For thousands of years, there have been traditional foods like fermented vegetables and cultured dairy that have been touted for their health benefits. But one common healing food that is now being recognized — so trendy that it’s a staple of the Paleo diet and even bone broth shops exist now! — for its incredible health benefits is bone broth. Why? Because bone broth benefits are numerous and extensive.
With that in mind, let me share a few ancient secrets with you on what makes bone broth benefits so remarkable.
Bone Broth Benefits
I have found bone broth stock to be the No. 1 thing you can consume to:
- Treat leaky gut syndrome
- Overcome food intolerances and allergies
- Improve joint health
- Reduce cellulite
- Boost immune system
Chicken soup isn’t just good for the soul: There’s a reason that it’s prescribed by doctors and mothers alike when you’re feeling under the weather. All bone broths — beef, chicken, fish, lamb and more — are staples in the traditional diets of every culture and the basis of all fine cuisine. That’s because bone broths are nutrient-dense, easy to digest, rich in flavor and they boost healing.
Bone broth or stock was a way our ancestors made use of every part of an animal. Bones and marrow, skin and feet, tendons and ligaments that you can’t eat directly can be boiled and then simmered over a period of days. This simmering causes the bones and ligaments to release healing compounds like collagen, proline, glycine and glutamine that have the power to transform your health.
Nutrition researchers Sally Fallon and Kaayla Daniel of the Weston A. Price Foundation explain that bone broths contain minerals in forms that your body can easily absorb: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and others. They contain chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, the compounds sold as pricey supplements to reduce inflammation, arthritis and joint pain. (1)
A study of chicken soup (broth) conducted by the University of Nebraska Medical Center wondered what it was in the soup that made it so beneficial for colds and flu. Researchers found that the amino acids that were produced when making chicken stock reduced inflammation in the respiratory system and improved digestion. Also, research is proving it can also boost the immune system and heal disorders like allergies, asthma and arthritis. (2)
Fallon explains that most store-bought “stock and “broth” today aren’t “REAL.” Instead, companies use lab-produced meat flavors in bouillon cubes, soup and sauce mixes. Also, manufacturers began using monosodium glutamate(MSG), which is recognized as a meat flavor but in reality is a neurotoxin.
If you want real bone broth and real bone broth benefits, you can make it yourself at home, which I explain at the end of this article. You need to get grass-fed bones from your local farmers market or from a online health food store.
Bone broth stock is a great place to find all of the valuable amino acids, collagen, gelatin and trace minerals. In fact, there are dozens of different nutrients found within bone broth, many of which can’t be obtained easily from other commonly eaten foods. That’s partly why there are so many incredible bone broth benefits.
By regularly drinking bone broth or using it in recipes, you can help promote healthy gut integrity while reducing permeability and inflammation. Here are the six major bone broth benefits.
1. Protects Joints
Bone broth is one of world’s best sources of natural collagen, the protein found in vertebrae animals — in their bones, skin, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bone marrow. As we get older, our joints naturally experience wear and tear, and we become less flexible.
Why does that matter? As we age, cartilage diminishes as it gets attacked by antibodies (age-related degradation of joint cartilage). As bone broth simmers, collagen from the animal parts leaches into the broth and becomes readily absorbable to help restore cartilage.
One of the most valuable components of bone broth stock is gelatin, which acts like a soft cushion between bones that helps them “glide” without friction. Gelatin also provides us with building blocks that are needed to form and maintain strong bones, helping take pressure off of aging joints and supporting heathy bone mineral density.
Research done by the Department of Nutrition and Sports Nutrition for Athletics at Penn State University found that when athletes supplemented with collagen over the course of 24 weeks, the majority showed significant improvements in joint comfort and a decrease in factors that negatively impacted athletic performance. (3)
2. Good for the Gut
Studies show that gelatin is beneficial for restoring strength of the gut lining and fighting food sensitivities (such as to wheat or dairy), helping with the growth of probiotics (good bacteria) in the gut, and supporting healthy inflammation levels in the digestive tract. A report published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that gelatin effectively supports intestinal health and integrity. (4)
Bone broth stock is easily digested and soothing to the digestive system, unlike many other foods, which can be difficult to fully break down. After all, a food is really only useful if we have the means of absorbing its nutrients.
