20 Amazing Benefits of Bone Broth
While many commercial broths available today are only made with skin and may contain MSG, bone broth has been a staple of many cuisines throughout history and across the globe. This is largely because of its economic value (using every part of the animal) but more importantly because of its nutritional value (delivering many essential compounds to the body.)
Minerals for example are plentiful in broth, and it can be difficult to get the same levels elsewhere in the diet. Gelatin, which broth is also rich in, is a very important and easily digested protein which improves tissues all over the body. And new benefits of bone broth continue to be discovered, telling us what humans have already known for thousands of years! While I thought I knew all there was to know about bone broth, I must say that doing the research for this post really enlightened me to the seemingly endless number of benefits.
Broth can be particularly beneficial to drink when overcoming illness, but as an Acupuncturist I recommend daily consumption to most of my patients. Conditions such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, IBS, IBD, infertility, hypothyroidism, chronic inflammation, anxiety, insomnia, PMS, menopause or even just your standard stress, low immunity and fatigue can all benefit from bone broth.
Tomorrow I will post about how to make your own bone broth, but for now learn more about how good it is for you:
When cooking with bones that still have a good amount of joint tissue on them (like necks, knuckles, ribs or the leftover carcass from a roasted chicken) that tissue cooks down and dissolves into the broth. Joint building blocks like gelatin and chondroitin sulfate (which are sold as expensive supplements to treat and prevent osteoarthritis) are readily available in bone broth, easily absorbed by our bodies and are quickly employed to rebuild and repair our connective tissue, which includes joints, tendons and ligaments.
2. Improves Hair, Skin & Nails
Another wonderful effect of gelatin is its ability to strengthen our hair, skin and nails. It is used topically for beauty treatments, but is even more effective when taken internally.
3. Benefits Bones
This may be obvious but bone broth is great for your bones! The more bones are cooked, the softer they become and the more minerals they release into broth. Minerals do not break down with heat, they are continuously released as the bone cooks. Calcium and Phosphorus are the main minerals released, since those are the main minerals stored in bones, but also Silicon, Sulphur, Magnesium and other trace minerals.
In addition to the minerals, all the other components of bone break down and are available in bone broth, which benefits our skeletal system because it provides everything we need to build new bone cells.
When recovering from a bone fracture or dealing with a chronic bone disorder like osteoporosis, broth should be consumed daily to insure their is plenty of material for bone to rebuild with. Broths are particularly important long-term if there isn’t sufficient calcium in the diet from dairy or plant sources.
4. Heals the Digestive Tract
Bone broth is one of the easiest foods to digest and is traditionally used when recovering from illness, especially digestive problems. Just think of all the soups that are used as antidotes – in many Asian cultures they have congee, in Jewish culture there’s matzo ball soup, and Americans often turn to the classic chicken noodle. Diets like the GAPS diet recognized this and put a strong focus on bone broths in order to heal the digestive system, particularly after the digestive lining has been damaged, like in Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. The high gelatin content of broth is considered particularly healing to wounds along the digestive tract.
5. Supports Nerve Function
The minerals dissolved in broth are essential for proper nerve function as they are used to conduct electrical signals from cell to cell. The fats found in the broth are also essential to nerve health since many nerve cells (especially those in your brain and spinal cord) are coated in fat to help their signals travel faster.
6. Ultimate Brain Food!
What is good for the nervous system is good for the brain, because it is the center of the entire nervous system. Plus, a hormone produced in bones known as osteocalcin (more on that below) has been proven to have a direct effect on brain function, improving memory and mood.
One of the most common questions I get as an Acupuncturist and Herbalist is what to eat to improve brain function. Whether it is a stressed businessman, a burned out student or a busy mom, I always tell them that bone broth is the ultimate brain food!
Keep in mind that our brain in particular is made up mostly fat, so we need plenty of good fats to support it.
7. Muscle Function
Muscle cramps can result from too many or too few minerals in the system, but the modern American diet lends more towards mineral deficiency. Calcium and Magnesium are the main minerals involved in muscle contraction, and both are found in broth.
8. Blood Cell Production
Bone marrow is where our bodies manufacture red blood cells and white blood cells. It contains a high concentration of stem cells, which are starter cells that are capable of producing several new blood cells. By cooking down bone marrow you get everything you need to build those new red and white blood cells. Gelatin in particular helps to regenerate red blood cells (and is used to treat anemia.)
9. Source of Dissolved Minerals
As discussed above, the minerals that are dissolved in broth play important roles in many different aspects of the body, including bone health, nerve health, and muscle function just to name a few. While you can get a handful of minerals that are easily absorbed by the body from several different foods, nothing compares to the full spectrum of minerals present in broth. And while many people turn to supplements for their mineral needs, most pills only contain a few compounds and aren’t nearly as easily absorbed as broth.
10. Immune Tonic
White blood cells are the cells in our bodies that control our immunity and handle infections, and they are made in the bone marrow. So the bone marrow contains plenty of fresh white blood cells as well as the stem cells that produce new cells. While cells usually break down during cooking, all of their components are still there and help our bodies build new white blood cells.
Onions and garlic are also usually added to broth for flavor but they too benefit the immune system, in Chinese Medicine they are used to treat common colds. Some people also choose to add herbs which further improve immunity, like astragalus or ginger.
11. Protein Source
When there is not enough protein in the body it is very hard for it to function properly. Many people only think of muscles when it comes to protein, but nearly our whole body is made up of protein. Our intestines, glands, blood vessels, enzymes, much of what makes up our cells and how they function, it’s all protein!
