The Health Benefits of Bone Broth: An Ancient, Natural Remedy
While it might be a recently-rediscovered delicacy with foodies today, bone broth has been part of humanity’s medicinal and culinary menus since time immemorial. Chances are good that we’ve always used the bones of the animals we’ve slaughtered as a base for soups and the like – it was a natural way to stretch resources as far as possible, and to ensure that no parts of the animal were wasted. While we might have started the practice to assuage our hunger, we eventually noticed that there were some significant health benefits associated with bone broth, as well.
Not sure what bone broth is? Unsure why you should consume it, what health benefits you might gain, or how to make it yourself?
What Is Bone Broth?
While the name might sound off-putting, bone broth is nothing more nor less than a fancy version of stock. It has been made for centuries, and is still made today by home chefs, and even industrial food companies around the world.
Epicurious defines it as, “A hybrid of broth and stock. The base is more stock-like, as it is usually made from roasted bones, but there can sometimes be some meat still attached. It is cooked for a long period of time, often more than 24 hours, and the goal is to not only extract the gelatin from the bones, but also to release the nutritious minerals. It is then strained and seasoned to be enjoyed on its own, like broth.”
All it takes to make bone broth is technically a handful of animal bones, and some water. With that being said, adding spices and vegetables to the broth will lend it not only additional flavor, but also additional health benefits (primarily associated with polyphenols in the vegetables and spices).
What Bones Can Be Used?
You can use pretty much any animal bones you might want to create bone broth. Cow, pig, chicken and turkey are all popular options in Western nations, but you’ll find other animal bones used in different cultures around the world. The choice of animal bone will affect several things, though. Obviously, flavor is one of those. However, it will also affect the level (and type) of nutrients in the broth when it is finished.
If you use bones from animals that were treated with growth hormones and antibiotics during life (such as cattle raised on a CAFO in the United States), you will also add contaminants to your broth. Care should be used when choosing bones for broth. The best option would be bones from humanely raised in conditions that match their natural environment as closely as possible, and never given hormones or antibiotics.
How Is Bone Broth Made?
The process of making bone broth isn’t really all that complicated. First, you choose the bones you want to use. You’ll need the right type to achieve your desired flavor, and the right number to ensure that you’re able to make the right sized batch. Then, the bones are roasted – most people use an oven, but they can be roasted in any number of ways, including over an open fire if you prefer.
Once they’re roasted, the bones are put into a stock pot, water is added, and the desired vegetables and spices are added, as well. This is then simmered for hours, sometimes for days, to achieve the desired level of flavor. To finish, the entire pot is drained and strained. Bone broth is usually consumed on its own, rather than being used as the base for something else.
What are the Benefits Associated with Bone Broth?
Depending on where you look, you’ll find that bone broth is attributed as a cure-all for just about everything. Some sources even claim that it can remove cellulite from your thighs. While that would be an amazing benefit, it’s not realistic. Other claims surrounding bone broth that are decidedly bunk include the following:
- Strengthens bones (directly)
- Improves digestion (directly)
- Improves skin clarity (directly)
- Improves skin smoothness (directly)
- Relieves joint pain (directly)
However, you will find that the actual health benefits derived from bone broth can be just as miraculous.
The Story of Inflammation
The primary benefit of consuming bone broth is this – it can help to reduce inflammation in the body. This is similar to the effects of polyphenols found in fruits and vegetables, as well as MSM, many types of mushrooms, and undenatured collagen type II. In fact, it’s really directly related to that last ingredient – collagen.
Why does inflammation matter so much? The truth is that it is the root cause of many of today’s most common diseases. For instance, what is hypertension but an inflammation (constriction) of the blood vessels, creating greater pressure within them?
Inflammation is also at the root of conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – the inflammation of connective tissues within the joints leads to additional wear and tear, deterioration, and even bone loss. Over time, this causes significant pain and becomes a degenerative condition, all due to inflammation. Inflammation can be found in the gut, too. It’s the root cause of conditions like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, as well as ulcerative colitis.
Now, if you read any scientific journals or the more reputable news sources like NPR or Time magazine, you’ll see that the authors go to great lengths to debunk the notion that bone broth alleviates joint pain, strengthens bones, or rebuilds joints ravaged by osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
Here’s the thing – it doesn’t. Not directly, anyway. To really understand how the process works, you need to understand how your body handles nutrients.
There are some misperceptions out there about how the body deals with the things it consumes. For instance, some people assume that eating fat means that the fat consumed translates directly to fat on the body. You eat a chunk of fat, and it is then magically transposed to your stomach, or your thighs. Or, you eat collagen, and that translates into new collagen for your joints.
It does not work that way.
When your body consumes something, it is broken down in the stomach and intestines. Your body can’t use collagen directly, so it reduces it to something that it can use – essential proteins and amino acids. These are the building blocks of all tissues within your body, from lung tissue to brain tissue to connective tissue (collagen-based cartilage).
So, consuming more collagen does not necessarily equate directly to your body making more connective tissue or restoring damaged cartilage. What it does mean is that you’re providing your body with a greater supply of high-quality building materials. You’re giving it the tools and supplies it needs to do its job, which is to rebuild and regenerate damaged tissues.
In the end, bone broth on its own will not rebuild damaged cartilage in your knees, fingers or wrists. However, when combined with the anti-inflammatory properties that bone broth actually does provide, your body will have the building blocks necessary to do that.
It is precisely this that forms the basis for how bone broth benefits your body. For instance, according to research conducted by authors Sally Fallon and Kaayla Daniel, bone broth contains a wide range of essential nutrients, proteins and amino acids, including the following:
- Calcium (the primary mineral in bones)
- Magnesium (critical for bone and joint health)
- Silicon (another essential component of bone health)
- Sulfur (sulfur has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and bone-rebuilding benefits)
- Phosphorus (important for bone health)
- Glucosamine (sold on its own as an expensive joint health supplement)
- Chondroitin (also sold on its own as a joint health supplement)
- Arginine (necessary for growth hormone production and immune system function)
- Glycine (Helps prevent protein tissue breakdown)
- Proline (regenerates cartilage)
- Glutamine (fuels cell growth in the small intestine and helps regulate metabolism)
Other Benefits of Bone Broth
In addition to reducing inflammation and helping with chronic diseases like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, bone broth has also been noted for other benefits. For instance, the glycine contained within bone broth is vital for helping to improve and manage your metabolic rate, which can help burn more calories each day. It also encourages the release of toxins from the muscles and connective tissue, and bolsters the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the blood.
Finally, bone broth’s ability to boost collagen production is about more than just joint health. It also helps keep your skin healthy and can aid in the fight against problems like eczema and psoriasis.
How Much Bone Broth Should You Drink?
There is no stated recommended daily allowance (RDA) for bone broth. Most experts recommend that people suffering from serious arthritis and other degenerative health conditions consume as much as they can stand per day, up to 40 ounces or even more if necessary. It can be consumed in any number of ways, but it should generally be undiluted.
Store-bought or Homemade?
Is it acceptable to drink store-bought bone broth? Most authorities say no. This is because rather than being made directly from bones, commercially-produced broths are made from powders and bullions, which do not necessarily carry the same health benefits.