Glycine is the Amino Acid that Gives
Without knowing it, glycine is helping your body everyday with muscle repair, cognitive function, metabolic health and immunity. This amino acid assists in breaking down glycogen, fat and other nutrients to be used as energy at the cellular level. In terms of aging gracefully it plays a role with the important antioxidant glutathione as well as the human growth hormone.
In the brain glycine acts as neurotransmitter in a similar way to GABA. In fact it is released with GABA to calm or inhibit parts of the central nervous system. Glycine modulates excitatory neurotransmissions as well, meaning that it can go both ways. This unique neurotransmitter helps with sleep, memory, mental performance, stress, anxiety and even severe mental illness. As a preventative measure for everything from fatigue to stroke this is a powerful supplement.
For stabilizing blood sugar research shows a significant benefit with 5 grams of glycine before each meal so 15 grams per day. This amount would be difficult to get in either bone broth or collagen. You’d need two full servings of collagen to get 5 grams of glycine. With metabolic issues sky rocketing glycine can be an excellent therapeutic aid.
Anyone who over methylates can benefit from glycine because it buffers excess methyl groups. Methylation is a biochemical process that has an impact on B vitamin status. Without adequate B vitamins the body will generate less glycine. Another problem that can happen is that glycine can produce oxalates instead. This causes a different kind of pain in the joints and can lead to kidney stones.
By restoring gut health you also support immunity. This is one of the far reaching benefits of glycine. Given that digestive disorders and autoimmune conditions have reached epidemic proportions it’s worth ensuring you are getting enough glycine.
Where to Get Your Glycine
I mentioned above a few reasons to take glycine in its free form and how it can be difficult to get a therapeutic dose otherwise. Collagen loading is one way to bring up the balance in the body. This means taking high doses for a few weeks.
One of the reasons bone broth has finally received so much attention is due to this amino acid along with proline and arginine. However its difficult to know what dose you are getting when you make bone broth yourself. If you purchase both broth and the label tells how much protein there is per serving then the amount of glycine is a 3:10 ration. So you get 3 grams of glycine per 10 grams of protein.
Both collagen and bone broth can be taken for maintenance. Testing B vitamins, metabolism and neurotransmitters through organic acids testing will let you know what is needed.
Types of Collagen: How to choose?
Grass-fed, bovine sources of collagen provide both type 1 and 3. What this means is that it targets muscle growth as well as the joints, skin, hair and nails. This is because Type 3 has proline which supports creatine production.
The parts of the animal that are often wasted are used to make collagen. Grass-fed, pasture raised animals supports a healthy ecosystem in ways that industrial agriculture can’t. The benefits to humans consuming small amounts of ethically raised animal products is well known. This is especially key for those with compromised digestive health or autoimmunity. For recovery from injury, surgery or to alleviate the damaging side effects of some medications it can be considered medicine. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding and caring for small children benefit as well.
Collagen harvested from fish can also be very nourishing and done ethically. However marine collagen has a higher price point. If its not then likely this is because the source is farmed fish. The bioavailability will therefore be compromised as the molecules are larger and therefore less absorbable. Well sourced marine collagen contains only Type 1 collagen which is the most bioavailable and often marketed for beauty reasons.
Type 2 collagen from chicken sources is especially rich in cartilage. For anyone taking MSM and glucosamine this may be a replacement especially if you try a higher dose.
Optimal Health & Hormones
I mentioned the human growth hormone (HGH). By building up and breaking down muscle we actually stimulate a cascade of positive physiological responses in the body that keep us feeling and looking great. I like to think of collagen and glycine as supporting an active lifestyle and optimal health. The liver loves glycine and the liver is what helps balance other hormones.
Here are all the ways that glycine supports your to feel your best:
- Energizes: whether you suffer from chronic fatigue or are an athlete this nutrient improves energy
- Metabolism: balancing blood sugar is key to metabolic health and weight maintenance
- Muscle growth: for those who have lost muscle mass from illness or are enjoying the benefits of strength training
- Sleep and Nerves: glycine has a positive, regulating effect on the central nervous system
- Digestion: helps repair the gut by helping form the two key elements required for this which are gelatin and collagen
- Aging: as a powerful antioxidant it prevents cellular damage and can slow the various ways that aging shows up
- Immunity: by improving gut health we improve immunity
- Injury repair: this includes post-birth or surgery, joint or ligament injuries and harmful side-effects of medications
Brain health is influenced by many factors and we know there are a few habits that support long term function.
The inflammatory cytokine model of depression shows the influence diet has on cognitive function. Omega 6 oils are linked to depression and are pro-inflammatory. One in four adults experience mental illness in the US and the standard American diet is high in omega 6 oils. (1) Depression is increasing at an alarming rate of 20% each year.
