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Glycine: A small amino acid with big effects on the body & brain

Updated: Apr 9, 2022

The Underappreciated Workhorse

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

Remember that epic movie from 1993? Rudy’s dream was to play football at Notre Dame. But, he was about a foot too short, and he wasn’t seen as a star athlete. Despite all that, Rudy didn’t stop working as hard as he could to make the team. In the movie’s final scene, the coach finally puts him in the game. Rudy scrambles on the field, unsure at first exactly where to line up. As the clock ticks down, Rudy gets to work and ends up sacking the quarterback for the win.

Back in ’93, when my sister and I watched that movie at home, we were so pumped up. After watching that final scene, we got up off the couch and jogged 3 miles around the neighborhood. That day we were unstoppable.

What is Glycine?

In the body and brain, glycine is that hard-working little engine that could. Glycine is actually the simplest, and therefore smallest, amino acid. Yet, it’s everywhere, helping out with a lot of things. All glycine’s hard work in the body is towards the same end. Glycine is the body’s peacekeeper.

From improving detoxification to managing methylation to combating inflammation to speeding up digestion, to boosting energy, to preventing achy joints and unwanted wrinkles… glycine is everywhere. Glycine works hard, day in and day out, to keep the body and brain healthy and functional.

Let’s take a quick look at all of glycine’s functions, then move on to how glycine supports our mental wellness.


Let’s start with digestion. Glycine plays an essential role in fat digestion. It participates in the digestion of fats - one of the three main macronutrients in our diets. Glycine is needed to create bile salts. Specifically, it ‘conjugates’ with bile acids in order to form bile salts (Razak 2017). These bile salts work like soap does on dirty hands. They help water mix together with dietary fat, thus breaking fat down into much smaller particles that can then be absorbed into the body. If there are inadequate bile salts, the body will not be able to make use of nutritional fats or the all-important fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, & K).


Glycine is one of the three amino acids needed to manufacture creatine. The other two are methionine and arginine (Brosnan 2011). In contributing to creatine production, glycine also supports the energy supply of cells - including brain cells. Creatine provides a helpful, short-term, as-needed energy source for neurons. Energy needs to be manufactured from glucose and oxygen. Those two ingredients are constantly being pumped into the brain. But, when the brain is working hard, glucose and oxygen supply lines run short. When we’re using our brains heavily, the body’s ability to supply glucose and oxygen can’t quite meet the brain’s needs. Luckily, creatine is there to offer a quick supply of energy to the neurons (Owen & Sunram-Lea 2011). In this way, increased energy leads to better brain function.


Glycine plays a vital, behind-the-scenes role. Glycine is one of the key building blocks for glutathione (Lu 2013). Glutathione would be our body’s ‘master antioxidant.’ What’s really interesting about this particular antioxidant is that we actually can make it in our bodies. Most other antioxidants have to be obtained through foods.

Glutathione, like all antioxidants, circulates the body and scavenges free radicals. These free radicals are compounds that threaten healthy cells. Free radicals can bump up against stable molecules and tear them apart. If that happens too much, we can gain weight, be overly fatigued, feel aches and pains, and get wrinkles on our faces (Rahman & Hosen 2012). So we need glutathione and other antioxidants at the ready. And, in order to have enough glutathione, we need a healthy supply of glycine. This is because glycine is one of the three amino acids needed to manufacture glutathione (Lu 2013).

Immune System

What’s more, the antioxidant effect of glutathione also helps to keep inflammation down. Inflammation is a natural response to some sort of cellular or tissue damage in the body. For example, if a cell dies or some infection is present, inflammation is the body’s natural response to neutralize the threat - a dead cell or infectious agent. Inflammation swoops in to clean up the mess. But, inflammation also sometimes leaves a mess. With more glycine helping to make more glutathione, less inflammation is triggered in the first place.

Beyond that, glycine has been found, in humans, to limit the circulation of inflammatory messengers (cytokines), which can easily spur on greater and greater inflammation in the body (Cruz 2014). In addition, glycine acts locally on immune cells to limit them from becoming overactive (Zhong 2003). So add ‘anti-inflammatory’ to this growing list of helpful things that glycine does in the body and brain.

