Bone Broth: Yay or Nay?

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You have probably heard about the supposed health benefits of bone broth. It has become popular among triathletes for providing collagen, an important protein in the body, but is it really the newest super food to speed recovery, relieve aching joints and strengthen the immune system?


What is bone broth?

Bone broth is made by simmering beef, pork and chicken bones for at least eight hours. The resulting broth is fragrant and tasty when hot and cools to a gelatinous form due to the collagen that is leeched out of the bones. It is then packaged and sold in liquid, powder or supplement form.


Is bone broth a super food?

The fact is, there have been very few studies on the actual nutritional benefits of bone broth. The only one that specifically studied bone broth is from 1934! The reason being is that there are a lot of different ways to make it and variables like what type of bones, other ingredients and how long they were simmered affects the nutritional content of the broth. There is no standardized or “right” way to make bone broth and so no way to say how nutritionally beneficial it is for you.


What is collagen?

You might be wondering what is collagen, exactly, and why do we need it?  It is a vital protein found in great abundance throughout the body made up of the amino-acids glycine, hydroxyproline and arginine. Collagen is the chief component of various types of connective tissues like cartilage, tendons, ligaments and bones. 


Collagen is classified as either Type I or Type II. Type I is found in connective tissues and is the source of collagen hydrolysate (enzymatically hydrolyzed collagen into smaller peptides). Type II is found primarily in cartilage. There is actually nothing known about the differences between the two types of collagen in terms of their effect on joint pain or muscle building and repair.


The research: fact or fiction?

Recent legitimate studies have shown collagen reduces joint pain, helps build and repair muscle and boosts the immune system. Is it true?


Yes and no. Two studies used specific forms of collagen known as collagen hydrolysate (enzymatically hydrolyzed collagen into smaller peptides) and concluded it did somewhat appear to reduce joint pain in physically active adults. The studies were funded by Gelita, a German company that produces collagen. 


The studies that show collagen hydrolysate is effective for joint pain and other conditions contained no actual research involving bone broth. Participants in those studies were taking a collagen supplement. 


Besides the obvious bias of a collagen producer financing a study about how great its product is, most collagen containing products don’t specify what type of collagen is in their product. That means there is no way to know if most brands of collagen supplements will produce the same results as the ones containing collagen hydrolysate used in recent studies. Only two products currently on the market state what kind of collagen they contain; Jarrow Formulas Beyond Bone Broth Powdered Drink Mix (contains both Type I and II), and Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein (Type II).


Another common problem with bone broth supplements or powders (and most all supplements) is that the amount of collagen listed per serving in the ingredients is often not what is actually in the product. Consumer Lab conducted a thorough analysis of the collagen content of bone broth and found this to be true in several products. For example, Bare Bones Bone Broth claimed to have 10 grams of protein per cup on the label but the analysis showed only 3.8 grams per cup. 


Without knowing which type of collagen used is the effective one or how much is actually in the supplement or bone broth there is no way to confirm most collagen health benefit claims.


Immunity Booster?

It has been widely claimed that drinking bone broth strengthens the immune system. This stems from studies not on bone broth specifically, but research that showed chicken stock calms cold symptoms by keeping white blood cells from migrating, the mechanism that causes some of the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Studies from the late 70s showed chicken soup being very effective at moving nasal mucous. Bone broth might be beneficial if you have a cold, but not more so than soup made with chicken broth.


What is the recommended daily dose of bone broth?

There is no definitive answer as to how much you need to gain any health benefits, but the general recommendation is 2.5 to 15 grams of collagen a day. There is no specific recommendation based on your age, height, weight or gender. 


So, bone broth: yay or nay?

Bone broth tastes pretty good, may help relieve cold symptoms and is a source of protein-so, yay!

If you are looking for a new miracle super food then-nay. It’s not a new food. People have been boiling animal bones and drinking the broth for a thousand years. 


As for all the health benefits: 

  • No specific studies to show bone broth per se produces health benefits

  • Some forms of collagen may reduce joint pain in physically active adults

  • Most bone broth products don’t list what type of collagen they contain


Collagen is not even the best source for muscle protein synthesis because it does not have an ideal amino acid profile to build protein. The amino acids found in chicken, beef and pork have proline, lysine, hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline, which improve natural collagen synthesis inside the body while collagen itself does not. 


Until there is a lot more research done on actual bone broth involving humans, there is no harm in sipping bone broth, popping a supplement or adding the powder to your post workout smoothie, but it is not the miracle food it is being touted as just yet.