1. Protein and Fat
Supplementing with omega 3’s is an option, however quality is an issue. Keep in mind that grass-fed dairy, meat and pastured eggs all are high in omega 3’s whereas conventional varieties are much higher in omega 6’s. Cold water, fatty fish that is wild is an excellent source of omega 3 oils as well as the important fatty acids EPA and DHA. DHA has been shown to support brain function particularly in depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD . Comparatively, vegetarians and vegans ingest 30-60% less EPA and DHA.
Monounsaturated fats like cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil increase the production of ACTH which is an important neurotransmitter. All neurotransmitters are built from amino acids in the gut. Glycine, a component of bone broth, reduces psychotic episodes and improves cognition by acting as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It will antagonize norepinephrine which helps regulate the stress response. Cholesterol nourishes the myelin sheath of the brain.
A staggering 30-40% of people do not respond to anti-depressants. One of the ways these function is to inhibit the stress response by lowering high cortisol levels. Although, it can’t be known if an individual has high, normal, or low cortisol without testing. As a result this may explain why so many don’t respond. Cortisol is anti-inflammatory and by lowering it without proper testing it could actually increase inflammation.
2. Caffeine has many benefits in moderation
Caffeine is known to exacerbate anxiety especially in the afternoon and evening. The resulting lack of sleep and improper light exposure disrupt circadian rhythm. Over 20% of people with insomnia develop depression. In addition, those at high risk are mother’s whose iron and fat intake is not optimal. Interestingly half the population are poor metabolizers of caffeine. There may be a link between those with a gluten intolerance.
3. Gut Health and Gluten
The number of people who have undetected celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity is growing. The connection between celiac disease and cognitive dysfunction has determined at least 22% of people are likely to experience both. An astonishing 57% of those with neurological dysfunction test positive for anti-gliadin antibodies. Clinically I’ve seen people who tested negative for gliadin which is the standard test and when I test other gluten specific antibodies they are positive. The disorders associated with gluten include: seizures, neuropathy, ADD, ADHD, autism, ataxia, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
Vegetarians and vegans are 68-83% deficient in B12. B12 deficiency is associated with alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive decline, memory loss, depression, bipolar and psychosis. B12 absorption can be impaired by dysbiosis, leaky gut, inflammation, pernicious anemia which is autoimmune, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, low stomach acid and IBD.
Folate and B6 are needed for serotonin synthesis. Additionally, a deficiency of these also increases inflammatory homocysteine.
5. The Minerals: Zinc and Magnesium
Copper and zinc act as neurotransmitters in the brain. The ideal serum ratio is .7 copper – 1 zinc. Oxidative stress and inflammation reduce zinc and increase copper. Low zinc indicates inflammation.
Magnesium acts at the blood brain barrier to prevent stress hormones from entering the brain. Prevents anxiety and depression after a traumatic brain injury. Caffeine and stress in excess deplete magnesium. Too much calcium inhibits absorption. Calcium from food is enough for most people.
Magnesium is stored in our bones. Acid reflux, Crohn’s, colitis, kidney disease and alcoholism contribute to a deficiency. Proton pump inhibitors are used to treat reflux by masking the symptoms and these will also deplete the body of magnesium overtime.
The recommended dose between 500-700 mg/day. Food sources include: dark leafy greens, cacao, bananas, soaked nuts, seeds and legumes. Protein will be better absorbed with a diet higher in protein. Some pharaceuticals block absorption and create deficiency of magnesium including PPI’s, Lasix, digoxin, nitrofurantoin, anti-malaria drugs and bisphosphonates.
Symtoms and conditions associated with low levels include: muscle cramps, heart arrhythmias, tremors, headaches, acid reflux, increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, migraines, premenstrual tension syndrome, asthma and hypothyroidism.
I recommend magnesium gylcinate and suggest that people take one capsule at night along with eating a nutrient dense diet free of the phytates that bind magnesium. Loose stool results from too much and can be to help with occasional constipation. Taking magnesium before bed will help relax your muscles and supports good sleep.
CBD (cannabinoid) is a natural, safe, and effective. Its affect includes reducing inflammation, pain and seizures. There is evidence that it may inhibit cancer growth. It certainly helps with nausea and other side-effects of chemotherapy including loss of appetite. In my practice I have seen it work on insomnia caused by recalcitrant pain. I’ve had patients stop opiates and other damaging pain medications after decades of use.
What are the benefits of CBD?
In clinical studies there is evidence that CBD is effective in five areas.
- The most established benefit on relieving pain and inflammation. It does this without the serious side effects of opiate drugs and NSAIDS.