Our digestive tract in particular is made of muscles and relies on enzymes to break down food, so low protein can hit the digestive system first. This may cause lack of appetite, indigestion or nausea. This makes it difficult to stomach additional protein even though it is desperately needed. So broth can be particularly helpful to keep protein up even when digestion is at its lowest.
While broth doesn’t provide complete protein (it doesn’t contain all essential amino acids our bodies need) it does have a good amount and helps to extend other protein sources, so you can make a little meat go a lot farther. This was especially important to cultures during times of famine or even just reduced resources, but it can help us nowadays keep our budgets down.
12. Quality Fat
Even if you don’t cook much of the fatty tissue or skin into your broth, the bones themselves contain a good about of fat that melts right in when warm. Some people prefer to chill their broth to let the fat collect on top, then separate it out, but I don’t shy away from it.
While animal fat has gotten a bad reputation in the past few decades, keep in mind that animal fat is the closest to the fat we have in our bodies! Therefore it is much easier for us to absorb and put to good use in our tissues. Don’t take that to mean it makes you fat, our bodies usually store fat in our tissues as a result of consuming bad fats we don’t know how to process or excess carbohydrates that get converted to fat. Animal fats on the other side are more easily used for digestive functions, creating new cells and repairing the nervous system. With new research now surfacing, it is most often fat from overly processed meats (like hotdogs, lunchmeat or fast food) or lower quality plant-based fats (like soy, corn, canola or cottonseed oils) that are shown to cause problems to our health.
Sure, some of the basic benefits I have listed here can be duplicated with supplements, but would cost you a lot more. Broth’s ability to extend protein content really makes a dollar go farther as well, so it’s a must when you are looking to buy grassfed and pasture-raised meats but don’t want to spend a fortune.
If you don’t have the time for making your own bone broth you don’t have to go without it’s benefits. Find a local deli or grocery near you that makes it in house, ask to make sure they used bones and cook it for a few hours. In my neighborhood I love Cookbook, which makes their own beef and chicken broth with bones, simmered no less than 6 hours. Even though it is not as cheap as the homemade version, it is still much cheaper than supplements or prescriptions!
Broth is often used during times of cleansing and fasting, especially during Phase II detoxification. While the current trend in detoxification seems to be raw vegetable juice cleanses, those can actually be much harder on a damaged digestive tract. Broth is healing to the intestinal mucus and aids in detoxification. When my patients ask about cleanses I often suggest a combination of bone broth and herbal teas, with specific suggestions based on the patient’s specific presentation. The quality of the broth is of the utmost importance when using for detoxification, make sure you make it from organic bones – poultry should be pastured and beef/bison should be grassfed.
15. Balances the Endocrine System
A somewhat recently discovered protein known as osteocalcin is produced by bone cells. It acts as a hormone and regulates different functions all over the body, such as helping the pancreas produce more insulin, improving memory and mood, plus signalling the testes to make more testosterone. Gelatin also helps the body to deal with excess estrogen which can stress the endocrine system of both sexes.
I has long been known that the endocrine system has an effect on bone, but only recently was it discovered that bones have an effect on the endocrine system. It seems new research is constantly revealing how interconnected the human body truly is.
16. Boosts Fertility
In studying the actions of osteocalcin it has been found that it has a direct result on the testes’ production of testosterone. Since low testosterone can impair fertility, a higher osteocalcin level is associated with improved fertility rates in men.
While there is not a direct correlation between osteocalcin and fertility for women, the other benefits of bone broth support women’s reproductive system. For example, increased red blood cell production from the bone marrow and gelatin levels. Or the minerals like calcium and magnesium which are needed by the uterine muscles to function properly. Gelatin also helps the body to process excess estrogen, which can be harmful to reproductive health.
17. Beneficial in Pregnancy
I have already discussed the importance of protein for digestion. In early pregnancy the symptom of morning sickness is usually due to low protein, and it can be difficult to get protein down when already feeling nauseated. That’s why I always suggest my patients with morning sickness sip bone broth to keep their protein levels up. But I then suggest all my pregnant patients continue drinking bone broth throughout their entire pregnancy.
Of course it helps provide an easy source of protein, which women need more and more of throughout pregnancy, but it also provides good fats, which pregnant women need in greater amounts. Because broth also supports the nervous system, endocrine system and brain function, consuming it during pregnancy helps the forming fetus develop new organs, which grow rapidly and need a great deal of nutrients to form correctly.
18. Calms Anxiety
Osteocalcin once again has been found to have a direct correlation to improved mood and reduced anxiety. Plus Calcium and Magnesium have a soothing effect on muscles and in turn the whole body.
19. Improves Wound Healing
I have discussed above how gelatin helps heal the digestive tract, create new red blood cells and repairs joint tissue, so it makes sense that it helps healing elsewhere in the body. Gelatin is rich in an amino acid called Glycine, which is needed in DNA production and thus is necessary for forming new cells anywhere in the body. Broth is helpful to consume during the recovery of nearly any illness or injury because of this, it helps repair cells that have been damaged or compromised.
20. Use in Chinese Medicine
Chinese Medicine seems to have known about most of these benefits for thousands of years before our scientific research could prove them. In Chinese Medicine bones are associated with the kidney system and the bone marrow is associated with kidney jing, which is the deepest level of our body. Jing represents our foundation, life force, genetics, libido, fertility, memory and brain function.
Bone broth is used to improve energy, longevity, fertility, metabolism, the nervous system and endocrine function – particularly the adrenals. Bone marrow specifically is considered a tonic for the brain, as the brain is said to be the “Sea of Marrow.” Being that bones are heavy in nature they are also said to have a calming effect on the spirit, so bone broth is often used to treat anxiety and insomnia.