Dowager: When I was a girl – if I was ill – my mother’s maid would make me the most delicious chicken broth.
Servant: There’s nothing better than chicken broth as a pick-me-up.
Dowager: It really was delicious. I remember it to this day. She used to say, “Every good Lady’s Maid should know how to make a restorative broth.”
~Downton Abbey, Season 5, Episode 9
Many long time practitioners of Zero Carb eating have never included bone broth in their diet, so a successful Zero Carb diet clearly does not depend on it. However, while bone broth may not be a necessary component of a Zero Carb lifestyle, it certainly has the potential to compliment it. Before exploring the possible benefits bone broth offers which are detailed below, please read my article Can Bone Broth Be Used on a Zero Carb Diet? where I explain why many Zero Carb vets do not have much enthusiasm for this interesting traditional food.
I first read about the beneficial properties of bone broth in Dr. Cate Shanahan‘s excellent book Deep Nutrition, a work that – in my opinion – deserves a far larger audience than what it has so far received. In fact, it might just be the best over all book on health ever written. Shanahan is one of the staff physicians for the LA Lakers, and she has help Kobe Bryant extend his career with the help of bone broth, as described in The Washington Post article How Bone Broth Became Kobe Bryant’s Stone Age Weapon. In her discussion about bone broth in Deep Nutrition, Shanahan explains,
“Our ancestors probably discovered the magic in bones a very long time ago. In the Pacific Northwest, archeologic digs have uncovered evidence that…early Native Americans supplemented their winter diet of dried fish by deliberately fracturing herbivorous animal bones prior to stewing them. Not only did this release bone nutrients, it released the marrow fat and vitamins into the simmering soup. And anthropologists studying hunter-gatherers from Canada to the Kalahari find that this practice of exploiting bone and marrow nutrients was, and is, ‘almost ubiquitous.'”
“For thousands of years, people all over the world made full use of the animals they consumed, every last bit right down to the marrow and joints. You might suppose that, over all that time and all those generations, our bodies, including our joints, might grow so accustomed to those nutrients that they wouldn’t grow, repair, and function normally without them. You’d be right. And what is true of bones is true of other animal parts. Over time, our genes have been programmed with the need and expectation of a steady input of familiar nutrients, some of which can only be derived from the variety meats, which include bones, joints, and organs.”
“More than anything else, the health of your joints depends upon the health of the collagen in your ligaments, tendons, and on the ends of your bones. Collagens are a large family of biomolecules, which include the glycosaminoglycans, very special molecules that help keep our joints healthy. People used to eat soup and stock made from bones all the time, and doing so supplied their bodies with the whole family of glycosaminoglycans, which used to protect people’s joints. Now that few people make bone stock anymore, many of us are limping into doctors’ offices for prescriptions, surgeries and, lately, recommendations to buy over-the-counter joint supplements containing glucosamine. And what is glucosamine? One of the members of the glycosaminoglycan family of joint-building molecules.”
“Once it gets into your bloodstream, ‘…glucosamine has a special tropism for cartilage.’ (That’s techno-speak for ‘somehow, it knows just where to go.’) Even more amazing, glucosamine can actually stimulate the growth of new, healthy collagen and help repair damaged joints. And collagen isn’t just in your joints; it’s in bone, and skin, and arteries, and hair, and just about everywhere in between. This means that glucosamine-rich broth is a kind of youth serum, capable of rejuvinating your body, no matter what your age. After decades of skepticism, orthopedists and rheumatologists are now embracing its use in people with arthritis, recommending it to “overcome or possibly reverse some of the degradation that occurs with injuries or disease.”
“The benefits of broth consumption far outweigh the benefits of taking a pill for a couple of reasons: First, the low heat used to slowly simmer the nutrient material from bone and joint is far gentler than the destructive heat and pressure involved in the production of glucosamine tablets. Second, instead of extracting only one or two factors, broth gives you the entire complex of cartilage components—some of which have yet to be identified in the lab—plus minerals and vitamins. Broth’s nutritional complexity makes it a nearly perfect bone-building, joint-health-supporting package.”
“The transformation of a…chicken leg into something delicious begins when heated moisture trapped in the meat creates the perfect conditions for hydrolytic cleavage. At gentle heating temperatures, water molecules act like miniature hacksaws, neatly chopping the long, tough strands of protein apart, gently tenderizing even the toughest tissue.”
