8 Science-Backed Benefits of Bone Broth + How To Make It
Bone broth has generated a lot of trendy buzz in the past several years—but it's actually been around for centuries.
You might remember your grandmother making fresh chicken soup on the stove, using all of the chicken bones and skin to make the broth.
And while you may have turned your nose up at it then, your grandmother was actually on to something.
Note: While there hasn’t been much research on bone broth specifically, there’s a lot of evidence that the nutritional compounds in it have loads of different health benefits. Read on to learn about them.
What is bone broth?
Before jumping into the potential health benefits of bone broth, let’s back up and talk about what bone broth actually is.
Bone broth is a savory liquid that’s made by simmering animal bones and connective tissue in water for an extended period of time.
Most bone broths also include vegetables, some spices for flavor, and a small amount of apple cider vinegar, which helps release the nutrients from the bones while they cook.
While you may hear the terms “bone broth” and “stock” used interchangeably, one of the main things that sets bone broth apart from regular broth or stock is simmering time.
Unlike stock, which can be made in just a couple of hours, bone broth usually simmers for at least 12 to 24 hours. This allows ample time for the collagen protein, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and bone marrow to be released from the bones.
Of course, the bones are the major source of nutrients in bone broth, that’s why it’s very different from vegetable broth, which is made with a combination of vegetables and water.
While vegetable stock can certainly be nutritious, it doesn’t contain collagen, amino acids, or some of the other protein-specific nutrient compounds you’ll find in bone broth.
Naturopathic doctor Kellyann Petrucci, M.S., N.D. points out that bone broth benefits lie in its unique nutritional makeup. According to Petrucci, bone broth is rich in compounds that are difficult to get from other foods, like:
- Collagen protein
- Glycosaminoglycans, including glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid
- Amino acids, like glycine, proline, arginine, and glutamine
- Essential macro minerals, like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium
- Iodine (if fish bones are used)
Functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, M.D. also calls bone broth a “unique source of protein,” since the 9 grams of protein per cup1 are also highly digestible and bio-available, unlike some plant protein sources.
8 potential benefits of bone broth
Hyman has been a longtime advocate for the concept of food as medicine, and he calls bone broth one of his “favorite healing foods.”
While there haven’t been many studies on bone broth directly, science has explored the individual benefits of many of its components, like collagen, glucosamine, minerals, and the various amino acids.
Based on this research, some potential bone broth benefits may include:
Collagen may support gut health
From science, we know that collagen, the body’s most abundant protein, is found in the gut lining, particularly the intestinal smooth muscle cells2, and at a cellular level plays an important role in the integrity of the gut barrier3 (i.e., gut lining).
More recently, clinical research has demonstrated that collagen supplementation can improve digestion and bloating.
While this clinical study4 used 20 grams of daily collagen, it’s important to put that into context with bone broth, which can contain a variable amount of collagen protein, from 2.5 to 11.5 grams per serving, according to one analysis.
Functional proteins like collagen that support a healthy gut lining3 and providing functional GI benefits have the potential to improve bowel movements, digestive discomfort from bloating and gas, and perhaps improve symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Indeed, research shows people with inflammatory bowel diseases tend to have lower levels of collagen5 in their blood than people without digestive system trouble.
This is thought to be mediated by inflammatory processes of their condition.
Speaking of inflammation, interestingly bone broth was investigated6 in a preclinical mouse model and it was found to be anti-inflammatory and to improve their ulcerative colitis symptoms.
Bone broth provides the amino acid L-glutamine, which is known to support gut health7 by maintaining intestinal barrier integrity via tight junctions.
More research on collagen and gut physiology, as well as bone broth as a whole on gut health parameters, is needed in humans to understand this interesting area of research further.
May help alleviate joint and muscle pain
While the research surrounding the use of bone broth as a functional food for musculoskeletal health and pain is lacking glycosaminoglycans (glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid), minerals, and amino acids from the gelatin obtained from boiled animal bones may provide muscle and joint health support and relief.
