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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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December 05 2017

Dear Mark: Glycine as Collagen Replacement; Debt as Disease of Civilization

By Mark Sisson
23 Comments

Dear_Mark_Inline_PhotoFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two questions. First, since glycine is often cited as the main reason to consume gelatinous meats and take collagen hydrolysate supplements, couldn’t we just take supplementary glycine? Are we missing anything if we go that route? And second, I riff off a great comment from last week’s post on financial security.

Let’s go:

Daniel asked:

Any thoughts on isolated glycine vs collagen/gelatin for supplementation? You can get a kilo of glycine from BulkSupplements.com for about $20, so in terms of grams of glycine per dollar it’s much cheaper than collagen. Glycine is also very sweet, almost as sweet as sucrose, so it would seem to be an excellent healthy sweetener.

That’s a good compromise, though. If I were really strapped for cash, I’d take glycine in a heartbeat.

Pure glycine is great for things like balancing your intake of methionine. In case you’re not aware, muscle meat is high in an amino acid called methionine. Methionine metabolism depletes glycine, so the more meat you eat, the more glycine-rich connective tissue, bone broth, and collagen supplements you should be eating to balance out the amino acids.

But balancing methionine for longevity and health isn’t the only reason we’re eating collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, providing tensile strength to our bones, teeth, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. It’s an important structural component of the skin, lungs, intestines, and heart. And as far as the evidence so far available suggests, eating the amino acids that make up collagen separately doesn’t have the same effect on those collagenous tissues as eating them together in a collagenous matrix.

One reason is that the collagen matrix can survive digestion more or less intact.

In one study, rats with osteoporosis ate collagen hydrolysate that scientists had marked with a radioactive signature to allow them to track its course through the body. It survived the digestive tract intact, made it into the blood, and accumulate in the kidneys. By day 14, the rats’ thigh bones had gotten stronger and denser with more organic matter and less water content.

Another study found similar results, this time for cartilage of the knee. Mice who ate radioactive collagen hydrolysate showed increased radioactivity in the knee joint.

The fact is that collagen is more than glycine. When you feed people collagen derived from pork skin, chicken feet, and cartilage, many different collagenous peptides appear in the blood. You don’t get any of those from isolated glycine.

All that said, pure glycine can be a helpful supplement. It’s great for balancing out methionine intake from muscle meat consumption. It’s also been used in several studies to improve multiple markers of sleep quality. Those aren’t minor results. They’re big.

Collagen is ideal, but glycine isn’t a bad option. In fact, I’d argue that perhaps collagen plus supplementary glycine could offer the best bang for your buck.

Ryan Parnham mentioned:

Great article full of truth! Financial debt is definitely not a Primal thing, I mean, I doubt Grok was borrowing money for some rare fur loin cloth or whatever!

That’s a great point, Ryan, one that I didn’t explicitly mention in the post. Financial debt is one of the great diseases of civilization. Before money and credit, it just didn’t exist.

People were indebted to each other, sure. You come up short hunting one season and your pal spots you and your kin some meat, you’d feel like you owed him. The sensation of owing something to another person for services rendered is universal, requires no formal currency system, and spans all of human history and prehistory.  It’s about the give and take of personal relationship—and community. It promotes cooperation and is probably part of what made us so successful. That’s foundational human psychology. 

But that isn’t same as crushing debt hanging over your head. Being indebted to someone is based on material reality. Debt is more abstract. It follows you. It’s in your head, all the time. It’s almost like a deity, an entity that exists outside of normal temporal reality. It isn’t bound by physics or cold hard material existence. Debt looms. The debt resides.

What this means is that we don’t have a lot of psychological or physiological tools to deal with the stress of debt in a healthy manner. Just like sleep deprivation, excessive omega-6 seed oils, too many refined carbs, a lack of social contact, and being sedentary are all evolutionarily novel inputs that we simply can’t deal with and result in a ton of health issues, financial debt is an aberration to the human psyche. We’re better off avoiding it altogether, as I recommended last week.

Hopefully today’s riff has emphasized the importance of the message.

Okay, that’s it for today, folks. Now let’s hear from you. Ever try glycine by itself? How’d it compare to collagen? And I’m curious to get your take on the idea of financial debt as a condition of civilization.

Thanks for reading.

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23 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Glycine as Collagen Replacement; Debt as Disease of Civilization”

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  1. The two topics go well together. Imagine someone too poor for free-range collagen who goes into debt in order to buy free-range bones and such at eight dollars a pound at the Healthy Butcher in Toronto, for example, and at these rates gets so poor he ends up on the street doing amino acids. “Buddy can ya spare a dime for some glycine?” A tale strangely close to home.