Blood Pressure

Glycine helps relax blood vessels (Wang 2013). When blood vessels relax, they open wider, which reduces blood pressure. Relaxed blood vessels equal a calm, peaceful mind.

Further, glycine can help the body detoxify from a toxic amino acid called homocysteine (Razak 2017). Excess levels of homocysteine have been shown to damage blood vessels. Glycine can be used to create trimethylglycine. Trimethylglycine can transform excess homocysteine into a safer amino acid, methionine (Razak 2017).

Skin & Joints

Glycine is one of the raw material inputs for collagen production (Murakami et al., 2012). Collagen gives connective tissue strength, firmness, and flexibility. In boosting collagen production, glycine helps increase the moisture content and health of the skin. Collagen peptide supplements (rich in glycine) have been shown to reduce eye wrinkle volume (Proksch et al., 2014).

Glycine Supports Mental Wellness

There’s indeed some published human research on glycine. These studies demonstrate the generally calming effect of glycine.

In technical terms, that calming effect is called inhibition. In the brain, excitation is the gas, and inhibition is the brake. Inhibition is needed to counterbalance excitation. This is extremely important to maintain balanced brain activity. Receptors for glycine exist throughout the nervous system, in the brain and spinal cord (Legandre 2001).

Beyond that, glycine supplementation has been studied in human subjects.

A few small studies revealed that glycine supplementation led to reduced symptoms for subjects with OCD (Greenberg 2009, Cleveland 2010). Another study with glycine supplementation for subjects with Schizophrenia found reduced psychotic symptoms (Heresco-Levy et al. 1999). It should be noted that these studies used very high doses, upwards of 60 grams per day. Glycine tastes sweet, but 60 grams is still a lot to take.

Luckily there have been some other human studies that demonstrated benefits with much lower doses. A few studies observed improvements in sleep onset, sleep quality, and daytime energy levels with closer to 3 grams of glycine taken at night (Inagawa 2006, Yamadera 2007, Bannai 2012, Kawai et al. 2014). Even when taken during the day, glycine supplementation improved attention and working memory (File 1999).

In sum, glycine is calming, supportive, and healing… who among us doesn’t need more of that these days? If you’re stressed, less than optimally healthy, feeling your age, struggling to sleep, or just want to feel more relaxed… invite more glycine into your diet, and watch this little guy get to work!

How to Get More Glycine in the Diet

Just as glycine travels to our joints, skin, gut lining, and other connective tissues, the best sources of glycine are the connective tissues of animals.

Unfortunately, we tend not to get enough from our diet. Glycine is a major constituent of collagen - in both humans and animals. To get enough, we would have to eat connective tissue… like chicken skins, gristle, tripe, and a whole bunch of other uncommonly eaten parts of animals. These foods aren’t really part of our typical American cuisine.

Luckily, there are a couple of easy solutions.

Powdered collagen peptides or gelatin supplements can easily be added to the diet. You can add the powder to your coffee, smoothies, or oatmeal. The bonus is that your joints will thank you later.

If you are curious, here’s my preferred brand. This company ensures high quality, has a fair price point, and their powders always mix well in liquids.

Beyond supplements, the best dietary source is bone broth, which makes bone broth so beneficial. Bone broth is created with boiling water with bones and meat, vegetables, and herbs cooked on low for 24-48 hours. The long duration on the stovetop releases the collagen found in the connective tissues and the minerals found in the marrow. This is in contrast to stock made with just bones and no spices. Bone broth is tastier and nutritionally superior because it contains so much of this unappreciated amino acid glycine. Bone broth can be found in natural grocers in the freezer sections. And Pho (Vietnamese soup made with bone broth) is always a great option.


Razak, M., Begum, P., Viswanath, B., Rajagopal, S. (2017). Multifarious Beneficial Effect of Nonessential Amino Acid, Glycine: A Review Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2017(4), 1 - 8.

Zhong, Z., Wheeler, M., Li, X., Froh, M., Schemmer, P., Yin, M., Bunzendaul, H., Bradford, B., Lemasters, J. (2003). L-Glycine: a novel antiinflammatory, immunomodulatory, and cytoprotective agent Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 6(2), 229.

