Soup’s on!

Soup’s on!

Some call it Jewish penicillin.  But whether you happen to have a sniffle or not, bone broth has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years, and for good reason. For one thing, it's delicious as it is comforting.  Frankly, that alone would be enough to include it in your every day diet; but as it turns out there is a lot more to bone broth than meets the eye.

Some call it Jewish penicillin.  But whether you happen to have a sniffle or not, bone broth has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in recent years, and for good reason. For […]

Bone broth contains any number of naturally occurring nutrients and compounds, extracted from the bones, marrow and whatever extras you have seen fit to include with it.  Some enjoy having it plain instead of coffee in the morning, others like dressing it up with a few herbs, spices, greens, veggies, meats, etc. Some use it as a base for rich creamy soups, stews, gravies, sauces or added to various dishes as a moist flavoring.  Still others prefer to enjoy it as a concentrated, mineral rich and immune-boosting tonic here and there, once or twice per day.   Bone broth’s exceptional versatility and extremely low cost and ease of preparation make it a favorite staple in almost any Paleo Way household.

Traditionally, bone broth has been used by innumerable ancient cultures as a traditional remedy and as a comforting support for those who are sick or weak.  It has been used as a tonic for the G.I. tract and for the joints, as well as other collagen-rich tissues (including muscles, tendons and ligaments). It is also been widely used during respiratory illness and blood-borne issues.


Although there is much folklore, anecdotal reports and history surrounding the use of bone broth,  throughout all the scientific literature there is precious little research available anywhere involving actual bone broth or its relative benefits/effects.   One study was published, examining the nutritional value of bone broth in 1934, and it was a real yawn (it basically attempted to compare the nutritional value of bone broth to whole milk.  Ummm yeah…potato-potahto…).[1]   There was one somewhat useful University of Nebraska study focused on chicken broth showing that the glycine and proline from chicken stock can significantly reduce inflammation in both your digestive system and even your respiratory tract.[2]

The reason for this distinct lack of published research is quite simple: bone broth composition tends to vary enormously— not just by virtue of what ingredients are added to it, but also how long it simmers and even how much water you use to start with (i.e., dilution). Standardization for purposes of meaningful research would be nearly impossible.  Some more elaborate broths start with whole chickens or chunks of meat added. Others simply use whatever is left over from a meal (or meals) or meal prep: leftover bones or carcasses, vegetable scraps, etc. as a more frugal version.  Ingredients and amounts from one batch to the next can be as different as night and day.

What is needed to evaluate the potential nutritional value of this culinary elixir is a better understanding of its most typical component parts that tend to be most consistently present.  For that there is quite a bit more research available.

Among these include:

  • Minerals (including highly bioavailable calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium—especially when made using a little raw cider vinegar)
  • Marrow (red and yellow). (yellow marrow is made of quality fats and is high in omega-3’s if gotten from grass-fed sources). Red marrow contains myeloid stem cells, the precursors to red blood cells, along with lymphoid stem cells, the precursors to white blood cells and platelets.  It also contains collagen protein fibers, sometimes called reticulin fibers, classified as type III collagen.
  • Cartilage – is largely made up of gelatin/collagen, which additionally contains nutrients such as hyaluronic acid and glucosamine/chondroitin
  • Bone Collagen – Over 90% of organic bone mass is actually made up of collagen (NOT calcium!).
  • Amino acids (the building blocks of protein), particularly methionine, proline, glycine, glutamine and glycine.

So what are the known benefits of the aforementioned elements of bone broth’s most basic composition?