  2. Agree with the debt thing to a point, but sometimes a little debt is necessary in order to grow…like when starting a business. Never tried glycine…so thrilled with the results I have from using collagen peptides daily that I see no reason to stray…better skin, better body, little to no soreness after working out…why mess with it?!

    1. I agree with you Elizabeth about the debt. In terms of the glycine – the reason why this might be preferable to collagen is purely down to cost: I live in the UK and for me to get hold of some good quality hydrolysed collagen such as Great Lakes costs me the equivalent of $29 per 454g tube from iHerb once I have added on the customs import tax into the UK (unfortunately I can’t source it cheaper from within the UK). I am guessing Mark’s collagen would cost me a little more (although I’m sure that’s justified via the quality of his particular product). The same amount of glycine powder (ie 454g) from Bulk Powders in the UK costs the equivalent of $9.76 per 454g: ie it is around 3 times cheaper for me to buy glycine powder as opposed to hydrolysed collagen. So I would not want to pay 3 times more than that unless collagen had some unique proven benefits, above and beyond those purely attributable to the glycine.

      As it happens, I believe that both Mark in his response here, and also Dr Rhonda Patrick in a couple of her YouTube videos have made a good case for hydrolysed collagen having some unique benefits, so for the last few months I have been doing exactly what Mark advises at the end of his answer: 1 x serving of Great Lakes Hydrolysed Collagen powder per day (12g, ie 2 x tablespoons) supplemented with an additional 8g of glycine powder in my morning 40g pure whey protein isolate shake. I take this every morning, but feel it is probably especially beneficial after my morning HIT bodyweight strength workout (3 days/ week) and feel it really helps with recovery. Also, following Mark’s note last week on the importance of taking Vitamin C with the collagen, I also eat 2 x satsumas or equivalent citrus fruit with this shake post-workout to supply the necessary vitamin C without going overboard on it, and to also help replenish muscle glycogen (not strictly necessary on that front though I know, but every little helps). I would strongly suggest you throw some bodyweight strength training into your weekly routine if you can!

  3. It seems I recall reading a theory that civilization became possible when large scale agriculture (the growing of wheat and other grains) allowed humans to become settled in one area instead of following herds. Grains could then be stored and easily measured out by weight or volume. It seems to me that grains lead to the beginning of a modern “money” system which could then lead to the notion of surplus– and debt. Even taxation. (Three bags for you, one for me….) However, having said that, I think it is very important to imagine a civilization with a strict limit on debt, or no debt at all. Everything could be based upon a barter or a gift. There was even a Biblical notion of a “Jubilee” every 7 years when all debts were forgiven. Humans can and do decide to build communities differently, based upon non-consumerist or greedy values.

    If we can imagine it, we can build it.

  4. My ex-husband was a spendthrift. He loved buying stuff whether we could afford it or not. I come from a frugal family and hated owing so much money. It was incredibly stressful for me. After we parted company I promised myself I would never again live beyond my means. That was a lot of years ago. My spouse and I have always kept that promise. We don’t have the newest or the fanciest of everything, but we are very comfortable without being in debt.

  5. Debt as we know it is an innovation as recent, and as unnatural, as factory-farmed meat.

    How many remember that the entire world was on a hard-money standard until 100 years ago — about the same time everything else started becoming increasingly unnatural?

    When currency can be printed on a whim, or typed into existence on a computer, interest rates can be pushed very low — even negative, which is an absolute logical contradition.

    With the price of debt fixed unnaturally low, people naturally consume more of it. Meanwhile, thrift and savings are punished as there’s simply no return. The resulting inflation benefits those who are first to spend; those who wait experience only higher prices.

    In time, we may view the debauchery of currency as a phenomenon entwined with the debauchery of nutrition — our modern culture of enjoying ourselves today, only to pay a fatal price tomorrow.

    1. Some of the things I’ve read or heard about hunter/gatherers gives me the impression of people living for today, less worried about the future, with, e.g., the Pirahã not doing anything to conserve food, preferring to go hungry until they can be bothered to catch more fish. (On the other hand, I’ve also read of Hadza women making sure to leave some berries on the bush instead of picking them all.)

      So if it’s accurate that hunter/gatherers were also not that worried about tomorrow, I thinik the problem is rather that they had to put in an effort and endure hardships in their everyday life, whereas for civilized people it is seperated from enjoyment. We can go to the mall and get what we want and not worry about it until the end of the month. Hunter/gatherers had to put in an effort corresponding to the reward.

  6. I’ve obseved what debt stress does to friends and some family members. Skyrocketing, ever present cortisol. Always lurking somewhere deep down in the back of the brain. I’d venture to say that every person I know that is in debt and having a hard time getting out of it, looks older than their age suggests.

