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Is Bone Broth the “New” Cure for a Healthier Life?

Photo by Henrique Félix on Unsplash

Believers in bone broth espouse this homebrewed liquid as everything from a “fountain of youth” solution to the alleviation of joint pain, arthritis, leaky gut syndrome, sleep dysfunction, and immune system disorders.

Whether made with cow, chicken, or fish bones, all of the believers indicate that bone broth has mysterious qualities that science has, so far, failed to reveal. Science doesn’t seem in too much of a rush to answer the question of how good a health benefit bone broth might be. Who’s giving out grants?

Research on bone broth, whether its benefits, potential dangers, or anything in between, is scant. Articles indicate that one research paper was published in 1934, which seems to indicate there was a benefit to daily drinking of any bone broth. But there’s a catch to this article. Vegetables had to be added to the broth to make it genuinely nutritious and health-enhancing. Don’t we call that “soup?”

Since 1934, however, there is a lack of research information. A few warnings, along with a scattering of researching claiming benefits from bone broth, have been published. In fact, one of the claims seems to have support. Bone broth may help in cold and nasal problems. It seems to have mild anti-inflammatory effects.

First, take a look at the claims currently in the air about bone broth and its benefits

Benefits of bone broth

Andy Genovese / ABC

Among those who offer some support to the benefits of bone broth is the cardiac surgeon and TV personality, Dr. Mehmet Oz. The highly successful Oz indicates that bone broth may have nutritional benefits in the proteins that can be added to your body, as well as the fact that it contains gelatin. The gelatin his website asserts, “can reduce digestive symptoms — everything from heartburn to ‘leaky gut syndrome.’’

“While more studies are required to determine exactly how bone broth can benefit your gut, what we do know is that soup can be a light, easy meal when you don’t want to feel truthful or bloated in your belly.” Colonoscopy prep is not a “light meal” to me. Sound like they’re talking about soup, not bone broth in particular.

The website also indicates that you may increase your calcium by drinking bone broth and that those are proteins your body requires. Since your body cannot manufacture all of the 20 proteins it needs, it must have some other sources to obtain them.

The ten essential amino acids that we need are “arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine…If you consistently fail to take in adequate amounts of even one of these 10 essential amino acids, your body will begin to break down its existing protein structures such as muscle in an attempt to get the missing amino acid.

One of the significant protein-rich sources in our bodies, besides our muscles, is the heart. Karen Carpenter, the singer, may have died from a deficiency of protein and a resulting heart attack.

The gelatin, which is found in bone broth, may improve joint health, and here there is at least some research that supports bone broth for joints. “Cartilage in the joints tends to wear down or shrink through continual use. This can add more stress to the joints, which may become damaged as a result of the added pressure.

“A 2017 review that appears in the journal Sports Medicine suggests that both laboratory and animal studies show that gelatin supplementation increases the amount of collagen in the tissues. This may help protect the joints from unnecessary stress.” The problem here may be that the gelatin you take in may not translate to gelatin being delivered in a form needed by your joints. More research needed here?

Osteoarthritis symptoms of the knees may benefit from increased collagen made from chickens (feet are preferred for bone broth). The researchers noted that “physical improvements in the knee joint’s overall functionality” was shown. And it doesn’t stop at joints.

Persons with inflammatory bowel difficulties may benefit from the supplementation of glutamine from the bone broth, as noted in the literature. They indicate “glutamine supplementation can improve gut barrier function in several experimental conditions of injury and in some clinical situations.” Not clear what “conditions” these might be, but it sounds good.

Bone broth can also help in inducing weight loss (no reference here). The Oz site indicates bone broth may trick the brain into thinking you’ve had a full meal. Has the brain told them something we’ve not been told?

Bone broth may also help promote sleep. The amino acid, glycine, is responsible for this benefit of bone broth. A warm cup of broth may be the ticket to a good night’s sleep, and the warm memory surrounding its being made helps, too.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The downside of bone broth

Everything has its benefits and its potential drawbacks, but with bone broth, even the “bad” appears not to be all that bad. The research emphasizing that bone broth may have toxins in it, also states that the broth can’t contain enough to harm you. All good, you may say. Why not?

Remember when maraschino cherries were to be avoided at all costs because they used red dye in them? It turns out that you could never eat enough of them to worry about getting cancer from them. It was a requirement that is a reasonable warning about food colorings, which have their problems. Leave that to another day, shall we?

What toxins could bone broth have in it?

Lead, at higher than safe levels, has been found in certain bone broths and health professionals, and others are advised to consider this when suggesting this type of diet for chronic conditions such as ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, dyslexia, and depression.

A 2017 study indicated that bone broth could contain quite a bit less lead than previously thought and not be a danger. The researchers don’t suggest it, but a nutritionist thinks vegetable soup might be just as good as bone broth. Vegetarians, I am sure, will cheer this statement.

Other than lead, the conscientious cook would want to look at the organics issue. Where did the broth ingredients come from, and is that safe?

The bottom line seems to be that bone broth is useful in several respects, but it won’t plump up your face with youthful collagen (dermatologists do that), but it might help older or athletic knees.

Plus, the warm broth has soothing psychological effects, too, and they can’t be denied. The fact that it can help with sleep is a significant benefit because we know that sleep keeps the immune system healthy. If broth keeps the Sandman coming nightly, it’s broth before bed for me.

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