“How does having additional parts (skin, ligaments, etc.) create additional nutrition? Water molecules tug apart the connective tissue in skin, ligaments, cartilage, and even bone, releasing a special family of molecules called glycosaminoglycans. You will find the three most famous members of this family in nutritional supplements for joints: glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and hyaluronic acid. But these processed supplements don’t hold a candle to gelatinous stews, rich with the entire extended family of joint-building molecules. What is more, cartilage and other connective tissues are nearly flavorless before slow-cooking because (just as with muscle protein) the huge glycosaminoglycan molecules are too big to fit into taste bud receptors. After slow-cooking, many amino acids and sugars are cleaved away from the parent molecule.”
“Slow-cooked meat and parts are more nutritious than their mistreated cousins for still another reason: minerals. Mineral salts are released from bone and cartilage during stewing, as well as from the meat itself. These tissues are mineral warehouses, rich in calcium, potassium, iron, sulfate, phosphate and, of course, sodium and chloride. It turns out our taste buds can detect more of these ions than previously suspected, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and possibly iron and sulfate, in addition to the sodium and chloride ions that make up table salt. Overcooking traps these flavorful materials in an indigestible matrix of polymerized flesh that forms when meat begins to dry out. You can only taste, and your body can only make use of, minerals that remain free and available.”
Nourishing Broth, a new book by Sally Fallon Morell and Kaayla Daniel (of the Weston A. Price Foundation) explores the nutrients present in bone broth in great detail.
Morell and Daniel describe collagen as “the glue that holds the body together.” In fact, collagen is so important that is comprises about one-third of body’s total protein. It strengthens the tendons that hold muscles, bones, and ligaments together. It provides firmness, suppleness, and elasticity to the skin. It helps to keep the joints lubricated and cushioned. It is essential to the proper functioning of the immune system, helping to protect against pathogenic organisms, environmental toxins, and cancerous growths.
Cartilage also plays many vital roles in the body. “Without cartilage, we couldn’t wiggle our ears, scrunch up our noses, swallow with ease, or move our joints. Tough, elastic, spongy, and springy, cartilage has many vital roles: It acts as a framework, works as a shock absorber, and reduces the friction between moving parts,” state Morell and Daniel. They further explain,
“The remarkable resilience of cartilage comes from its gelatinous matrix. Jiggly but not amorphous, this matrix is highly structured with the complex combinations of proteins and sugars known as proteoglycans, whose principal job is to get and hold water. The most prominent proteoglycans in cartilage are the sulfur- containing molecules chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate. These molecules carry negative charges and repel each other, creating space for the water they need to attract and hold.”
“If we compare the cartilage of young healthy mammals with old and sick ones, we see different proteoglycan formation. In young ones, the chondroitin sulfate chains are considerably longer than the keratan sulfate ones. Studies done on old folks and old cows, however, show shorter chondroitin sulfate chains and longer keratan sulfate chains. With aging, the two components of cartilage become about equal in length, which results in hunched- over little proteoglycans that are less able to hold and attract water.”
“According to Arnold I. Caplan, PhD, of Case Western Reserve University, ‘This difference may be responsible, at least in part, for the development of some forms of osteoarthritis in older people. After all, if the proteoglycans made in cartilage by aging chondrocytes have a lessened capacity to structure water, the resilience of the cartilage must be compromised, and with it the cushioning of bones in the joints.’ This finding suggests the ideal broth for cartilage regeneration might come from young animals.”
“Chondroitin sulfates play other important roles: They inhibit enzymes that like to chew up cartilage, and they interfere with enzymes that would hijack the transport of nutrients…. Changes in chondroitin sulfate and keratan sulfate accompany other changes in aging or unhealthy joints as well. It seems that if one part of the cartilage system breaks down, another is sure to follow. If, for any reason, the collagen and elastic network loses its shape and its strength, the gelatinous matrix growing on and around it will suffer the loss of support as well. Once cartilage is unable to attract and hold water, the chondrocytes lose their source of nourishment and their much- needed ability to reproduce and repair. And so it goes. However the problems begin, the unhappy result is the decomposition of old cartilage at a faster pace than the creation of new cartilage.”
“Conventional medical opinion holds that joint problems are inevitable with aging and that damage is irreparable and irreversible. But it appears the human body can revert to the “young” type of cartilage and regenerate young healthy cartilage if provided with the right tools. And it’s undoubtedly even easier to prevent the damage to begin with. That means providing the right constituents of cartilage— glycine, proline, glutamine, proteoglycans, and other nutrients found in cartilage-rich bone broth.”