In an animal (mice) research model, bone broth was shown to modulate key cytokine pathways6 that are known to be inflammatory (i.e., bone broth has anti-inflammatory properties!).
While this requires further confirmation in clinical studies, bone broth’s potential anti-inflammatory actions are directly relevant to joint protection and issues such as joint pain (for which inflammation plays a role) and recovery.
Perhaps the most famous joint-health promoting bioactives found in bone broth are glucosamine and chondroitin.
The clinical research8 demonstrates the ability of this duo of glycosaminoglycans to alleviate joint pain and improve joint stiffness and mobility. Hyaluronic acid, a key component of synovial fluid in our joints, has also been shown to relieve joint pain9, especially the knee.
In a preclinical research in rodents exploring models of nociception (i.e. pain) specific to the jaw (think TMJ), bone broth significantly reduced pain levels10 while also decreasing the expression of a key pro-inflammatory protein known as PKA.
Finally, key minerals (e.g., calcium and phosphorus) are structural components of bone mineral and amino acids in gelatin (i.e., from the bone broth connective tissues) like proline and glycine may be used as building blocks for our own connective tissues.
In these ways, bone broth may support bone, muscle, and connective tissues by supplying these key nutritional constituents to the body for its use at the level of the joints and more broadly.
May help improve skin elasticity and hydration
As a rich source of collagen, it's no surprise that bone broth may help improve skin elasticity and hydration.
In one small, controlled study, women were given an oral collagen supplement for 8 weeks.
Skin elasticity11 was measured at 4 weeks and then again at 8 weeks. While there were evident skin benefits as soon as 4 weeks, skin continued to improve with prolonged, regular use.
In another clinical trial, collagen supplementation up to 5 grams (which is within the realm of collagen supplied by bone broth, interestingly) consumed for 12 weeks was shown to increase hydration of the skin12, in the stratum corneum and epidermis specifically, of healthy women.
Bone broth is also rich in hyaluronic acid, which helps your skin retain moisture13.
While bone broth’s unique nutritional bioactives, especially collagen and hyaluronic acid, have scientific evidence to support skin health benefits, no such literature exists for bone broth yet.
May have neuroprotective benefits (and help with migraines)
The nutritional compounds in bone broth may help protect your brain and its major nerves.
While anti-inflammatory benefits of bone broth6 have mostly been studied related to gut physiology, in fact anti-inflammatory actions have whole body and brain implications for health.
In one animal study, researchers found that supplementing with bone broth reduced sensitivity14 in the trigeminal nerve, which can help reduce the risk of migraines and the light sensitivity that comes with them.
The potential brain benefits of bone broth are certainly an important area for future research to explore in more depth.
May help promote better mood and sleep
Direct studies of bone broth on mood balance and sleep physiology do not exist (yet). So we look at the compounds bone broth is known to deliver: One bone broth benefit is that it's rich in glutamate, the most abundant amino acid in your brain.
Glutamate acts as a neurotransmitter and a precursor to GABA15, another neurotransmitter that tends to be low in people who experience depression and anxiety16. Increasing GABA doesn’t just lead to a better mood, it can also improve sleep, boost focus, and help maintain healthy blood pressure.
May help reduce inflammation
Prolonged inflammation is at the root of many modern health problems. Glycine, one of the major amino acids in bone broth, has been shown to combat inflammation17 and prevent the formation of free radicals.
Glycine also helps regulate the immune system, which can reduce your chances of getting sick or responding in a resilient way when you do get sick.
What’s more, bone broth has been shown in robust animal research models to reduce major inflammatory pathways6 (i.e., related to key interleukin cytokines and TNF-alpha), thereby demonstrating potential to combat inflammation. Research in humans is needed to confirm this.