Studies have found that in individuals with digestive imbalances, serum concentrations of collagen are decreased. (5) Because the amino acids in collagen build the tissue that lines the colon and entire GI tract, supplementing with collagen can support healthy digestive function.
3. Maintains Healthy Skin
Collagen helps form elastin and other compounds within skin that are responsible for maintaining skin’s youthful tone, texture and appearance. Collagen integrity is accredited with helping reduce the visible signs of wrinkles, decreasing puffiness and fighting various other signs of aging. Many people report a decrease in cellulite when consuming foods and supplements containing collagen, since cellulite forms due to a lack of connective tissue, allowing skin to lose its firm tone.
Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies investigating the age-defending properties of collagen have found that 2.5–5 grams of collagen hydrolysate (CH) used among women aged 35–55 once daily for eight weeks supports skin elasticity, skin moisture, transepidermal water loss (dryness) and skin roughness. At the end of only four weeks, those using collagen showed a statistically significant improvement in comparison to those using a placebo with regard to skin moisture and skin evaporation, plus noticeable decreases in signs of accelerated aging, all with little to no side effects. (6)
4. Supports Immune System Function
One of the most remarkable things about bone broth is its gut-supportive benefits, which as described above actually have a holistic effect on the body and support healthy immune system function.
Leaky gut occurs when undigested particles from foods seep through tiny openings in the weakened intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream, where the immune system detects them and becomes hyperactive. This increases inflammation and leads to dysfunctions all over, as the immune system releases high levels of antibodies that cause an autoimmune-like response and attack healthy tissue.
Bone broth is one of the most beneficial foods to consume to restore gut health and therefore support immune system function and healthy inflammation response. Collagen/gelatin and the amino acids proline, glutamine and arginine help seal these openings in the gut lining and support gut integrity. Traditionally made bone broths are believed to support healthy inflammatory response and normal immune system function. (7, 8) Bone broth can even promote healthy sleep, boost energy during the day and support a healthy mood.
5. Boosts Detoxification
Today in the Western world, the average person is exposed to an array of environmental toxins, pesticides, artificial ingredients and chemicals of all sorts. While the human body has its own means of detoxifying itself from heavy metals and other toxic exposures, it often has a hard time keeping up when flooded with an overwhelming amount of chemicals. Bone broth is considered a powerful detoxification agent since it helps the digestive system expel waste and promotes the liver’s ability to remove toxins, helps maintain tissue integrity, and improves the body’s use of antioxidants.
Bone broth stock contains potassium and glycine, which support both cellular and liver detoxification. Some of the ways in which bone broth boosts detoxification is by supplying sulfur (especially when you add veggies, garlic and herbs to your broth) and glutathione, which is a phase II detoxification agent that lowers oxidative stress.
Stanford University’s Medicine Preventative Research Center has found that glutathione helps with elimination of fat-soluble compounds, especially heavy metals like mercury and lead. It also helps with the absorption of various nutrients, the use of antioxidants and with liver-cleansing functions. (9) Bone broth also increases intake of essential minerals, which act like chelators to remove toxins by stopping heavy metals from attaching to mineral receptor sites.
6. Aids the Metabolism and Promotes Anabolism
Bone broth is a great way to obtain more glutathione, which studies show plays important roles in antioxidant defense, nutrient metabolism and regulation of cellular events. A 2004 study published in the Journal of Nutrition states that glutathione’s roles and benefits include regulating gene expressions, DNA and protein synthesis, cell proliferation and apoptosis, signal transduction, cytokine production, and immune responses. (10)
Amino acids found in bone broth stock have numerous metabolic roles, including building and repairing muscle tissue, supporting bone mineral density, boosting nutrient absorption and synthesis, and maintaining muscle and connective tissue health. Glycine found within collagen helps form muscle tissue by converting glucose into useable energy, plus it slows cartilage, tissue and muscle loss associated with aging by improving the body’s use of antioxidants. Studies have revealed that glycine protects skeletal muscle loss and stops the expression of genes associated with age-related muscle protein breakdown. (11)
Glutamine is another amino acid that’s important for a healthy metabolism, since it helps us maintain energy by sending nutrients, including nitrogen, to our cells. Arginine also has the role of breaking down nitric oxide that helps improve circulation and sends blood and nutrients to cells throughout the body, improving muscle and tissue integrity and promoting normal wound healing.