Here are two interesting testimonials from their book the demonstrate bone broth’s affect on bone and joint health:
My son- in- law was in a horrific truck accident and broke his back in two places. He had to wear a brace, and the projected time for healing was at least three months. He went back for a check up and X- rays at two months and they were amazed. His back was almost totally healed. It really was amazing. My daughter was feeding him bone broth all day long! She made it all herself: chicken broth, beef broth, and venison broth. She made soups and stews, cooked grains in broth, and otherwise got broth into him as often as possible. The medical professionals were astounded with how quickly he healed. It was truly amazing. We attribute his strong healing to the broth.
~Candace Coffin, Hillsville, Virginia
By 1994 my knee problems had increased to where the discomfort kept me from riding a bike even a few feet. Looking at both knees through an arthroscope, you could see the usual cartilage covering was gone and the bare bone exposed. My orthopedic surgeon did some “housecleaning,” by which I mean he trimmed the unstable articular cartilage that was about to fall off around the edges of the exposed bone. The hope was the body’s healing response would result in a layer of scar tissue. While that’s a poor substitute for cartilage, it is better than nothing.
My symptoms improved, but I always had fluid in the knee joints, indicating they were not as well as I could have hoped. Then about two years ago my knee symptoms started improving further and instead of always having fluid I now seldom have it. When I asked the surgeon if I should thank him for this unexpected recent improvement, he said not at all. He said what he did could at best temporarily lessen symptoms and delay the need for artificial knee joints by months or a few years.
What, then, might have caused the change? One of my farm activities is raising chickens on pasture, processing, and direct- marketing them. For years we gave away the chicken feet for free, but two years ago we began making very thick chicken foot broth for ourselves and adding this to all our soups and stews. Our broth consumption also greatly increased when we began marketing some of our pastured cows as ground beef, thus keeping most of the skeleton for ourselves.
I am physically active most all day every day caring for 470 acres with cattle herd, sheep flock, laying hens, and the few broilers for our extended family by myself. I heat two homes and one large farm building entirely with the wood I cut and haul. I have essentially no knee symptoms. I do such things as jump over the side of a three- quarter- ton truck to the ground below without bother but then lecture myself to be thankful for how well the knees are doing and not flaunt it by such abuse.
~Charles Henkel, Norfolk, Nebraska
Bone broth is also rich in certain health supporting amino acids, especially glycine and glutamine. Daniel and Morell delineate the benificial aspects of these two foundational building blocks of protein.
“Glycine is [an] important conditionally-essential amino acid found abundantly in broth. It is the simplest of all the amino acids, and serves as the basic module for the manufacture of other amino acids. Researchers consider it to be conditionally essential because of its vital role in the synthesis of hemoglobin (for healthy blood); creatine (for supplying energy to our cells); porphyrin (also for healthy blood); bile salts (for digesting fat); glutathione (for detoxification); and DNA and RNA. Glycine is also involved in glucose manufacture, and low levels contribute to hypogl ycemia. It furthermore reduces inflammation throughout the body and has shown potential for treating a wide variety of diseases currently treated with anti- inflammatory drugs.”
“The human body requires copious amounts of glycine for detoxification of mercury, lead, cadmium, and other toxic metals, pesticides, and industrial chemicals. Glycine is a precursor amino acid needed for glutathione, a powerful cancer- curbing, age- slowing antioxidant, needed among many other things for liver detoxification. Scientists have also shown supplemental glycine can improve methylation, reducing high homocysteine levels, which, in turn, could reduce our risk of heart disease, cancer, premature aging, and other health problems.”
“Glutamine becomes a conditionally-essential amino acid whenever cell proliferation is desirable. It’s vital to gut health because gut cells turn over rapidly and prefer feeding on glutamine over any other amino acid. Glutamine helps the villi of the small intestine to heal and grow, an important consideration for people suffering from malabsorption from the flattened villi caused by celiac or other gut diseases. Glutamine’s gut-healing capacity has helped heal ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and Crohn’s disease.”
“Glutamine stimulates immune cells, causing the proliferation of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell); the production of cytokines (involved in cell signaling); the killing of bacteria by neutrophils (another type of white blood cells); and phagocytic and secretory activities by macrophages (white blood cells that ingest foreign material). Along with proline and glycine, it enhances recovery from injuries, wounds, burns, stress, post- surgery trauma, and most major illnesses. Patients whose diets have been supplemented with glutamine show quicker recoveries and earlier hospital releases.”
