A women’s functional medicine counselor reveals whether bone broth is liquid gold or just another health food fad.

Bone broth, made from simmering the bones of animals with vegetables and vinegar, has been a remedy for centuries. Today, some consider bone broth just a health food fad, while others believe it is liquid gold. So, is it all hype? Or is there substantial evidence demonstrating that this food can also be used as medicine?

Generally, the public is unaware of the large amounts of research on the benefits of bone broth. Many traditional medicines prescribed bone broth as a therapy for chronic disorders. Moses Maimonides, a twelfth-century physician prescribed chicken broth for asthma. Documentation from Chinese pharmacology in the first century refers to using “broth therapy” for stomach, intestines, uterus, and rectum disorders.

Bone broth may have lost its appeal when the demands of life outside of the home increased, and the “just add water” instant food era was born in the 1950s. However, chefs universally never stopped using this staple, and nutrition gurus have recently brought bone broth back into the light as a protocol for healing the gut.

Modern nutrition authorities like Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, or medical doctors like Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, are two of the first pioneers to hold space for educating the public about the medicinal properties of bone broth. Most recently, interest in the Paleo diet has also increased awareness in adding bone broth back into our eating routine. So, what are the health benefits of this liquid gold that make nutrition experts so convinced?

The Major Health Benefits of Bone Broth

Collagen

Collagen, mostly coming from the cartilage and ligaments on the bones, contains amino acids (arginine, proline, glutamine, and glycine) making it a strong protein assist. A protein assist helps the body to better absorb complete proteins, like animal protein, legumes, quinoa, and some vegetables. Through collagen’s gut-lining healing properties, bone broth addresses intestinal disorders like “leaky gut,” colitis, or Crohn’s disease. Due to the gut-brain connection (our feelings trigger symptoms in our guts), collagen addresses neurological conditions including hyperactivity, memory loss/brain-fog, and depression. Collagen can also support inflammation, joint pain, autoimmune diseases, and cancer treatments. Lastly, collagen is a powerhouse for pregnancy, as the body's demand for amino acids, like glycine, is two to ten times greater when a woman is pregnant!

Minerals

Calcium and phosphorus are the highest concentration of minerals in bone broth. Magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfate, and fluoride are also present in lesser amounts making bone broth mineral potent. Adding vinegar in a recipe makes the broth become mineral dense, as vinegar releases the minerals from the bone. The health benefits of consuming minerals are endless: it aids in skin illnesses, supports joint and bone health, combats asthma and allergies, and can even address painful periods.

Digestion & Absorption

Oftentimes, people try to become healthier by increasing the variety of fruits and vegetables in their diet. But they may end up complaining of digestive discomfort, due to “leaky gut” or irritable bowel syndrome that hasn't been addressed. Adding broth to the diet can help digestion and optimize nutrient absorption. Maybe starting a meal with a small soup had more to it than we ever realized? 

The Downside of Commercial Broths

Now that modern science has caught up to traditional wisdom, bone broth has become a new commercial food opportunity. Unfortunately, consuming store-bought bone broth isn’t as healthful as making it at home. Why? Because there is no fixed industry recipe or standard for making bone broth; thus, the market varies in quality. In a 2017 study, researchers tested commercial bone broths to determine these differences. The type of animal bones used (conventional versus organic), simmering time, the ratio of water to food, the amount of acidity (vinegar), and use of additives are all factors that vary the nutritional outcome.

Through the generations, Americans' relationship to using food as medicine has been a bit manic (to say the least). Thankfully, modern-day research is starting to demonstrate the validity of traditional food wisdom by confirming bone broth is food and medicine. Chefs use broth because it is a staple for a properly working kitchen, while health and wellness practitioners use broth as medicine because it is the foundation for a healthy gut. So, next time you roast a chicken, save the scraps and learn for yourself. The healing will begin as the aroma fills your home, and it will continue while you sip it as a warm healing tonic. Or use it as the first ingredient to your favorite soup recipe—then truly experience what it feels like for "leftovers" to work for your health and well-being!

Basic Bone Broth Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds chicken bones (approximately two carcasses)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic heads, sliced
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 12 cups water

Directions

  • Place all ingredients in a large stockpot.
  • Fill pot with water and bring to a boil, then simmer on low heat for 24 hours.
  • Let cool. Strain into mason jars for storing in the fridge up to three to four days. Or freeze in muffin cups and store the frozen discs in a freezer bag for easy usage up to one year.