By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
I can’t think of anything better or more comforting than a hot bowl of homemade chicken soup on a cold winter day or when I’m feeling sick. There’s a reason soup elicits these feelings. It’s not only delicious and soothing, it’s nutritious and healing—especially if it’s made with bone broth.
Bone broth is simply broth made by simmering the bones of animals. You’ve likely heard about it or see it on store shelves, and probably have even had it. But for such a no-frills food, you might not realize what a long and rich history bone broth has, or how good it actually is for you.
Bone Broth History Goes WAY Back
Tens of thousands of years ago, when our cave-dwelling ancestors hunted for their food, throwing away of any part of the animal was simply unthinkable. Successful hunts were few and far between, so they had to find ways to use every part of their prey to their advantage. They ate the muscles and organs, and they made clothing and shelter out of fur and hides.
Eventually, they discovered that boiling the bones, hooves, and other leftover parts of the carcass produced a nourishing broth. Transforming emptied abdominal pouches from animals into makeshift pots, they would mix water, bones, and vegetables and let it simmer for hours.
And hence, bone broth was created.
Upon the invention of cooking pots, bone broth became more widely consumed—both as food and medicine.
In Chinese medicine, people drank bone broth to aid in digestion, support the kidneys, and build blood. Egyptians prescribed it for colds and asthma. And the Jewish community termed bone broth “Jewish penicillin” for its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to alleviate symptoms of colds and flu.
Today, bone broth has experienced a resurgence of sorts. After decades of heating up processed canned/boxed soups, consumers now realize that cooking homemade broth is not only extremely economical, it’s far healthier and tastier too.
Why Is Bone Broth Good for You?
Bone broth is so good for you because it contains various nutrients in forms your body can easily absorb. A lot of factors (cooking time, types of bones and other ingredients used, etc.) will influence exact nutrient content, but overall, bone broth boasts the following:
- Vitamins & Minerals—While not the richest source of minerals, bone broth still contains calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, sulfur, and silicon. And if you simmer vegetables along with the bones, your broth will have other minerals and vitamins too.
- Amino acids—These are the building blocks of protein. Bone broth contains amino acids like arginine, glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, glutamate, and alanine. After they’re absorbed, these amino acids create proteins in the areas your body needs them most for regrowth and repair.
- Collagen & Gelatin—Both animal and human bones are rich in collagen, which is a type of protein and a main component of joint cartilage and connective tissue. Gelatin is produced by cooking collagen. In the case of bone broth, the simmering of animal bones breaks down the collagen to form gelatin. Yes, the same kind of gelatin you used to eat for dessert and snacks as a kid! In fact, when refrigerated, bone broth turns into a gelatinous “blob” until it’s reheated.
- Glycoaminoglycans (GAGs)—Technically a type of carbohydrate, GAGs help to maintain connective tissues, such as cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. GAGs are also needed to make synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints. Some common GAGs include glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid, heparin, and keratan sulfate.
How Can Bone Broth Benefit YOU?
Here’s how all the nutrients in bone broth support your body and health:
Joint Protection & Repair
As we age, the cartilage in our joints starts to wear down, leading to pain, inflammation, and arthritis. Bone broth contains a ton of helpful nutrients to repair and rebuild joint cartilage.
The GAGs glucosamine and chondroitin have for decades been considered the “gold standard” supplement duo for joint pain and inflammation. But collagen may very well take over the title, as research shows it deserves top billing as a joint protectant.
In a two-part study that included young athletes (part 1) and middle-aged adults (part 2), both groups experienced “statistically significant improvement” in joint pain using collagen compared to placebo.
A 2020 study concluded, “Efforts are being made to find new therapeutic options that can not only reduce osteoarthritis pain, but also improve the disease course. Nutraceuticals such as collagen are good candidates due to their safety profile and studies that show osteoarthritis improvement.”3
Although dosages of collagen in supplements and bone broth differ, one can extrapolate that bone broth consumption carries some potential for improvement of osteoarthritis symptoms.
Bone broth is amazing for restoring the strength and integrity of the gut lining. The amino acids in gelatin not only build up intestinal walls, but the protective mucus that lines the intestines. It is especially helpful for people who have leaky gut syndrome or inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s. Many of these benefits are attributed to the amino acid glutamine, which research has been shown can heal the intestinal barrier.