Murakami, H., Shimbo, K., Inoue, Y., Takino, Y., Kobayashi, H. (2012). Importance of amino acid composition to improve skin collagen protein synthesis rates in UV-irradiated mice Amino Acids 42(6), 2481-2489.

Greenberg, W., Benedict, M., Doerfer, J., Perrin, M., Panek, L., Cleveland, W., Javitt, D. (2009). Adjunctive glycine in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults Journal of psychiatric research 43(6), 664 - 670.

Inagawa, K., Hiraoka, T., Kohda, T., Yamadera, W., Takahashi, M. (2006). Subjective effects of glycine ingestion before bedtime on sleep quality Sleep and Biological Rhythms 4(1), 75 - 77.

Brosnan, J., Silva, R., Brosnan, M. (2011). The metabolic burden of creatine synthesis Amino acids 40(5), 1325 - 1331.

Lu, S. (2013). Glutathione synthesis Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects 1830(5), 3143 - 3153.

Heresco-Levy, U., Javitt, D., Ermilov, M., Mordel, C., Silipo, G., Lichtenstein, M. (1999). Efficacy of High-Dose Glycine in the Treatment of Enduring Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia Archives of General Psychiatry 56(1), 29 - 36.

Cleveland, W., DeLaPaz, R., Fawwaz, R., Challop, R. (2010). High-Dose Glycine Treatment of Refractory Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Body Dysmorphic Disorder in a 5-Year Period Neural plasticity 2009(6), 1 - 25.

Yamadera, W., Inagawa, K., Chiba, S., Bannai, M., Takahashi, M., Nakayama, K. (2007). Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes Sleep and Biological Rhythms 5(2), 126 - 131.

Bannai, M., Kawai, N. (2012). New therapeutic strategy for amino acid medicine: glycine improves the quality of sleep. Journal of pharmacological sciences 118(2), 145 - 148.

Cruz, M., Maldonado-Bernal, C., Mondragón-Gonzalez, R., Sanchez-Barrera, R., Wacher, N., Carvajal-Sandoval, G., Kumate, J. (2014). Glycine treatment decreases proinflammatory cytokines and increases interferon-γ in patients with Type 2 diabetes Journal of Endocrinological Investigation 31(8), 694 - 699.

Baer, K., Waldvogel, H., Faull, R., Rees, M. (2009). Localisation of glycine receptors in the human forebrain, brainstem, and cervical spinal cord: an immunohistochemical review Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience 2

Wang, W., Wu, Z., Dai, Z., Yang, Y., Wang, J., Wu, G. (2013). Glycine metabolism in animals and humans: implications for nutrition and health Amino acids 45(3), 463 - 477.

File, S., Fluck, E., Fernandes, C. (1999). Beneficial Effects of Glycine (Bioglycin) on Memory and Attention in Young and Middle-Aged Adults Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology 19(6), 506-512.

Legendre, P. (2001). The glycinergic inhibitory synapse Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences CMLS 58(5), 760-793.

Kawai, N., Sakai, N., Okuro, M., Karakawa, S., Tsuneyoshi, Y., Kawasaki, N., Takeda, T., Bannai, M., Nishino, S. (2014). The sleep-promoting and hypothermic effects of glycine are mediated by NMDA receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology 40(6), 1405-16.

Proksch, E., Schunck, M., Zague, V., Segger, D., Degwert, J., Oesser, S. (2014). Oral Intake of Specific Bioactive Collagen Peptides Reduces Skin Wrinkles and Increases Dermal Matrix Synthesis Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 27(3), 113-119.

Owen, L. & Sunram-Lea, S. I. Metabolic agents that enhance ATP can improve cognitive functioning: a review of the evidence for glucose, oxygen, pyruvate, creatine, and L-carnitine. Nutrients 3, 735–755 (2011).

Rahman, T., Hosen, I. (2012). Oxidative stress and human health. Advances in Bioscience and Biotechnology, 3, 997-1019.


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Having over come anxiety myself, and without medication, I can certainly relate to wanting any way out of those feelings. Anxiety (any level) is an uncomfortable feeling. The good news is that you can get rid of anxiety naturally with this natural remedy:


Yes, there are lots of health benefits of glycine, it is very nice information about glycine. glycine also help us to healthy sleep, I also like this information about Glycine for sleep-

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