Bone Broth Nutrition
Bone broth stock could be called “nature’s multivitamin.” How so exactly? It’s packed with:
- over 19 easy-to-absorb, essential and non-essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins)
- collagen/gelatin, which help form connective tissue
- nutrients that support digestive functions, immunity and brain health
Did you get that? Bone broth benefits literally every part of your body, from your gut to your brain, from your muscles to your ligaments.
It’s also relatively low in calories yet very high in minerals and other chemical compounds that many people are lacking. There’s no doubt that bone broth makes a great everyday addition to your diet.
Here are six of the key nutritional compounds found in bone broth that help provide all these wonderful bone broth benefits.
1. Glycosaminoglycans (GAG)
Glycosaminoglycans have the primary role of maintaining and supporting collagen and elastin that take up the spaces between bones and various fibers. GAGs are supportive for digestive health since they help restore the intestinal lining, which is why a deficiency in these nutrients has been linked to digestive challenges. (12)
Several important GAGs are found in bone broth, including glucosamine, hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate.
There are two main types of naturally occurring glucosamine: hydrochloride and sulfate. Both help keep up the integrity of cartilage, which is the rubbery substance within joints that acts like a natural cushion. Studies show that glucosamine can become depleted as we get older, so supplements are often used to support joint health.
An easy and relatively inexpensive way to obtain glucosamine naturally is from drinking more bone broth, which helps support the loss of cartilage health, acting as an alternative to pricey glucosamine supplements. (13) Consuming more glucosamine can help support joint health, flexibility and comfort.
3. Hyaluronic Acid
Found throughout connective, epithelial (skin) and neural tissues, hyaluronic acid contributes to cell proliferation, differentiation and mitigation, allowing our cells to perform various functions throughout the body as needed. It offers support for multiple skin types and promotes healthy aging, cell rejuvenation and skin firmness. (14)
4. Chondroitin Sulfate
Chondroitin sulfate is a beneficial glycosaminoglycan found in the cartilage within the joints of all animals. It’s often used to support joint health and comfort, especially in combination with glucosamines.
5. Minerals and Electrolytes
Bone broth provides essential minerals, including electrolytes, all provided in an easy-to-absorb form. Electrolytes found within bone broth include calcium, magnesium and potassium (not to mention many other minerals, such as phosphorus), which are important for supporting healthy circulation, bone density, nerve signaling functions, heart health and digestive health.
When added sodium levels are kept low, bone broth contains an ideal balance of sodium and potassium to support cellular health and efficiency.
Collagen is the main structural protein found within the human body that helps form connective tissue and “seals” the protective lining of the gastrointestinal tract. It’s also the gel-like, smooth structure that covers and holds our bones together, allowing us to glide and move freely.
Irritation within the gut that impairs normal digestive functions and causes permeability, allowing particles to pass into the bloodstream, known as leaky gut.
As a rich source of gelatin, bone broth protects and seals the mucosal lining of the GI tract, which means it improves nutrient absorption and also helps keep particles from leaching out where they shouldn’t be.
Bone Broth Benefits: The Magic of Collagen and Gelatin
Real collagen is the source of stock’s immune-boosting properties. You’ve probably seen this jiggling layer atop the broth in your cooling roasting pan and discarded it, but think again next time — this is the good stuff that provides many of the bone broth benefits available.
Collagen is the protein found in connective tissue of vertebrate animals. It’s abundant in bone, marrow, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. The breakdown of collagen in bone broths is what produces gelatin.
Gelatin (the breakdown of collagen) was one of the first functional foods used as a medical treatment in ancient China. Dr. Francis Pottenger and other world-class researches have found gelatin and collagen to have the listed benefits:
- Gelatin helps people with food allergies and sensitivities tolerate those foods, including cow’s milk and gluten.
- Collagen protects and soothes the lining of the digestive tract and can aid in healing IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and acid reflux symptoms.
- Gelatin promotes probiotic balance and growth.
- Bone broth increases collagen, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and banishing cellulite.
- Because gelatin helps break down proteins and soothes the gut lining, it may prove useful for leaky gut syndrome and the autoimmune disorders that accompany it.
- Gelatin provides bone-building minerals in easily absorbable ways, preventing bone loss and reducing join pain. (16)
Here is another incredible benefit from the collagen found in bone broth: It can make your skin look amazing! According to Donna Gates, author of “Body Ecology,” bone broth benefits you skin because it makes it supple and can decrease cellulite!