Another boon for the gut is that bone broth is very easy to digest. Collagen/gelatin increases fluid in the intestine, which improves gut motility. And glycine helps to boost production of stomach acid and plays a role in fat digestion.
Collagen makes up the “scaffolding” that supports your skin. As we age, cells that break down old collagen and produce new collagen start to slow down and work less efficiently. As a result, the “scaffolding” starts to collapse, leading to lines, wrinkles, thinning skin, and other signs of aging.
While bone broth can’t turn back the hands of time, it can provide your body with the collagen it may be lacking to help rebuild that scaffolding.
In a study of women ages 35–55, collagen supplementation every day for 8 weeks improved skin elasticity, moisture, roughness, and dryness. In fact, it only took 4 weeks for the women using collagen to notice statistically significant improvements in moisture and signs of aging. Again, bone broth may not contain as much collagen as a collagen supplement, but every little bit helps!
One of the GAGs in bone broth—hyaluronic acid—has also been shown to improve skin by increasing cell turnover.
The amino acid glycine protects the heart during a heart attack, potentially decreasing its severity.
Just as importantly, glycine helps to balance out levels of another amino acid, methionine. The standard American diet tends to be very high in methionine because we eat a lot of muscle meats (think chicken breast, thighs, legs, etc.). We need a certain amount methionine to function properly. But too much can raise homocysteine levels, which increases risk of heart disease, stroke, and brain diseases.
Luckily, glycine provides that balance, and in turn reduces risk of these issues.
Other potential benefits of bone broth include:
- Improved brain health
- Prevention of cataracts and other eye diseases
- Enhanced sleep
- Better mood
- Stronger immune function
- Smoother digestion
The Bottom Line on Bone Broth
Bone broth is not only simple to make, it is nutritious and provides countless health benefits. So rather than throwing those bones from dinner away, throw them in a pot and make your own nourishing broth.
You can use a regular pot or slow cooker. Here’s what to do:
- Add beef, chicken, turkey, or fish bones (preferably from grass-fed, pasture-raised, and/or wild-caught animals) to a pot
- If desired (but not necessary), add vegetables like onions, celery stalks, carrots, and garlic. No need to chop, just throw them in. You can also throw in a couple bay leaves if you like.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Note: To avoid making the broth too salty, use a natural salt like pink Himalayan, French gray salt, sea salt, or a mixture of all three for more nuanced flavor. If you’re going to make bone broth a part of your daily diet, you want to get used to less salty as a flavor preference so that you’re not overdoing it with your sodium intake.
- Fill the pot with just enough cold water to cover the bones and vegetables.
- Add 2–3 tablespoons of red, white, or apple cider vinegar (acid helps extract collagen from the bones).
If using your stovetop, bring the broth to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce to low heat, cover, and allow it to simmer for 10–12 hours.
If using a slow cooker, cook on low for 8 hours.
Pour the broth through a strainer into a bowl and discard any strained solids. The broth can be stored in the refrigerator 7 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
You can sip bone broth directly from a mug, or use it as a base for soups, stews, and gravies. Once you get a taste for it, you’ll never buy premade stock again! Enjoy!
- The Osso Good Company. History of Bone Broth. Blog.ossogoodbones.com, last accessed February 8, 2022.
- Bratskeir K. “Chicken Soup Really is ‘Jewish Penicillin’ for Your Cold. Mom Was Right. com, updated January 9, 2020. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/chicken-soup-for-colds_n_6327998
- Omere K. “Tracing the History of Bone Broth: from Prehistoric to Modern Drink.” com, last accessed February 3, 2022 at https://www.bonebrothsouprecipe.com/tracing-the-history-of-bone-broth-from-prehistoric-to-modern-drink/
- Hay L. 18 “Amazing Health Benefits of Bone Broth.” com, last accessed February 3, 2022 at https://www.louisehay.com/18-amazing-health-benefits-bone-broth/
- Oesser S, et al. Efficacy of specific bioactive collagen peptides in the treatment of joint pain. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2016 Apr;24(1):S189.
- de Almagro C. The use of collage hydrolysates and native collagen in osteoarthritis. 2020;7(6). AJBSR. MS.ID.001217. DOI: 34297/AJBSR.2020.07.001217.
- Proksch E, et al. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(1):47-55.
- Rozi, Parhat et al. “Isolation and Evaluation of Bioactive Protein and Peptide from Domestic Animals’ Bone Marrow.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) 23,7 1673. 9 Jul. 2018, doi:10.3390/molecules23071673
©Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.