Bone broth has been a staple of traditional cultures around the world for thousands of years due to its nutrient-dense, easy to digest, healing properties. Indeed, preindustrial societies across the globe have always placed a special emphasis on consumption of the whole animal – which includes an emphasis on using bones to make broth. In many ways, the slow process of making bone broth has become a lost art in our fast-paced, modern world.
Symbolically, bones can be thought of as representing our truest, barest self. They frame our bodies, anchor us to the physical world, and are a mark of permanence. When we know the truth, we feel it deep in our bones. They symbolize underlying, enduring truth. Our worst wounds are those that cut us deep to the bone. Physically, bone broth has the potential to benefit us at our core, and drinking bone broth is both grounding and nourishing.
For thousands of years, Chinese medicine has long understood the healing power of bones and placed a special emphasis on their many benefits. According to Chinese medicine, bones are associated with Kidney Jing and marrow, the deepest, most profound level of our body. Jing represents our very essence and foundation, and is the seat of our genetics, libido, fertility, memory and brain function. In addition to its ability to nourish our Jing (essence), Chinese Medicine also believes that bone broth strengthens Qi (energy) and Wei Qi (immunity), as well as warms the Yang and builds Blood. Broth is said to enter and nourish our Kidneys, Liver, Lungs and Spleen. Drinking bone broth can improve our energy, longevity, fertility, metabolism, the nervous system and endocrine function – particularly the adrenals. Because the Chinese believe the brain is the “Sea of Marrow,” the marrow found in bone broth is considered to be a tonic for the brain. Finally, due to their heavy nature, the Chinese believe that bones have a calming, sedating effect on the spirit (Shen) that helps treat anxiety and insomnia when consumed as a broth.
Importantly, bone is living tissue, not the inert structure that it appears to be. Although it is rigid, it’s actually an organ, placing it squarely in the nutritional all-star camp of liver, heart, brain, kidney and sweetbreads. Importantly, bone is rich source of calcium and phosphorus, along with sodium, magnesium, and other trace minerals that contribute greatly to our own bone health, nerve health and muscle function, to name a few. In addition, bones contain glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, two compounds often sold in expensive supplements that reduce inflammation, arthritis and joint pain. Not surprisingly, bone broth can be thought of as “nature’s multivitamin” given that it benefits nearly every part of our body.
Bone broth is made by simmering meaty bones with a handful of aromatic vegetables for hours — even days — until you end up with a rich, nutritious and deeply savory broth that supports digestion, immunity and brain health. As mentioned earlier, it was a way for our ancestors to make use of every part of an animal – bones and marrow, skin and feet, tendons and ligaments – that couldn’t otherwise be eaten directly. This slow, long simmering causes the bones and ligaments to release healing compounds that have the power to transform our health.
Below are 20 reasons to start making your own bone broth and drinking it daily:
1. Repairs joints
Bone broth is one of world’s best sources of natural collagen, the protein found in the bones, skin, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bone marrow of vertebrae animals. As we get older, our joints naturally experience wear and tear, and we become less flexible. Over time, cartilage also diminishes as it gets attacked by antibodies (age-related degradation of joint cartilage). As bone broth simmers, collagen from the animal parts is released into the broth and becomes readily absorbable to help restore cartilage and repair our joints.
Research done by the Department of Nutrition and Sports Nutrition for Athletics at Penn State University has found that when athletes supplemented their diet 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.
Another valuable component of bone broth 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.
Cooking with bones that still have a good amount of join tissue on them (such as necks, knuckles, ribs or the left over carcass of a roasted chicken) allows for that tissue to cook down and dissolve into the broth.
2. Strengthens bones
Not surprisingly, bone broth is a great tonic for our bones. And the longer bones are cooked, the softer they become and the more minerals they release into the broth. The phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium in the bones seeps out into the broth leaving you with the essential building blocks for healthy bones. Our skeletal system benefits as all of these minerals are made available in bone broth to build new bone cells.
When recovering from a bone fracture or dealing with a chronic bone disorder such as osteoporosis, broth should be consumed daily to deliver sufficient bone building minerals. Bone broth is particularly important long term if the diet does not contain sufficient calcium from either plant or dairy sources.
3. Builds muscle
The amino acids in bone broth can help stimulate muscle protein synthesis which is essential for the ongoing growth, repair, and maintenance of skeletal muscle groups. In a study looking at healthy patients and ovarian-cancer patients, researchers found that ingesting amino acids helped stimulate muscle protein synthesis and reduced inflammation, both in healthy participants and participants undergoing cancer therapy.
