Bone broth is all the rage these days.
You may have heard it helps with everything from digestion to joint health. But does it live up to the hype?
This article takes a deep dive into bone broth and explores the research behind these health claims.
What is Bone Broth?
Many wonder the difference between bone broth, regular broth and stock.
To make regular broth, simmer meat and vegetables in water for a few hours. It is much thinner than stock or bone broth.
Both stock and bone broth are also consist of simmering baked animal bones in water, but the cooking time differentiates the two.
Stock simmers for 3-4 hours to allow time for the collagen and gelatin in the bones to release. In contrast, bone broth is usually simmers for 24-48 hours. This extra-long cooking time allows minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients to release from the bones. These nutrients contribute to its potential benefits.
Summary: While the terms broth, stock, and bone broth are sometimes interchangeable, the long cooking time and higher levels of nutrients make bone broth unique.
Nutrients in Bone Broth
Cooking bone broth for long periods of time helps release important nutrients such as bone marrow, collagen, and amino acids.
Bone marrow is a tissue that is found inside bones.
There is red and yellow bone marrow. Red bone marrow is the site of red blood cell and immune cell production, while yellow bone marrow is the site of fat production within the bones. Both types of bone marrow contain collagen.
Collagen and Gelatin
Collagen is the most abundant protein found in animals and is the main component in connective tissues.
Beside bone, collagen is also in ligaments, cartilage, tendons, and skin. When collagen cooks, it breaks down to form a smaller protein called gelatin. Gelatin is what causes bone broth to congeal when cooled.
Bones contain key minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.
Add vinegar or other acids to bone broth before cooking to help extract these minerals.
Bone broth contains important amino acids such as glutamine, glycine, and proline. These three amino acids are all “conditionally essential” which means that the body needs more of them during stressful times.
Glutamine is important for digestive health because intestinal cells use it to make energy (1).
Collagen contains glycine. It acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and helps send chemical signals to the brain.
Proline is needed to make hydroxyproline, which is a major component of collagen.
Therefore, both glycine and proline are essential to the formation and stability of collagen.
Glycosaminoglycans, also known as GAGs, are complex carbohydrates that can attach to proteins to help support joints and connective tissue. GAGs such as hyaluronic acid, chondroitin, and keratin are important components of skin and joints.
Summary: Bone broth contains a wide variety of important nutrients that are key building blocks for the body and help contribute to its potential health benefits.
Potential Health Benefits of Bone Broth
Components of bone broth each play a part in supporting the health of the gut, bones, joints, and skin.
One of the most well-known benefits of bone broth is its potential role in gut health.
Normally, the cells in the intestines are closely packed, connected by tight junctions that only let small molecules pass from the intestines into the bloodstream. During times of increased intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, the tight junctions loosen giving larger molecules the opportunity to enter the bloodstream.
A specific class of large molecules called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) can damage the lining of the gut and cause inflammation. Research suggests that glycine and gelatin can protect the intestines from LPS damage (5,6).
The protective properties of the components of bone broth are why many use it for digestive conditions. For example, bone broth is a staple of a gut-healing protocol called the Gut And Psychology/Physiology Syndrome (GAPS) diet.
In addition to the potential protective benefits, bone broth may also help promote normal digestive function.
Bone and Joint Health
Certain components found in bone broth may help support bone and joint health.
Bone broth contains key minerals such as calcium and phosphorus that are the building blocks for bones.
Collagen and GAGs such a chondroitin and hyaluronic acid have been studied for their potential joint health benefits.
Chondroitin supplements alone have shown some benefit in alleviating joint pain. Studies show that those with knee joint pain from osteoarthritis improve when taking chondroitin and glucosamine supplements together. Although some conflicting evidence exists.
Hyaluronic acid has also been shown to relieve joint pain from knee osteoarthritis (10).
Beyond osteoarthritis, one study found that collagen supplements might help improve joint pain in athletes (11).
Collagen, a component of bone broth, is an important protein in skin, giving it strength and elasticity.
The body’s collagen production declines with age and exposure to smoke and UV rays from the sun.
Research suggests that consuming collagen can lead to higher levels of skin elasticity. While collagen is not absorbed whole, consuming it can increase the availability of the building blocks needed for collagen production (13).
Summary: Studies suggest that bone broth may have a variety of health benefits. The components in bone broth may help support gut and joint health and its various minerals may help support bone health. The collagen released from bones during the process of making bone broth may also have skin health benefits.
Bone Broth Safety and Sensitivity
While bone broth appears to be beneficial, there are certain safety and food sensitivity concerns to keep in mind.
In 2013, a study found high levels of lead in bone broth. While the level of lead found in bone broth exceeded that of normal drinking water, it was still below the safety threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency. To be safe, it is best to limit your bone broth consumption to 2-3 cups per day for adults (14).
Additionally, glutamine in bone broth may cause reactions in those who are sensitive to monosodium-glutamate (MSG). Certain conditions associated with MSG sensitivity include migraine headaches and eczema.
Summary: Before you start adding bone broth to your daily routine, be aware of the potential safety concerns. You may also want to avoid bone broth if you are sensitive to MSG.
Is Bone Broth Healthy?
Bone broth provides key collagen, amino acids, and minerals.
While research has not yet looked at the benefits of consuming bone broth as a whole, a variety of studies have revealed the potential benefits of the components of bone broth.