- Studies have also shown effectiveness with PTSD especially on veterans experiencing social anxiety. Its important to note that in a percent of the population CBD can also increase anxiety.
- CBD has successfully treated drug-resistant children who have epilepsy with non of the side-effects of traditional seizure medications. Anti-seizure meds come with the worst side-effects of any drugs.
- It works against viruses, fungi, and bacteria as an anti-microbial. Some studies suggest that it may even be effective against superbugs like MRSA and other anti-biotic resistant infections.
- CBD is anticarcinogenic. Several studies demonstrate that CBD is antiproliferative and proapoptotic. More research is needed but it may inhibit cancer cell migration and invasion.
How does CBD work?
All mammals have receptors for CBD. This is called the the endocannabinoid system. It regulates a variety of functions including mood, appetite, sleep, hormone production, and immune system response. For patients with autoimmunity causing pain I’ve seen excellent clinical results. This may be because of the link between the gut and autoimmune conditions.
Interestingly the gut, which is part of the nervous system, has many endocannabinoid receptors. This is why CBD can be a game changer for people with IBS, IBD, and other GI issues like nausea. This may be part of why it is such an effective remedies for insomnia.
What forms is it taken?
CBD is available in several different forms and ratios. THC is needed to activate the CBD but it can be a minute amount. The psychoactive component does not appeal to most patients I talk to (if not all). It can be purchased as capsules, liquid extracts, sprays, vapours and topical salves or creams. CBD taken internally is best for reducing pain and insomnia, whereas a topical is best for treating skin conditions and relieving musculoskeletal pain.
Is it legal? What other challenges are there?
CBD is generally well tolerated. There are however a few potential contraindications. Like some other botanicals CBD may interact adversely with pharmaceuticals. This is because it inhibits cytochrome P450. This enzyme in the liver metabolizes many drugs so it may increase the effects. A medical herbalist is trained in understanding which drugs are potentially affected and its important to discuss this with your prescribing doctor.
The potential that it may increase anxiety must be taken into account as well. A major issue right now in Canada, is that it is difficult to get a reliable source with the proper ratios. Legalization will hopefully lead to more standardization in products. The right ratio is important depending on what is presenting. I’ve had some patients respond very well 4:1 whereas others report uncomfortable psychoactive properties. This may be due to product inconsistency or individual response. 20:1 is more difficult to find but this is a much lower dose of THC and is indicated for neurological disorders.
We always start with a low dose and build up slowly. In the US patients can purchase these products from reputable labs and companies so they know what they are getting. It is legal in the US without a prescription. Within the next fews years I expect to see reliable sources.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Infections and other imbalances in the gut result in an inflammatory response in the brain. The inflammatory cytokine theory is well established in the scientific literature and is being embraced as the number one cause of depression.
But what about anxiety? (more…)
Given the trends that we see in the general population towards a sedentary lifestyle it’s not surprising our kids are less active than ever before. What are the health implications exactly? What can we do to change this?
Do It Yourself
Kids pick up on everything so when they see us trying new things, being active, and getting outside they develop their own love of movement and learning. It’s predicted that our children are likely to have shorter life spans than us unless we make these changes.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine demonstrates that high physical activity has positive effects on children’s immunity and may decrease the risk of autoimmune disease. This research has significant implications for long-term health of kids given that autoimmunity is on the rise in younger populations.
Physical activity not only reduces the risk of autoimmunity in children but also decreases cardiovascular risk factors, improves lung function, enhances motor skill development, and increases defenses against inflammatory diseases.
Nature and Play
Humans need unstructured play time, adults included. Reconnecting with nature is one way we can improve our sense of well-being and enjoy some much needed play time. Digitally detoxifying is an important aspect of this. Having a few weeks every year where screens are turned off is crucial for recalibrating.
Immunity, Iron & Infections
- Bacteria love iron so your body will remove it from the blood and store it in the liver. This is why its important to check if anemia is due to chronic disease, iron deficiency or another cause.
- White blood cells are produced to destroy the bacteria and viruses as well as transport damaged and irritating tissues from the site of infection. Antibody production goes up exponentially.
- People experience appetite loss and fatigue in order to conserve energy for repair.
- Fevers occur for a good reason.
Why Fevers are SO Important
- Fevers indicate the body is fighting off an infection. It’s a symptom, not the root illness. A strong fever shows the body has a healthy immune response.
- Fevers raise heart rate, create lethargy and hallucinations. In children a fever may even produce convulsions.
- One in twenty children will experience what is known as a febrile seizure. These can last a few minutes but have no lasting or harmful effects.