4. Improves muscle function
Muscle cramps usually result from either too few or too many minerals in our system (and the American diet tends toward mineral deficiency). Calcium and magnesium are the main minerals involved in muscle contraction and both are found in bone broth.
5. Heals the digestive tract
Bone broth is one of the easiest foods to digest and is traditionally used when recovering from an illness, especially digestive problems. Bone broth is especially beneficial in cases where the digestive lining has been damaged, such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. The high gelatin content of bone broth is considered particularly healing to wounds along the digestive tract. 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.
6. Supports GI health
Studies show that the gelatin released by bones into broth provides a host of GI benefits. Some of the most important include 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. The gelatin in the bone broth (found in the knuckles, feet, and other joints) helps seal up holes in intestines, heal the gut lining, and reduce intestinal inflammation.
7. Supports nerve function
The minerals dissolved in broth are essential for proper nerve function as they help conduct electrical signals from cell to cell. The fats found in 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.
8. Improves brain function
What’s good for the nervous system is even better for the brain, since it’s the command center of the entire nervous system. Bone broth is wonderful brain “food” to improve brain function. In particular, a hormone produced in bones called osteocalcin has been proven to have a direct effect on brain function, improving memory and mood. In addition, bone broth is an excellent source of “good fat” which our brains need to function optimally.
9. Aids blood cell production
Bone marrow is where our bodies manufacture both red and white blood cells and it contains a high concentration of stem cells, the starter cells that are capable of producing new red blood cells. By cooking down bone marrow, we get everything we need to build new red and white blood cells. Gelatin, in particular, helps to regenerate red blood cells and is used to treat anemia.
10. Boosts the immune system
White blood cells are at the center of our body’s immune response and control our ability to battle inflection. Bone marrow contains white blood cells as well as stem cells that produce new cells to help boost our body’s supply of these crucial body guards.
Onions and garlic are often added to bone broth for flavor, but they also benefit the immune system. In Chinese medicine they are often used to treat a common cold. Additional Chinese herbs such as astragalas (huang qi) are also often added to further boost immunity.
11. Fights inflammation
Studies show that many of the amino acids in bone broth (such as cystine, histidine and glycine) reduce inflammation. Bone broth is also a good source of L-glutamine, an essential amino acid (building block of protein) necessary for gut health that specifically reduces gut inflammation.
12. Aids in detoxification
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, maintain tissue integrity, and improve the body’s use of antioxidants. Bone broth also contains potassium and glycine, which support both cellular and liver detoxification. Bone broth also increases the intake of essential minerals, which act like chelators to remove toxins by stopping heavy metals from attaching to mineral receptor sites.
13. Balances the endocrine system
Bone cells produce a protein called osteocalcin that acts as a hormone to regulate different bodily functions. This includes helping the pancreas produce more insulin, improving mood and memory, and signaling the testes to produce more testosterone. Gelatin also helps the body deal with excess estrogen that can stress the endocrine system of both sexes.
14. Rich supply of protein
When the body lacks sufficient protein, it’s very hard for all of our systems to function properly. Many people only think of our muscles when it comes to protein, but nearly our whole body is made up of protein – our intestines, glands, blood vessels, enzymes and cells all require protein. Because our digestive tract is made of muscles that rely on enzymes to break down food, deficient protein often effects this system first, causing nausea, indigestion or lack of appetite. Bone broth is a great way to keep protein supply up even when digestion is at its weakest. While bone broth doesn’t provide complete protein (it doesn’t contain all of the essential amino acids our bodies need) it does supply a good amount of the essential compounds we need.
15. Boosts fertility
Osteocalcin has also been found to have a direct impact 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 in women, bone broth still helps support the female reproductive system by increasing the supply of blood red cells and supplying minerals such as calcium and magnesium which are needed to insure the uterine muscles function properly. Finally, gelatin also helps the body to process excess estrogen, which can be harmful to reproductive health.
16. Benefits pregnancy
Bone broth is a great source of protein, which women need more and more of throughout their pregnancy. In the early months, sipping bone broth is particularly helpful to combat morning sickness which is often due to low protein (which can be difficult to consume when you’re already feeling nauseated). In addition to protein, bone broth is also a great source of good fat which pregnant women also need.
17. Calms anxiety
Osteocalcin has a direct correlation to improved mood and reduce anxiety. In addition, the calcium and magnesium found in bone broth also have a soothing effect on muscles, and in turn, the whole body.