Minerals:  the type of minerals that are most abundant in the average bone broth include highly bioavailable calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, silica, sulfur, quality sodium and potassium– especially when made using a little raw cider vinegar, which helps reach them out of the bones more readily.  The longer the bone brought simmers, the more minerals that are leached from the bone into the broth.  At the initial stages of a fat-based ketogenic approach to eating can lead to losses of sodium, potassium and magnesium in the beginning.  Headaches, dizziness, constipation and muscle weakness associated with excess sodium loss; as well as cramping, fatigue, nausea and increased urination symptoms associated with low potassium and muscle cramping, poor sleep, muscular tension, constipation and other symptoms commonly associated with low magnesium may all benefit from the regular consumption of quality bone broth (in addition to fibrous intake of veggies/greens and Himalayan/Celtic sea salt— all of which can be added to your bone broth for extra nutritional value).

*Marrow:   There are two different types of bone marrow:  Red and yellow.

  • Red bone marrow contains myeloid stem cells, the precursors to red blood cells, along with lymphoid stem cells, the precursors to white blood cells and platelets. It also contains collagen protein fibers (classified as type III collagen). It is sometimes believes that more red marrow in a recipe enhances the flavor.
  • Yellow bone marrow contains mostly storage fats and can be particularly rich in omega -3’s if the bones come from 100% pasture fed sources.

*Cartilage:  Cartilage can be found throughout the body– both in joints and other tissues.  In broth these typically come from ingredients such as chicken feet, chicken skin, ribs, trachea, beef knuckles or even hooves.  Cartilage is mostly made up of both collagen and elastin protein, along with a class of substances known as glycosaminoglycans (GAG’s).  Various cartilage preparations have shown promise in cancer therapies in recent years, as cartilage contains “anti-angiogenesis factors” that help inhibit the growth of blood vessels in cancerous tumors (helping cut off their nutrient supply line).[3] [4]  Cartilage supplementation has also been shown to stimulate B-cells, T-cells and various macrophage immune cells,[5] [6] having the potential to support vulnerable immune systems.

  • Collagen proteins are the component of bone, skin and other tissues that give them their strength. They are highest in bone, collagen and skin
  • Elastin provides (as the name indicates) more of an “elastic” component, allowing for greater pliability and flexibility in the tissue.
  • Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) include the building blocks of connective tissue such as glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, keratin sulfate and hyaluronic acid. These basically give cartilage its basic resilience.

Gelatin:  Gelatin is basically made up of *collagen, and is essentially the “extracted version” of that, typically referring to collagen in its food state.  Most well-made bone broths contain a layer of almost “Jell-O -like” consistency, which is mostly the gelatin component (along with a certain amount of glycosaminoglycans). The vast majority of commercial gelatin/collagen products are extracted from the skins of animals. Some more specifically therapeutic varieties are often extracted from tracheal cartilage. There is nothing wrong with this (as long as the product comes from quality organic and fully pastured sources), but bone broth can supply a potentially broader variety of collagens with a broader variety of benefits (at a much lower cost). Also, bone broth supplies many other nutrients that have the potential to be both synergistic with the gelatin/collagen component, as well as have a much broader range of health -related benefits and applications.  You are also much less apt to find undesirable MSG that can be commonly found in commercial gelatin preparations.[7]

Amino Acids:  the typical amino acid profile of gelatin is generally dominated by (in order of abundance), glycine, glutamine, proline, hydroxyproline, lysine, arginine, methionine and hydroxylysine.[8]

  • Glycine – has been shown in peer-reviewed research to be extremely helpful for sleep and memory performance.[9] It is also used for making creatine, heme (the part of your blood that carries oxygen), RNA and DNA, and also contributes to the synthesis of bile salts and also plays a role in the production of hydrochloric acid.[10]  Glycine also contributes to phase I and II hepatic detoxification, and is helpful for detox.  It is also a key amino acid used by the body in a state of ketosis to provide a substrate for gluconeogenesis (used to make needed blood sugar) and can help with blood sugar stabilization.  It s also used to make glutathione.
  • Proline – mainly supplies collagen structure, found mainly in cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons and skin. At least one research study suggested it may have beneficial effects on memory and depression.[11] Proline and glycine, both are also important precursors for the production of healthy mucus.
  • Lysine – L-Lysine plays a major role in calcium absorption; building muscle protein; recovering from surgery or sports injuries; and the body’s production of hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. It also may have some anti-anxiety benefits.[12] [13]  It is also known to be helpful in ameliorating Herpes simplex symptoms.[14]
  • Arginine – needed for immune system functioning, growth hormone, hepatic regeneration and the production of sperm.
  • L-glutamine – is the preferred fuel for the cells of your small intestine (enterocytes) and may help with symptoms of low blood sugar.
  • Methionine – Methionine is an intermediate in the biosynthesis of cysteine, carnitine, taurine, lecithin, phosphatidylcholine, and other phospholipids. Improper conversion of methionine can lead to elevated homocysteine, neurodegeneration and cardiovascular disease.[15] Deficiencies of this sulfur-based amino acid can lead to greying of your hair.[16]