  7. Debt is a problem due to the stress it creates. But it does offer benefits, as well. I believe that different people have different tolerances for debt just as different people have different aversions to risk. If you are more risk averse, you should probably avoid risk for the sake of your health. If that risk aversion includes an intolerance of debt, then you should probably avoid debt, as well. In the modern America, it would be hard for most people to buy and own a home without getting a mortgage. Easier for most, but not for all is buying a car without financing. Starting a business can be very difficult without financing. The same is true for a college education. Those with a high intolerance to debt might consider working and saving for a car or college and working for the man rather than starting their own business. They might choose to rent rather than own. Overwhelming debt is stressful for anybody, but I don’t think this is a one shoe fits all situation. As you noted, there are many forms of stress or behavior that negatively affects us such as sleep deprivation, sedentary lifestyle, industrial seed oils, etc…

    1. There is something deeper about delayed gratification vs the instant gratification that can come from borrowing and I don’t know if it is primal or not.

    2. Lou, I agree. Secured debt (debt with some form of collateral such as a house, car or business assets) shouldn’t be lumped in with unsecured debt (credit cards, personal loans). While it’s great to have no debt, that’s pretty difficult to manage in today’s society. I think the key is to minimize debt (e.g greater downpayments/equity) and to keep it secured whenever possible. If you can walk away from something clean, there’s a lot of freedom in that.

    3. The problem with debt is that it can quickly escalate and get out of hand unless a concerted effort is made to keep it small and easily paid off. Someone once told me there’s no such thing as a debtor’s prison. Au contraire, there most definitely is. It just doesn’t have bars on the doors and windows.

      If debts are allowed to go to collection, you don’t dare have bank accounts or cash squirreled away anywhere under your SSN. This is the electronic age. Anything that even looks like money can be confiscated in the blink of an eye. Your paycheck can be garnished, and your chances of obtaining credit to buy a car or a house will forevermore be just about zero. Moreover, collection agencies will track you down and hound you constantly as well as anybody related to you. I’ve seen this happen to a close family member. It’s not a good way to live.

  8. I am wondering about the collagen vs glycine debate in the context of managing the herpes virus. To minimize outbreaks it is best to get a lot of L-Lysine and to minimize Arginine. Collagen has a LOT of Arginine in it. One option is to balance it with a LOT of supplemental Lysine, but is there a downside to that? Any suggestions, thoughts about this?

    1. I’ve heard the lysine/arginine balance thing and even believe it, but I think it’s incomplete. My guess is that a fuller spectrum of amino acids, for instance provided by collagen, will also provide balance to prevent some weird kind of arginine dominance. I’d bet money that its all a ratio thing, and maybe about the body’s capability to properly use arginine, not just arginine’s presence in and of itself.

  9. David Graebe has written an excellent book called Debt: The First 5,000 Years. It goes into the origin of money and how deep the concept of debt is in our society. I was amazed to learn how there has never been a bartering society, everything we are taught about the history of money is wrong!

  10. a great book: “debt. first 5000 years”.
    Homemade bone broth is very cheap. here we have beef bones for1-2euro per kg. with a pressure cooker it is done in one hour.

  11. If glycine is sweet,i’d love to try it as a healthy sweetener! There are actually a few supplements that taste sweet and delicious, notably d-mannose and alpha GPC. Wonder if one could combine them in appropriate ratios to make the ULTIMATE healthy sweetener?! 😀

  12. Mark,
    This is a very interesting topic. It is very obvious that there are amino acids in collagen that are not in glycine and so taking glycine alone might not be sufficient. However, if you look at the components of whey protein, the only major amino acid in collagen that is not also in whey protein is glycine. That brings me an obvious question. Is there any reason to believe (or studies that show) that taking whey protein plus glycine is inferior to taking collagen? If not, would timing be an issue? For example, I might get my glycine with tea in the morning and then drink a protein shake for dinner.

    1. I believe that collagen is uniquely beneficial because of the glycine-proline-hydroxyproline-alanine matrix, ie the way they are bound together is important. All of these ‘non essential’ aminos are very low in whey protein. You could do what I do: have a large whey protein isolate shake each morning supplemented with 8g of glycine powder and 1 serving (2 tablespoons) of hydrolyzed collagen plus a small amount of vitamin C. Belt & braces approach!

  13. Debt is a powerful tool that people misuse. I’ve used debt to build a portfolio of income-producing real estate and start businesses. Most people who complain about debt got into debt buying crap they can’t afford or getting unmarketable degrees. I do not understand people who advocate for some sort of governmental debt forgiveness. If you borrow money and you don’t pay it back, you are a thief. The questing is, who does the burden of financial education fall upon? I’d argue it’s the family and the individual – not the state.