18. Improves wound healing
Gelatin does more than create new red blood cells, help heal a damaged digestive tract, and repair joint tissue – it boosts healing throughout the body. Gelatin is rich in an amino acid called glycine, which is needed in DNA production to form new cells anywhere in the body. Consuming bone broth during recovery of nearly any illness or injury is helpful to repair cells that have been damaged or compromised.
19. Maintains healthy radiant skin
Collagen helps form elastin and other compounds within the skin that are responsible for maintaining its youthful tone, texture and appearance, as well as helping to reduce the visible signs of wrinkles and fighting other 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.
20. Sleep better
The glycine in bone broth has been shown in several studies to help people sleep better.
Consider fortifying your bone broth and further enhancing its healing power with Chinese medicinal herbs targeted to treat particular conditions. Your Acupuncturist/Herbalist can prescribe the correct herbs and dosage that best suit your needs.
Dang Gui (angelica root) improves immunity, enhances circulation, strengthens the blood, and tonifies the body.
Huang Qi (astragalas root) is a general tonic (adaptogen) that improves immunity and strengthens the body. It helps increase energy levels and build up resistance, especially when the immune system is weakened by overwork and stress.
Dang Shen (codonopsis) is another adaptogen with many tonic benefits. It aids digestion, improves circulation, calms the spirit and counters extreme mental or physical fatigue.
Shan Yao (dioscorea / Chinese yam) calms the spirit, regulates the body’s sugar levels, helps control inflammation, enhances vigor, promotes muscle growth, repairs worn out tissue and alleviates body weakness after a long term illness, It can also help counter diabetes, diarrhea, fatigue and dehydration.
Lian Zi (lotus seed) contains longevity-related medicinal properties, such as calming the mind, nourishing the heart, improving brain health and eliminating fatigue. The seed’s calming properties are especially good to alleviate for restlessness, palpitations and insomnia.
Reishi Mushrooms stimulate the immune system, inhibit tumor growth, lower blood pressure and help stabilize blood sugar.
Shiitake Mushrooms are a blood and Qi tonic that support spleen, stomach and liver functions. They help to detoxify the body, dispel phlegm and mucus, and are considered a restorative. Shiitake help to regulate the immune system and have antiviral and antitumor properties.
Always check with your Acupuncturist/Herbalist before you add any medicinal herbs, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing or on any medications.
How I like to make bone broth
3 to 4 pounds mixed beef bones (ribs, oxtails, knuckles and neck bones )
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 medium carrots
3 stalks celery
2 medium yellow onions
5 cloves of garlic
Roast the bones: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the bones with the olive oil and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for about 1 – 2 hours, turning once, until the meat and bones are evenly browned. This step is optional but I think that roasting adds an extra depth of flavor and richness to the soup, plus it makes a beautiful dark-colored broth.
Cut the vegetables: Chop the carrots, celery, and onions into large chunks. No need for fancy knife work here — big chunks are perfect. Smaller chunks also tend to disintegrate during cooking and make the broth cloudy.
Fill large stock pot (or slow cooker) with filtered water: Make sure that there is enough water to cover all the ingredients by a few inches.
Add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to water prior to cooking: ACV helps extract nutrients from the bones.
Place roasted bones into pot and make sure they are covered with water.
Cook slow and at low heat: Chicken bones can cook for 24 hours, while 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.
Stock pot/Dutch oven instructions: Bring the water to a rapid simmer over high heat on the stove top, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting possible. (Alternatively, transfer to a 200°F oven.) Cover and keep the broth at a low simmer for at least 24 hours to 48 hours.
Check the pot occasionally, skimming off any foam that collects on the surface and adding additional water as needed to keep the ingredients covered.
Slow cooker instructions: Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours. If your slow cooker has time settings, you may need to occasionally reset the slow cooker's cycle. Check the slow cooker occasionally, skimming off any foam that collects on the surface and adding additional water as needed to keep the ingredients covered.
Add vegetables: Four hours before your broth is done (at the 20 hour mark, for instance, if you plan to cook for a total of 24 hours), add all the vegetables cut up into large chucks
The broth is done when dark and flavorful: The broth is done when it's deep brown in color and deeply flavorful — you should taste a good balance of savory meat flavors and sweet vegetable flavors.
Strain the broth: Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer to remove all the pieces of bone and vegetable. If you'd like a cleaner, clearer broth, strain a second time through cheesecloth.
Chill the bone broth: Cool the broth to room temperature, and then refrigerate.
Store the broth: The broth will keep refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
Reheating bone broth: Pour out as much broth as you'd like and reheat it gently on the stove top or in the microwave.