May help prevent dehydration
When you think of hydration, water may be the first thing that comes to mind (and yes, bone broth definitely provides some H20), but an adequate daily intake of required electrolyte minerals, like sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, are also essential to prevent dehydration18—and bone broth is rich in all of them.
Instead of reaching for a sports drink, which often contains high amounts of sugar and artificial dyes, you can sip on a cup or two of bone broth each day.
As a rich source of major macro- and microminerals that function as electrolytes, your body’s ability to achieve fluid balance will be directly supported.
May help improve heart health
As we mentioned earlier, we’ll repeat: Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It’s found in your skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, and even blood vessels.
Although there hasn’t been any research on the direct connection between bone broth and heart health (or cardiovascular health more broadly), one study found that supplementing with collagen, the primary protein in bone broth, helped improved the elasticity of blood vessels19 and improved LDL (“good”) to HDL (“bad”) cholesterol ratio—two things that can promote cardiometabolic health and reduce your risk of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the blood vessels that can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and/or stroke.
How to make bone broth
While there are many high-quality, pre-made bone broths available now, making your own bone broth at home is really easy and often more cost effective. To make bone broth, you need:
- Grass-fed and/or pasture-raised bones (can be beef, chicken, pork, fish, or a combination)
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 chopped carrots
- 2 chopped celery stalks
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- Filtered water
- Add bones to a slow cooker and drizzle 1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar on top.
- Add garlic, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and sea salt.
- Pour water over bones and vegetables until they’re completely covered.
- Cover the slow cooker and simmer for 12 to 24 hours. To make chicken broth, you'll need to simmer the bones around 12 hours, while it’s best to cook beef bones for closer to 24. (If you’re short on time, you can also make bone broth in the pressure cooker in about an hour.)
- Allow bone broth to cool slightly and strain through a cheesecloth.
- Discard bones and vegetable pieces and transfer broth to a glass storage container with a lid or glass Mason jars.
- Store in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
This is a basic recipe that you can adapt to your tastes. Feel free to add extra spices or herbs to really bring out the rich flavor of the broth.
How to use bone broth
You probably already know that you can use bone broth to make soup or sip it warm right from a mug.
But functional medicine expert William Cole, D.C., IFMCP, recommends some other out-of-the-box ways to incorporate bone broth into your diet:
- Smoothies (try this recipe for a Mango Bone Broth Smoothie)
- Sautéed veggies
- Scrambled eggs
- Tonics (like bone broth heated and mixed with turmeric)
- Mashed cauliflower
- Rice or quinoa (use bone broth in place of water)
How much do you need to reap bone broth benefits? For best results, Sara Gottfried, M.D., board-certified gynecologist, recommends 4 to 8 ounces of bone broth every day.
Bone broth, which is made by simmering chicken, beef, or fish bones in water for 12 to 24 hours, is a rich source of collagen, amino acids, minerals, and other nutritious compounds that your diet may be lacking.
These compounds have been shown to help keep your gut healthy, improve skin health, reduce joint pain, and even help protect your brain.
While you can sip warm bone broth or use it as a base for soup, you can also get creative by adding it to smoothies and savory dishes, like mashed cauliflower and sautéed veggies.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on June 13, 2013. A previous version of this article indicated that bone broth can reduce and prevent joint pain. We have since clarified that statement to indicate that the constituent compounds (i.e., collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid, minerals, and amino acids obtained from boiled animal bones) may boost body tissues and support musculoskeletal health in various ways.
Lindsay Boyers is a holistic nutritionist specializing in gut health, mood disorders, and functional nutrition. Lindsay earned a degree in food & nutrition from Framingham State University, and she holds a Certificate in Holistic Nutrition Consulting from the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
She has written twelve books and has had more than 2,000 articles published across various websites. Lindsay currently works full time as a freelance health writer. She truly believes that you can transform your life through food, proper mindset and shared experiences. That's why it's her goal to educate others, while also being open and vulnerable to create real connections with her clients and readers.