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


For 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:

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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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