“Glutamine also supports liver health and detoxification. Along with cysteine and glycine, we need glutamine to produce glutathione, the master antioxidant so important for liver detoxification.”
“Glutamine not only boosts metabolism but cuts cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. In fact, the research shows that glutamine is helpful for anyone with addiction problems, whether to sugar, alcohol, or drugs. We also have evidence that the glutamine in broth is the main protein-sparing factor, allowing us to stay healthy while eating smaller amounts of muscle- meat protein.”
“Glutamine helps people who need to lose weight, but it is even better at helping convalescents and others who have become too thin to put weight on or keep it on. Because much of the glutamine in the body is made and stored in muscles, extra glutamine prevents the muscle wasting and atrophy associated with illness. Glutamine can even counter some of the severe side effects of chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, traumatic wounds, and surgery. In terms of side effects from chemotherapy, glutamine supplements have soothed swelling inside the mouth, alleviated nerve pain, and stopped diarrhea, muscle wasting, and unwanted weight loss.”
Finally, glutamine is a “brain food” that crosses the blood-brain barrier. Its presence in broth is one explanation why broth can help people turn around depression, irritability, anxiety, mood swings, and even conditions like ADD and ADHD. It has helped neurological diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease as well. What’s more, it helps people calm down and sleep well.”
It is important to beware, however, that – in a small percentage of folks – too much glutamine can be problematic. Daniel and Morell explain,
“The Downside of Glutamine: The MSG Connection Despite its many virtues, glutamine has risks. High supplemental doses as taken by some bodybuilders have caused dizziness, headaches, and neurological problems. But it’s not just people going overboard with supplements who are reacting poorly to glutamine. Many people today are having problems metabolizing it properly, a problem caused by multiple factors, ranging from vitamin B 6 deficiency to lead toxicity to the widespread use of MSG in our food supply.”
“The problem develops when glutamine gets past the blood- brain barrier and is metabolized to glutamate. In healthy individuals this does not happen willy- nilly but is tightly controlled by the body. Glutamine converts as needed to either glutamate, which can excite neurons, or to GABA, which has a calming effect. Both are needed by the body and brain. The glutamine found naturally in healthy foods such as homemade bone broth should not be a problem, but all bets are off if MSG in the diet has led to glutamate buildup and excitotoxicity.”
“MSG (monosodium glutamate) differs from glutamate by a single sodium atom (monosodium) attached to the molecule…MSG, of course, differs from the naturally occurring glutamine produced in the body and found in real foods. If we didn’t need glutamine, we wouldn’t make it ourselves, and if we didn’t need glutamate we wouldn’t have glutamate receptors throughout the body and brain. MSG, on the other hand, is a potentially dangerous excitotoxin that builds up in the body and brain.”
“Sadly, some people sensitive to MSG react poorly to broth. Autistic children and others with sensitive and damaged guts often react to it even though they desperately need the gut healing that glutamine could assist. Some of these people are so sensitive they react not only to broth but to any good dietary source of glutamine, including beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products.”
“What to do? The GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet relies heavily on broth for its healing benefit for children with autism and other disorders, but Natasha Campbell- McBride, MD, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome , starts many patients out with a lightly cooked bone broth, progressing over time to long- cooked bone broth. The glutamine content of broth increases with cooking time. And as we show in the table on here , the levels of all other amino acids also increase, making long- cooked bone broth preferable for all who can tolerate it.”
These are just a few of the health-maintainance and health-recovery components found in bone broth. In addition to highlighting the individual nutrients present in bone broth, Daniel and Morell discuss many different health problems – from leaky gut to arthritis to cancer – that the components of bone broth have been shown to help. So, while meat and water is clearly sufficient to satisfy basic human nutritional needs, as many long term Zero Carb veterans – most of whom do not consume bone broth on a regular basis – have demonstrated, bone broth certainly provides an extra nutritional boost which may be benefitial to both short-term healing as well as long-term wellness. I personally love bone broth and drink it every day. It does require some effort to make, but – for me – the potential health benefits are well worth a little extra work. A good friend of mine recent told me that his Italian grandmother used to call bone broth, “The Elixir of Life,” and I can completely understand why.
Another excellent website devoted exclusively to Bone Broth is: