing, and then (with no ice) had no problem literally going out dancing that evening, I knew that taking 8 grams of glycine every day was doing something BIG. The next morning, I not only felt fine, but all I had to show for my fall was a massive bruise on my lower back’the only proof my injury was not a dream!
The following summer I went to watch a ball game on a beautiful cloudless day; hatless, sunscreenless, in a tee shirt and shorts. About the fifth inning I noticed a warm sensation on my thighs, only to look down and see all my exposed skin the color of a boiled lobster. Wow! I had not let that happen to me since I was in my twenties. And I knew that that night, and for days thereafter, I would have tremendous pain and difficulty bathing, dressing and undressing. And after all that it would just blister up and peel off! So of course I immediately moved to a shady seat to watch the rest of the game. But then, an amazing thing didn’t happen! No pain, no immobility, and the redness just started to fade, leaving perhaps a hint of color the next day (alas, no real tan either!)
So eventually I put two and two (and some really spot on published research by a group at the University of North Carolina from the 1990s) together, and realized that inflammation doesn’t happen with injury where there is no infection. It just heals, and much quicker, too! Much better when your immune system isn’t paranoid!
Now at least it is widely acknowledged that most of what makes people sick and die these days is chronic inflammation. So why should that happen when there is not only no infection, but no injury either? That brings us to the subject of micro-injury; injury to just a small number of cells, or the natural death of some number of cells from a normal process. Such occur repetitively?chronically?even in a healthy body, but at low levels of which we are typically unaware. In a healthy body, such micro-injuries just heal, nbd. But what if the low level tissue injury produces low-level inflammation, because the body has insufficient levels of glycine to restrain those macrophages from activation? It produces chronic inflammation.
So here are some common examples:
- Blood flow: The arterial side of your circulatory system is a high pressure fluid system. In any such system, turbulence develops naturally at high-pressure branch points, e.g., where your coronary arteries, carotid arteries and renal arteries branch off the systemic aorta. Turbulence naturally produces micro-injury. If it just heals, nbd. If glycine is deficient, it produces inflammation, which chronically develops into atherosclerosis, causing heart attack, stroke, malignant hypertension, etc.
- Ovulation: In a young fertile woman, each month, an egg is ovulated from one or the other ovary. It is actually an explosive process, literally like the egg’s being shot out of a cannon!
Naturally, that produces local injury to the ovary. And it produces inflammation (at least in the usual state of glycine deficiency). And how many times a woman ovulates in her lifetime is directly related to her risk of ovarian cancer. That’s why having lots of kids and breastfeeding them, or taking contraceptive steroids (‘the pill?), lowers the risk of developing ovarian cancer (which only happens, in my view, if one is glycine deficient).
- Vigorous exercise: Working out at the gym, or shoveling the snow, typically produces muscle soreness the next day, because some muscle fibers are torn. The body responds by building more muscle fibers (?No pain; no gain?), but the soreness is actually due to inflammation. It doesn’t happen when you supplement with glycine.
Of course, the prevention of atherosclerosis and cancer by glycine supplementation will not be proven for some years, as it takes lots of time for these chronic conditions to develop (although animal experiments and observational studies are already providing some good evidence).
At this point, I think one of the main impediments to appreciating the importance of glycine is what we might call the drug mentality. So let’s say you have chronic pain in my knee. I take 8 grams/day supplemental glycine, and in a few days, the pain goes away. So now you appreciate that glycine made your pain and inflammation go away, and after a time, you can stop taking it, because the condition has been ?cured?, as if by a drug. But glycine is not a drug! A more accurate way to look at the situation is the fact that glycine made a difference is merely the proof that you were deficient in this nutrient to begin with! So your innate immune system was in a state of paranoia, attacking microbes that weren’t there, just because of chronic, low-level tissue injury. But the ?immune system paranoia? will return, if glycine deficiency returns.
About the Author
Joel Brind, Ph.D. has been a Professor of Biology and Endocrinology at Baruch College of the City University of New York for over 30 years and a medical research biochemist since 1981. Long specializing in steroid biosynthesis and metabolism and endocrine-related cancers, he has specialized in amino acid metabolism in recent years, particularly in relation to glycine and one-carbon metabolism. In 2010 he founded Natural Food Science, LLC to make and market glycine supplement products via?sweetamine.com, which includes his own blog?HERE.
Hi Joel,great article.
What do you think about nephrotic syndromeIs it due to paranoid immune system,which acts on the kidney filters,creating inflammation and causing proteinuria?
Can glycine supplementation help in relapse of Nephrotic syndrome?
Nephrotic syndrome is usually one of the consequences of diabetes, from damage to the blood vessels in the kidney, specifically glomerular capillaries. Glycine should help in more than one way. First off, it helps to reverse diabetes, by stopping the systemic inflammation that causes it. Second, it should stop the secondary inflammation that may result from the nephrotic syndrome. Third, glycine is generally known to be nephroprotective for reasons independent of inflammation, mechanisms not well understood currently. So it should be a win-win-win:-)
Thank you for information Dr.In nephrotic syndrome which is seen in kids like minimal change disease can glycine supplements be taken especially kids under 10 yrs?if yes how much should be the dosage’thank you.
An interesting question, Vidya. The short answer is that glycine is totally safe in just about any quantity. I took 40 grams/day for a month with no problem, and tested my blood every week. But that’s where an artificial problem can arise. (Here comes the long answer!)
When taking 40 g/day of glycine, my blood levels of glycine went up to 700 micromolar, whereas normal levels are supposed to be only up to half that. That’s because normal levels are derived from measuring thousands of normal people’s blood samples. If the whole population is glycine-deficient (which it is, in my view), then healthy levels appear abnormally high.
Now, blood glycine levels are not normally measured at all, so this artificial problem does not show up. But there’s another one: A common metabolite of muscular activity is a compound called creatinine. The synthesis and clearance (disposal) of creatinine though the urine are very, very stable for each individual, essentially a constant function of muscle mass. Creatinine is also a metabolite that is measured in a routine blood test, because its stability under normal circumstances makes it a good indicator of kidney function. So if your creatinine goes up, the blood test is interpreted as indicating a decrease in kidney function.
The trouble here is that creatinine is made from glycine and another amino acid, arginine. So when you supplement with several grams of glycine per day, guess what? Your plasma creatinine levels go up (as well as a modest increase in blood urea). There is nothing wrong with this, but the blood test may be interpreted as a sign of possible kidney failure!
So you can see that a patient who is experiencing kidney problems and whose kidney function is being monitored regularly, may, if taking supplemental glycine, have his blood tests falsely indicate that his kidneys are being damaged, rather than helped!
So this is an issue which I recommend a patient discuss with his/her doctor. And there is no way that I intend to challenge the opinion or judgement of any doctor. Keep in mind that, just as glycine is not a drug of any kind, I am not a physician or medical practitioner of any kind. My degree is in Basic Medical Sciences (specifically, biochemistry, physiology and immunology). So I have experience and expertise in biochemical blood tests, in running them, designing them, modifying them and interpreting them, but not for patients. All I do on this blog and elsewhere is share what I know with whoever is interested. So that’s the long and the short of it!
Interesting post, thanks Dr Brind. I recently started supplementing glycine after reading your earlier posts and it seems to be helping with some plantar fasciitis I’ve been having.
Interesting article. Thank you for your research. My husband has problems with plantar fascitis as well. May have to try this glycine protocol.
I have one customer that I know of who had plantar fasciitis (note past tense) that was a bit stubborn and took 16 grams/day to resolve it.
Excellent article. This is the only blog on the Internet that actually writes about real things, not abstract mathematical fiction. Kudos to Matt, the owner and you , too, Dr. Brind.
I read this article and it’s very intriguing! Thank you!
I have a lot of inflammation. It looks like water retention. When I don’t eat a lot of sugary, the inflammation decreases, but then my metabolism slows down, as well.
Can supplementing with glycine help with what I’m experiencing?
Inflammation does involve some water retention. That’s why many people who have lots of joint inflammation, for example, lose a few pounds when they start taking glycine: The weight loss is just water of inflammation.
But it’s a bit misleading (although, I of course use the term myself) even to use the word “supplementation” here, when we are really talking about a nutrient that we need in additional quantities just to have a complete, balanced diet. So you can take pretty much any diet, and if it does not have a substantial glycine source–like gelatin–as a daily part of it, it is almost certainly glycine-deficient. So the answer to the question as to whether glycine will help is pretty obvious, for it is always beneficial to correct a deficiency. And then, just see what it does for you.
. . . Is there any negative side effects of taking glycine supplements?
A small minority of those eating free glycine (such as in sweetamine, as opposed to eating it in a protein form, such as gelatin) report some form of GI upset, and a few report some light-headedness. But all of these side-effects go away quickly with discontinuance of glycine. No serious side-effects have ever been reported, to my knowledge (i.e., a 100% safety record).
For those who have any problem with the free amino acid, I would recommend their trying gelatin instead.
How much gelatin would equal a sweetamine dose? I’m not able to stomach much, due to an illness, so I might have to use gelatin.
You would need approximately 32 grams of gelatin to get 8 grams of glycine. You could also take glycine in pills or powder. NOW brand offers 1000 mg caps and also bulk powder. Check on Amazon.com
I think I am one of those people, unfortunately. 1 packet of sweetamine gives me very loose stools. I use Great Lakes gelatin with no ill effects, is this providing me with similar benefits? I really wish I could use glycine…will it always have that effect on me?
Gelatin is approximately 25% glycine. That said, you can take glycine as a supplement. I’ve been taking NOW glycine 1000 mg (1 gram) capsules (100 caps for ~$12). I’m now using Bulk Supplements glycine powder (2.2 pounds on Amazon.com for around $20). The taste is OK in coffee or tea – probably other stuff too. Taste is predominantly sweet but most likely not as tasty as SweetAmine.
With capsules you could try taking much smaller amounts to start then increase slowly and see how it goes.
Dr Brind, Science Daily posted an article dated 24 May 2012 about cancer cell metabolism and glycine being implicated in cancer cell proliferation. The study had been conducted through the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. According to their data results, glycine consumption relates to the speed of cancer cell division.
Have your studies concerning glycine included its effect on cancer, especially as to glycine’s influence on cancer inflammation and proliferation?
Sorry for taking so long to respond, Bonnie.
Yes, I’ve seen this work (By Mohit Jain et al., in Science magazine–a top professional journal). The problem is the simplistic conclusion that because the more virulent cancer cells can more efficiently make and utilize glycine, glycine is bad for you, as if it somehow increases susceptibility to cancer. Cancer cells arise in a body that is subjected to chronic inflammation, which happens when methionine concentration is chronically high, and glycine chronically low. (That’s why in in vitro cell culture, the media needed to grow these cancer cells is very low in glycine; about 1/3 to 1/2 the levels in normal blood pasma, and very high in methionine; about 6 times higher than in normal plasma). Hence, the unhealthy, cancer-vulnerable environment selects for cancer cells which are poor at making and salvaging methionine (which is always abundant), and great at making and utilizing glycine (which is always in short supply). In a healthy, non-chronically inflamed body, glycine is high and methionine low, and cancer cells do not develop and grow.
Recently I’ve read about the interplay between vigorous exercise and inflammation, and it doesn’t seem to be very straightforward. For example, the soreness tends to be greatest after the first training; it goes down after the second. At the same time, inflammation markers are higher after the second round.
Read more here (search for inflammation): https://www.painscience.com/articles/delayed-onset-muscle-soreness.php
Thanks for the interesting article, Thomas, on DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). The author says: “It’s mostly a myth ? one of many massage myths ? that DOMS can be effectively treated by massage?or anything else. Believe me, I’ve tried ? my personal experimentation will be described below.”
But he didn’t try glycine! In my experience, that’s all you need. Strenuous exercise produces micro-injuries, which provoke inflammation when glycine is deficient. Inflammation is of no use at all–only causing damage to normal tissue–when there is no infection to fight. And the reactive oxygen species are a by-product of inflammation. Just take 8-10 grams per day of glycine, and after 3 days, go out and shovel snow by hand for an hour. That used to make my back plenty sore the next day 30 years ago, but not anymore:-)
I don’t argue that glycine can help – I don’t know, and hope it can.
But there’s some evidence that it might not work in the way you propose. What the studies linked from the article say, among other things, is:
1. Inflammation is not necessarily present with DOMS after exercise: “Thigh girth and serum creatine kinase did not change throughout the experiment.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10362386
2. Micro-trauma might not be happening with DOMS: “The myofibrillar and cytoskeletal alterations observed in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) caused by eccentric exercise are generally considered to represent damage. By contrast our recent immunohistochemical studies suggested that the alterations reflect myofibrillar remodeling (Yu and Thornell 2002; Yu et al. 2003). In other words, these researchers found evidence that what previously looked like microtearing of muscle tissue is actually probably just muscle tissue doing microscopic renovations ? an adaptive process, not a repair process, and probably not painful in and of itself.”
from: Yu JG, Carlsson L, Thornell LE. Evidence for myofibril remodeling as opposed to myofibril damage in human muscles with DOMS: an ultrastructural and immunoelectron microscopic study. Histochem Cell Biol. 2004
The immune system is one of the most important parts I agree but in 2016 many experts agreed that a stressful lifestyle can affect your immune system.
An interesting discussion, Thomas. I think it may come down to what we consider damage. You used the term “micro-trauma”, which may be too strong a word to describe what might cross the threshold of macrophage activation, at least in a glycine-deficient state. In contrast, the term “remodeling” sounds completely benign and devoid of anything that might be considered injurious.
I daresay that micro-injury (as I call it) likely includes what is generally called remodeling. So, for a more well-known example, the normal remodeling of bone is a rather violent process on a micro level, effected by the resident macrophages of bone (osteoclasts). (Theoretically, at least, I would hypothesize that glycine might therefore also fix postmenopausal osteoporosis, and time will tell. Meanwhile, there’s harmless and effective DHEA readily available for that.) I don’t know much about muscle remodeling, and it may well not necessarily involved the tearing of muscle fibers; rather the tearing of myofibrils (and likely some cytokinesis, to create more fibers as the muscle grows). But I’ve never done a remodeling project in my house without the need for some degree of demolition and the generation of some useless debris that needed to be removed. In the body, it’s the job of the resident macrophages to clean up these messes, but they should not be activated to produce peroxides and other poisons characteristic of inflammation, for these only serve a purpose if there are invading pathogens to destroy.
My point is that the threshold for macrophage activation is, in general, too low when glycine is deficient. How much excessive macrophage toxicity is thus generated by normal (but at least slightly destructive) events surely varies, depending upon which events we are talking about (like bone or muscle remodeling), and the severity of the deficiency of glycine and other key nutrients (e.g., salicylic acid, omega-3 EPA) which affect the level of recruitment of other macrophages to the fray.
One glaring omission in this discussion is the fact that glycine raises ammonia levels big time. Not good if one has liver or gut issues, or restless leg syndrome.
The latter sounds laughable, but not to those who suffer from it and cannot sleep as a result. So much for the sleep-inducing effects of glycine.
Joel Brind – Please inform me, have you personally witnessed people recovering from very serious illnesses using glycine? I am particularly interested to know if you have heard of anyone making a full recovery (getting cured) from dementia or cancer. Thank you. Jamie.
Very interesting article and I have noticed many of the effects you speak of in my personal experience.
In your references to glycine, I am assuming you are referring to gelatin more generally, based on the fact that a whole food source of anything would be better than an isolated component. I am very interested in your opinion on if you agree with gelatin as a primary source of protein in one’s diet (considering that it does not contain all “essential” amino acids) as Ray Peat suggests:
“It happens that gelatin is a protein which contains no tryptophan, and only small amounts of cysteine, methionine, and histidine. Using gelatin as a major dietary protein is an easy way to restrict the amino acids that are associated with many of the problems of aging.”
“The amino acids in proteins have been defined as ?essential? on the basis of their contribution to growth, ignoring their role in producing long life, good brain development, and good health. The amino acid and protein requirements during aging have hardly been studied, except in rats, whose short life-span makes such studies fairly easy. The few studies that have been done indicate that the requirements for tryptophan and cysteine become very low in adulthood.”
Dr. Brind, are you aware of any studies or data (other than the Mohit Jain et al study mentioned earlier) that would speak directly to the risk of accelerating cancer growth (for example – in an existing breast cancer tumor) by taking supplemental glycine in the 7 – 10 grams per day range? Is there any data out there that indicates an anti-cancer effect of supplemental glycine? Is there any reason to think additional glycine in the form of gelatin would have a different risk profile?
I’ve been following the work of Stephanie Seneff on glyphosate and was wondering if you might have seen the following video:
and/or might be familiar with her work.
The hypothesis is that glyphosate substitutes for glycine in proteins, which Dr Seneff says would explain the toxic effects of glyphosate (if proven true).
This theory brings up a question: would being fully replete with glycine help to keep this from happening? Is this sort to toxicity more likely if one is glycine deficient?
A lot of people with Lyme Disease obsess over glutathione, but taken orally, glycine makes a bigger impact. I’ll add a lil extra into my diet and see how it affects muscle recovery.
I know this issue is quite controversial, but do you mind me asking…what is your view on vaccines?
If you’re asking me, I’d say vaccines are like almost every commercial, for-profit product…
The benefits are exaggerated, the dangers are downplayed, and any and all studies relating to them are likely to be one of many shades of fraudulent with no regard to long-term consequences.
I always filter everything through my own personal experience. The sickest I’ve ever been in my life was after getting vaccinated, and the doctor grinned at me and said my illness couldn’t be from the vaccine. 3 rounds of the vaccine. Same illness all 3 times immediately after.
I’m not saying I base all my beliefs on my personal experience, but that was enough to make me suspicious and skeptical.
I have ankylosing spondylitis. Will glycine help this si I won’t have to take injections?
Nice post mate, keep up the great work.
Is there any glycine supplements that is from plants?
I am a vegan.
Nephrotic syndrome is usually one of the consequences of diabetes, from damage to the blood vessels in the kidney, specifically glomerular capillaries so this artificial problem does not show up. But there’s another one: A common metabolite of muscular activity is a compound called creatinine. The synthesis and clearance (disposal) of creatinine though the urine are very, The study had been conducted through the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. According to their data results, glycine consumption relates to the speed of cancer cell division.Thank you for sharing your article about Glycine and the Immune System.
“Vigorous exercise: Working out at the gym, or shoveling the snow, typically produces muscle soreness the next day, because some muscle fibers are torn. The body responds by building more muscle fibers (‘No pain; no gain’), but the soreness is actually due to inflammation. It doesn’t happen when you supplement with glycine.”
Well, that’s strange, because that hasn’t been my experience in the least. I’ve been taking about 10 grams of glycine per day (powder mixed in warm water)for the past several months, and I still get very sore after working out hard with weights (especially after cable squats and supine dumbbell presses). I’m usually sore for at least 2-3 days afterwards. Do you think I simply need to take more glycine, Dr. Brind?
I just saw a presentation by Stephanie Seneff
on how Glyphosate could be substituting for Glycene and causing problems.
Would supplementing with Glycene put out the Glyphosate?
In UK the shops are full of all sorts of foods and “foods” but even in the larger stores you will only find gelatine as one brand in the cooking section (alongside “vegegel” which isn’t). The little sachets cost 40 pence per 12 grams so the amount recommended here would be over ?1 a day. They are marketed as a sort of entertainment food (jelly desserts) rather than anything seriously nutritious. And no-one is selling bones in this big city. Not surprising that glycine deficiency would be endemic. I guess that humans lack a “hunger” for glycine or gelatine because it would traditionally have come along with protein more generally – I still remember that my school served us unpleasantly chewy “stew” when I was a child!
Hello Doctor. I live a generally healthy life style , but I have tested high for crp levels in my blood which my primary care doctor syspects may put me at risk for heart disease. I feel the source of my inflammation is osteoarthritis in my knees.
I’d like to add sweetamine to my daily regimen, but have stumbled upon 2 aspects about glycine that conern me;
That it supresses your immune
System and normal immune response.
That next to sugar, glycine is cancers favorite food source.
Can you please speak to these 2 concerns?
@ Brian Pierce, your post has been dealt with above in an earlier reply.
I’ve taken gelatin in the past and had to discontinue because it causes herpes outbreaks. Normally when I feel like I’m starting to get a cold (runny nose, hot/cold, generally feeling subpar) I either get a cold or I get cold sores. But with gelatin (that Great Lakes powder) I just get cold sores. So that rules it out for me. (Lysine helps though, both during the active outbreak and as a preventative.)
Re sore muscles after exercise, I find a small amount of aspirin before and after makes a big difference. Although it also makes makes my tinnitus worse! So, stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I use glycine as a sweetener but so far I have not heated it. If am thinking of using it in baked goods or heated sauces such as hot fudge. Will heat effect its health advantages or its sweet taste?
I need to know if you have cancer,will Glycine help cure the cancer are make it worse,so it kills you faster?~And Does Glycine carry other nutrients and vitamins into cancer cells.Say like Curcumin or Ginger?~I have a small tumor,will it shrink or grow using Glycine?