Glycosaminoglycans (GAG’s): these also help contribute to the “jelly -like” consistency found along with the gelatin layer typically appearing with quality bone broth.  These include glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, keratin sulfate and something called hyaluronic acid.

  • Chondroitin sulfate (made up of a string glucosamine molecules) in part plays a role in both joint health, as well as vascular health (being potentially helpful in lowering atherosclerosis).[17]
  • Hyaluronic acid is a substance that helps your tissues retain healthy moisture content. It also serves to lubricate your joints and may also help in wound healing. There is evidence to suggest that hyaluronic acid can help with the pain and inflammation of osteoarthritis.[18]

It is in the prolonged simmering that causes the bones and ligaments to release these various, potentially healing healing compounds into the broth.

*There is current research to suggest that dietary elements/nutrients consumed that are particular to specific organs and other tissues are actually more likely (upon digestion) to gravitate toward those same tissues in you.  –Really, it makes sense, since all the building blocks are there that are needed for those particular tissues, organs, glands, etc.  What are referred to as “glandular therapies” have been utilized with considerable success for years in natural medicine based upon this well-known principle.

Some of the known components of bone broth have been used and have demonstrated benefit across a wide variety of conditions:

  • Arthritis[19]
  • Osteoporosis (due to the bioavailable bone-building minerals/nutrients it contains)
  • Malnutrition/malabsorption and underweight conditions[20]
  • Leaky gut issues[21] [22] [23] [24]
  • Digestive problems[25] (also due to its bile salt promoting components)
  • Respiratory illness (colds, allergies, asthma, etc.)[26] [27] [28] [29]
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis)
  • Bone healing (due to collagen, other amino acid and mineral components extra supportive of bone health)
  • Wound Healing (due to hyaluronic acid, amino acid and collagen properties)
  • Detoxification[30]
  • Inflammation[31] (due also in part to glutathione boosting components and omega-3 content of pastured marrow)
  • Immune support (due to amino acid, and glutathione-boosting effects)
  • Skin disorders (due to collagen and mineral content)
  • Atherosclerosis[32]
  • Connective tissue injury (NBA basketball player, Kobe Bryant claims he healed his ruptured Achilles tendon using bone broth)[33]

Bone Broth CaveatsAlthough there are clearly quite a number of benefits potentially associated with the regular consumption of bone broth, there are certain cases where consuming it may be contraindicated– or where maintaining a minimal consumption makes better sense.  The rich quantity of L-glutamine present in bone broth (up to 1000 mg per cup) makes it both a potential benefit to some and a potential liability to others, depending on who you are.  We already talked about some of the potential benefits of glutamine for the gut, immune system and blood sugar symptoms, but glutamine has its dark side, too.