Interestingly a high temperature does not result in convulsions more often than a lower one. Recently in my clinic a patient reported a febrile convulsion as part of their history. It resulted from the common cold combined with a hot, summer day and no noticeable fever.
Think Twice Before Intervening
I’m a parent of a young child. I understand the concerns that arise when our little ones are sick. When my son has a fever I enjoy how much it slows us down and reconnects us. I trust his body’s immune response is in full gear. The impulse to use medication to bring his fever down does come up and this winter I did give him a small dose one night. We were in Mexico at the time. It was very hot already so I was more concerned than I usually would be. What I noticed is the fever needed to come back to kick whatever it was he was fighting. I actually prolonged the length of time his immune system was in high gear.
Keep In Mind
A strong response from the immune system is a good sign. Chronic and recurrent infections happen when the immune system can’t rise above it. This kind of ongoing or low-grade illness can be exhausting and lead to other issues. I’m working on rolling out more information to help those with chronic symptoms recover and rebuild their immunity. Our immunity is housed in our gut. Much of this is based on new discoveries in the world of strain-specific probiotics so you can stop buying broad spectrum ones that don’t result in much.
There are 44 million people currently experiencing alzheimers or dementia worldwide. There are a number of steps you can take no matter where you are in life to prevent and even reverse memory problems.
- Regulate blood sugar. Processed foods reduce insulin sensitivity of your brain’s neurons. Dementia is now being called Diabetes Type 4 due to the surprising amount of evidence linking insulin resistance with it.
- Eat Real Food. Chocolate for their flavonols and spices for their polyphenols. Pastured eggs for choline and cholesterol. Cold water fish for DHA and omega 3 fatty acids. (Choose ocean wise for ethical harvesting practices and third party tested oils for quality.) Berries for their antioxidants and fermented foods for the gut
- Meditate daily. If you have had the pleasure to spend time with anyone who has meditated for years, you’ll already understand why meditation is so powerful. Science is mapping the changes to the brain that occurs when you meditate. I’ve witnessed profound changes on retreat in myself and in others.
- Sleep. Our bodies repair when we sleep. One night of sleep triggers an inflammatory response in the body. If you are having trouble sleeping it may be due to blood sugar dysregulation or other imbalances that can be addressed by digging in with a functional medicine practitioner.
- Specific supplementation which I’ll get into now.
Its important to understand that Alzheimer’s and related disorders (ADRD) begin long before symptoms do. By addressing steps 1-4 you are reducing your risk by as much as 50%. Women are affected more than men as we age, however there is a growing number of young men who experience memory problems earlier in life due to very high stress and insulin resistance. ADRD affects people on all levels; personally, socially and professionally. Evidence supports early prevention in reducing risks as much as 50%.
Nutraceuticals and Botanical Medicne for Cognitive Health:
- Resveratrol is a polyphenol with both anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties. Researchers believe it has positive effects on the hippocampus. This is the area of the brain that is critical for memory, learning and mood. It also has been shown to improve cerebral blood flow. Four studies saw enhanced executive function and memory in health older adults who supplemented for a minimum of 14 weeks at a dose of 150-200 mg with both resversatrol and phytoestrogens.
- Phosphatidylserine helps to improve depressive symptoms, memory, and behaviour. It is an essential nutrient that is not found in the diet. It also regulates stress and is indicated when cortisol is high at doses between 100-500 mg.
- Choline in the form of alpha GPC or citicoline allows this ‘b vitamin’ to cross the blood brain barrier. This supports cognitive health by making more acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the form of cold-water fatty fish is best. Grass fed meat is also higher in omega 3’s. If you are supplementing with fish oil a range aim for around 2000 mg (combined EPA + DHA).
- Vitamin B12 found in organ meats and some shellfish. Methylcobalamin can be supplemented at 500 mcg.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine reduces glutamate from the brain. This antioxidant is the precursor to glutathione.
- Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is recommended dosage is 1000 – 2000 mg to support brain function.
- Curcumin Cook with raw turmeric root and supplement with 300 – 500 mg of curcumin.
- Ginkgo Biloba increases blood flow to the brain and reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms. It also increases short term memory recall. Check for interactions with medications before supplementing at 120 – 240 mg.
- Bacopa is a herb that improves memory and focus. Recommendation is 200 – 500 mg.
I don’t recommend starting on all of these on your own. Herbal and nutraceutical medicine is complex and like Functional Medicine its individualized. Deciding on a treatment course and plan has many factors. Its best to work with a practitioner to ensure you will be getting the most out of any supplements you purchase. Quality and duration are important factors. You also want to ensure you are absorbing them and not taking anything that isn’t going to improve your quality of life.