She says cellulite comes from a lack of connective tissue, and if someone has very smooth skin, it’s because the skin is high in connective tissue. Gates explains that consuming collagen-rich bone broth can reduce cellulite and tighten your skin, making you look younger — adding it to the long list of bone broth benefits.
Bone Broth Benefits: Healing Amino Acids
Conditional amino acids are those classified as nonessential amino acids that are essential under some conditions. You don’t produce them very well if you are ill or stressed. Kaayla Daniel points out that unhealthy Western diets, heavy on processed carbohydrates, low in quality grass-fed animal products, and devoid of homemade soups and broths, make it likely that these amino acids are chronically essential.
What do these conditional amino acids do? (17)
- Necessary for immune system function and wound healing
- Needed for the production and release of growth hormone
- Helps regenerate damaged liver cells
- Needed for the production of sperm
- Prevents breakdown of protein tissue like muscle
- Used to make bile salts and glutathione
- Helps detoxify the body of chemicals and acts as antioxidant (18)
- Is a neurotransmitter that improves sleep and improves memory and performance
- Helps regenerate cartilage and heal joints
- Reduces cellulite and makes skin more supple
- Helps repair leaky gut
- Protects gut lining
- Metabolic fuel for cells in small intestine
- Improves metabolism and muscle building
Talk about some incredible bone broth benefits! For these reasons, I have most of my patients consume bone broth as a partial fast, detox or during meals to help heal their guts and detoxify their cells, gut and liver.
How to Make Bone Broth & the Bone Broth Recipe Basics
There are a few important basics to consider when making good stock. You can make bone broth with animal components alone, but in his chicken soup study, Dr. Rennard found that the combination of animal products and vegetables seemed to have synergistic effects, working together to be more beneficial than either alone.
You also want to buy animal products that you know are pasture-fed and free of antibiotics and hormones in order to truly unlock all the bone broth benefits.
For the classic bone broth recipe, Fallon describes the essentials as bones, fat, meat, vegetables and water. If you’re making beef broth or lamb broth, you should brown the meat before putting it into a stock pot. Fish and poultry are fine to put in a pot without browning first. Add a bit of apple cider vinegar to your pot to help draw the minerals from the bones.
- Place bones into a large stock pot and cover with water.
- Add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to water prior to cooking. This helps to pull out important nutrients from the bones.
- Fill stock pot with filtered water. Leave plenty of room for water to boil.
- Heat slowly. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for at least six hours. Remove scum as it arises.
- Cook slow and at low heat. Chicken bones can cook for 24 hours. Beef bones can cook for 48 hours. A low and slow cook time is necessary in order to fully extract the nutrients in and around the bone.
- You can also add in vegetables, such as onions, garlic, carrots and celery, for added nutrient value.
After cooking, the broth will cool and a layer of fat will harden on top. This layer protects the broth beneath. Discard this layer only when you are about to eat the broth.
Amid the Paleo diet craze, you can also even buy bone broth these days, such as at a broth shop where people sip bone broth rather than coffee or at certain gourmet grocery stores. Or you can buy bone broth supplements, where you want to make sure they are properly sourced (without antibiotics, for example). Nonetheless, the best bone broth is often made at home.
Final Thoughts on Bone Broth Benefits
Remember, bone broth is rich in minerals that support the immune system and contains healing compounds like collagen, glutamine, glycine and proline.
The collagen in bone broth heals your gut lining and reduces intestinal inflammation. In addition, collagen supports healthy skin and can reduce the appearance of cellulite. Also, the glycine in bone broth can detoxify your cells from chemicals and improve brain function.
I recommend consuming eight ounces one to two times daily as a soup, a plain beverage or doing a bone broth fast to get all these wonderful bone broth benefits. I typically drink eight ounces upon waking every morning.
From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people get healthy by using food as medicine. In 2008, he started a functional medicine center in Nashville, which grew to become one of the most renowned clinics in the world.
Dr. Axe founded one of the most visited natural health website in the world at DrAxe.com, which has over 15 million monthly visitors, where the main topics include nutrition, natural medicine, fitness, healthy recipes, home remedies and trending health news.
He has been a physician for many professional athletes. In 2009, he began working with the Wellness Advisory Council and Professional Swim Teams. He worked with professional swimmers, including Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay, providing nutritional advice and musculoskeletal work on the athletes to increase their performance.