  • In certain vulnerable individuals, glutamine may be over-converted to glutamate (the excitatory neurotransmitter responsible in excessive doses for triggering seizures—much like MSG) and may be contraindicated for those with epilepsy and possibly chronic migraines.
  • Also, glutamine has the potential to feed cancer cells. Mind you, it is also the most abundant amino acid in our food supply so you aren’t going to be eliminating glutamine from your diet just by avoiding bone broth.  But if you have cancer, I would tend to recommend against its consumption. Fortunately, The Paleo Way 10-week program promotes the moderation of protein intake, overall–helping to minimize the potential for both excess glutamine intake, as well as mTOR activation (I talk a lot more about mTOR in my book, Primal Body, Primal Mind).  At the very least, preparing bone broths through much less simmering time will help lower the glutamine content.
  • The excessive intake of bone broth can potentially interfere with healthy ketosis. If you are trying to lose weight, then you might want to limit your intake of bone broth to around a cup a day to maximize the potential benefits and minimize any potential detriments toward weight loss.
  • Finally, if you are not careful to source your bones well you may run into the potential for problems with things like lead, fluoride, and other unsavory heavy metal contaminants potentially stored in unhealthy bone. Marrow-fats from feedlot animals will also tend to be dominated by more pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and potentially may contain more fat-soluble toxins. As with anything, the quality of your ingredients counts and is well worth any higher upfront costs (which, in the case of bone broth tends to be pretty minimal, anyway) in order to avoid long-term consequences.

Again, you can minimize the over concentration of L-glutamine in your finished bone broth simply by minimizing your simmering time.  Starting with a whole fresh chicken and simmering your broth for no more than about two hours is one way of being able to enjoy delicious homemade bone broth without excessive concern.

Overall, the broad range of benefits of homemade bone broth from quality source ingredients certainly seems to outweigh any potential detriments when it comes to this simple, economical, versatile and delicious bone-building, immune supportive and gut-healing food.  It is certainly one of the first things I reach for on a cold winter day, or if I happen to feel under the weather.  Also, the benefits of basic homemade bone broth can be considerably amplified through the addition of super foods and helpful herbs such as garlic, turmeric, ginger, rosemary, medicinal mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, chaga, reishi and others), as well as the addition of phytonutrient-rich fibrous vegetables and greens.  Add a little coconut cream for that smooth, creamy texture and extra beneficial fats.  There is almost no limit to the versatility and delicious ways in which this ancient elixir may be enjoyed.  Our most ancient, prehistoric ancestors may have needed to knaw on bones and pound Long femur bones open with big rocks to get at all the goodness and you can otherwise enjoy through simmering a simple pot of this traditional, nutrient-packed, healing remedy on your stove for a few hours.  ~Bon(e) appetite!

[1] McCance RA, Sheldon W, and Widdowson EM. “Bone and Vegetable Broth.”  Arch Dis Child. 1934 Aug; 9(52): 251–258.

[2] University of Nebraska Medical Center. “Chicken Soup for a Cold”  http://www.unmc.edu/publicrelations/chickensoup_newsrelease.htm (accessed 21 October  2011).

[3] Tortora, G, et al. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, New York, NY, Harper Collins Press, 1996, p. 114

[4] Quillin, P, Beating Cancer with Nutrition, Carlsbad, CA, Nutrition Times Press, 2001

[5] ibid

[6] Murray, M, Pizzorno, J, Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Rocklin, CA, Prima Publishing, 1991.

[7] Fallon, S, Nourishing Traditions, New Trends Publishing, Washington, DC, 1999, p.118.

[8] Daniel, K. “Why Broth is Beautiful.” Wise Traditions Quarterly, spring 2003, 25–36.

[9] Bannai M, Kawai, N, Ono K, et al. “The effects of glycine on subjective daytime performance in partially sleep-restricted healthy volunteers.”   Front Neurol. 2012; 3: 61. doi:  10.3389/fneur.2012.00061

[10] Wald, A. “Stimulation of gastric acid secretion by glycine and related oligopeptides in humans.” American Journal of Physiology, 1982, 5, 242, G86-G88.

[11] Cherkin, A, et al. L-Proline and related compounds: correlation of structure, amnesiac potency, and anti- spreading depression potency, Brain Research, 1978, 156, 2, 265–273.

