Anxiety is one of the most prominent mental health disorders affecting people at both an individual and societal level. For some of us, anxiety may only pop up occasionally - for instance if we are preparing for a significant event. This is considered a normal response as anxiety is a natural human reaction. However for others, anxiety symptoms, such as excessive worry and apprehension, interferes with everyday functioning and seriously impacts quality of life – in this case, anxiety becomes a chronic condition.
The promotion of health strategies for our mental health is receiving a lot more attention than it ever has, and we’re all for it. One of these health strategies for benefiting your mental health, with a more alternative therapeutic approach, is through the diet. And more specifically from a little amino acid called Glycine.
Amino acids are the building blocks of larger proteins, similar to the way the letters of the alphabet are used to make larger words. Though glycine is used by the body in more significant ways than just building proteins. So, what is glycine’s role in anxiety? Here’s how.
The Role of Glycine
Glycine is a small and simple amino acid, however its roles in the body are mighty. It is the most abundant amino acid and performs a hefty load of important functions, from boosting our energy to its role in neurological wellness. And its role neurologically is known for its calming effects.
The neuroscience behind anxiety disorders is that there is a dysfunction in the regulation of emotional responses. A big part of this being the activity of certain neurotransmitters – chemical messengers in the body that either elicit an excitatory (our get up and go system) or inhibitory (our calming system) response. In anxiety there is heightened activity of excitatory neurotransmitters opposed to inhibitory, causing the excessive and ongoing unease experienced by sufferers.
Glycine acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system promoting the calming effects that are so needed in states of chronic anxiety. But it has also shown benefits in modulating the release of excitatory neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, which suggests that its application through diet would be a helpful anxiolytic – reducing anxiety.
Another factor of anxiety is that it can also affect our sleep. Studies have shown that over 50% of anxiety sufferers experience sleep disturbances, like insomnia, and without proper sleep this can in turn worsen anxiety symptoms. A vicious cycle indeed.
In terms of correcting sleep disturbances, glycine has been shown to improve sleep. In those with insomnia, a study on supplementing 3g/day of glycine before bed found that not only sleep quality improved but sleepiness and fatigue during the day was reduced. This is achieved through glycine’s calming and peacekeeping effects in the body reducing the excitatory response.
Unlike other amino acids, glycine is a non-essential amino acid meaning the body can make it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prioritise it through our diet.
Glycine in the Diet: Where to Find it?
If you are prone to stress and anxiety incorporating more glycine in the diet may be helpful for calming and nurturing your nervous system. We could probably all do with a bit of a boost in that department these days!
The main macronutrient that will provide the body with glycine is protein. The most glycine rich proteins include legumes, fish, dairy and meat. Although, there are some proteins in particular that can be an even more abundant source of glycine.
Collagen protein is one super rich source of glycine, amongst other beneficial amino acids. Glycine is used by fish, mammals and humans to synthesize collagen for maintaining the strength and structure of connective tissue like our skin, bones and cartilage. Therefore actually ingesting these connective tissues in animals is an excellent source of glycine. Though, due to westernised diets, we probably don’t commonly eat these food sources as regularly as our ancestors did.
But there are a few easy alternatives for adding collagen to your diet.
One, incorporating a hydrolyzed collagen supplement into your diet. Super easy and convenient, powdered collagen supplements can be added to foods like your morning coffee, yoghurt, smoothies or oats without upsetting the consistency. Active Collagen collagen powder contains over 1 gram of glycine per serve, with the extra benefit of added vitamin C to enhance the uptake of amino acids within the body.
Two, drinking nourishing bone broths or soups. Bone broth is made through a slow cooking process using the connective tissues of animals. By exposing the tissues to heat over a long period, usually around 24 hours in simmering water, this allows the collagen to be released creating a nourishing broth. This can easily be made yourself but can also be found in health food stores either as a concentrated paste or in broth form. Incorporating bone broth into your diet through soups or simply sipping on a warm cup during the day will give you a fabulous boost of glycine.
Active Cycle, our newest member at Active Collagen, also contains glycine as L-glycine. A hot chocolate powder formulated for combatting PMS symptoms and supporting the female menstrual cycle, added L-glycine may help with reducing the anxiety leading up to your period the same as in other common anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a part of the natural human experience; however, persistent anxiety shouldn’t be overlooked. Although its useful to know that anxiety can be supported through our diets, talking to a health professional about treatment is recommended.
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Razak, M. A., Begum, P. S., Viswanath, B., & Rajagopal, S. (2017). Multifarious Beneficial Effect of Nonessential Amino Acid, Glycine: A Review. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2017, 1716701. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/1716701
Nuss, P. (2015). Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, 165–175. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S58841
Kawai, N., Sakai, N., Okuro, M., Karakawa, S., Tsuneyoshi, Y., Kawasaki, N., Takeda, T., Bannai, M., & Nishino, S. (2015). 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), 1405–1416. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2014.326
Li, P., & Wu, G. (2018). Roles of dietary glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline in collagen synthesis and animal growth. Amino acids, 50(1), 29–38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-017-2490-6