[12] Smriga, Kameishi, Uneyama, and Torii. “Dietary L-Lysine Deficiency Increases Stress-Induced Anxiety and Fecal Excretion in Rats”. The Journal of Nutrition. December 2002. 132 (12): 3744–6.

[13] Smriga, Ghosh, Mouneimne, Pellett, and Scrimshaw. “Lysine fortification reduces anxiety and lessens stress in family members in economically weak communities in Northwest Syria.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May 2004; 101 (22): 8285–8288. doi:10.1073/pnas.0402550101

[14] Chi C-C, Wang S-H, Delamere FM, et al. “Interventions for prevention of herpes simplex labialis (cold sores on the lips).” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015; (8). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010095.pub2

[15] Refsum H; Ueland PM; Nygård O; Vollset SE. “Homocysteine and Cardiovascular Disease”. Annual review of medicine. 1998; 49 (1): 31–62. doi:10.1146/annurev.med.49.1.31

[16] Wood, J.M.; et al. “Senile hair graying: H2O2-mediated oxidative stress affects human hair color by blunting methionine sulfoxide repair”. FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. July 2009; 23 (7): 2065–75. doi:10.1096/fj.08-125435

[17] Lininger, S, et al. The Natural Pharmacy, Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA, 1998.

[18] Kalman DS, Heimer M, Valdeon A, et al. “”Effect of a natural extract of chicken combs with a high content of hyaluronic acid (Hyal-Joint) on pain relief and quality of life in subjects with knee osteoarthritis: a pilot randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial.”  Nutr J. 2008 Jan 21;7:3. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-7-3.

[19] Prudden, J, The Biological activity of bovine cartilage preparations, Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatology, 1974, III, 4, 287–321.

[20] Koyama, et al. Ingestion of gelatin has differential effect on bone mineral density and bodyweight in protein undernutrtion, Journal of Nutrition and Science of Vitaminology, 2000, 47, 1, 84–86.

[21] Frankel WL1, Zhang W, Afonso J, et al. “Glutamine enhancement of structure and function in transplanted small intestine in the rat.” JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1993 Jan-Feb;17(1):47-55.

[22] Mandir N and Goodlad R. “The effects of glutamine on intestinal epithelial cell proliferation in  parenterally fed rats.” Gut. 1999 May; 44(5): 608–614.

[23] Larson SD, Li J, Chung DH, Evers BM. “Molecular mechanisms contributing to glutamine-mediated intestinal cell survival.” Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2007 Dec;293(6):G1262-71.

[24] Samonina, G, et al. Protection of gastric mucosal integrity by gelatin and simple proline containing peptides, Pathophysiology, April 2000, 7, 1, 69–73.

[25] Wald, A. “Stimulation of gastric acid secretion by glycine and related oligopeptides in humans.” American Journal of Physiology, 1982, 5, 242, G86-G88.

[26] Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, et al. “Chicken soup inhibits  chemotaxis in vitro.” Chest Journal. October 2000, Vol 118, No. 4

[27] Saketkhoo K, Januszkiewicz A, Sackner MA. “Effects of drinking hot water, cold water and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance.” Chest Journal.  October 1978, Vol 74, No. 4

[28] University of Nebraska Medical Center. (2011)

[29] Fogarty, A, et al. Amino acids and asthma: a case controlled study, European Respiratory Journal, 2004, 4, 565–8.

[30] Sekhar RV, Patel SG, Guthikonda AP, Reid M, Balasubramanyam A, Taffet GE, Jahoor F. “Deficient synthesis of glutathione underlies oxidative stress in aging and can be corrected by dietary cysteine and glycine supplementation.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.2011;94(3):847-53

[31] University of Nebraska Medical Center. “Chicken Soup for a Cold”  http://www.unmc.edu/publicrelations/chickensoup_newsrelease.htm (accessed 21 October  2011).

[32] Lininger, S, et al. (1998)

[33] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/01/22/how-bone-broth-became-kobe-bryants-secret-stone-age-weapon/

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