What is Bone Broth and is it Really All That Healthy?

Bone broth is more than a buzzword—it’s a food with a long tradition that may come with several health benefits.

Many proponents claim it can strengthen bones, relieve joint pain, speed up wound healing, promote good digestive health and improve sleep.

But what does the evidence say?

Here, we’ll discuss what bone broth is, how it may be beneficial to your health and how to make it yourself.

What is Bone Broth?

What is Bone Broth?Bone broth is made by slowly simmering bones, skin and connective tissue from animals—often chicken, beef, pork or fish—in water, typically for several hours.

Most recipes recommend a cooking time of anywhere from around 8 to 48 hours. Many also call for adding apple cider vinegar, which helps extract even more nutrients from the bones (1).

Once fully cooked, the mixture is strained to create a gelatinous liquid broth.

Bone broth has long been a staple of many traditional diets in places as far-flung as China, Japan, and France. It adds flavor, texture and a satisfying richness to food.

Bone broth can be used for soups, stews, sauces and gravies, and has even become a popular drink to sip all on its own.

There are also several bone broth protein powders available on the market. These are made by dehydrating the broth and turning it into a powder. They can be mixed with water or another beverage and consumed.

What is Gelatin?

What is Gelatin?Gelatin—taken from the Latin word gelatus, meaning “frozen” or “stiff”—is produced from the breakdown of collagen when cooking bone broth.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in both humans and animals, and can be found in the skin, bones, ligaments and tendons (2).

Gelatin holds the nutrients that have been drawn out of the bones and connective tissue. Some claim that the traditional method of using chicken feet can extract even more gelatin, though this is not necessarily proven (3).

Whatever your animal source, the final gelatin product will be mostly made up of amino acids including: glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, glutamic acid, arginine and more (4).

The actual percentage of each amino acid will vary from broth to broth, depending on the animal source and tissue, as well as how the broth is cooked.

The powdered form of gelatin, often referred to as hydrolyzed collagen, is used for everything from Jell-o to vitamin capsules. The hydrolysis stage breaks up the amino acids into smaller pieces, which may be easier to digest.

Summary: Bone broth is made by slowly simmering bones, skin and connective tissue from animals. It can be used for soups, stews, sauces and gravies, or drunk on its own. Gelatin is produced from the breakdown of collagen when cooking bone broth, and contains many amino acids, including glycine, proline, glutamic acid and arginine.

Bone Broth Nutrients

Bone Broth NutrientsGelatin, and thus bone broth, is almost exclusively made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

Amino Acids

The following amino acids are most abundant in bone broth and gelatin:

  • Glycine: Gelatin is the richest source of glycine, a conditionally essential amino acid, meaning some people may not produce enough of it themselves. Glycine is important for producing collagen (which is essential for skin, joint and bone health), as well as glutathione (an important antioxidant).
  • Proline: Collagen is also one of the richest sources of proline, a nonessential amino acid that is important for the immune system, wound healing and antioxidative responses (5).
  • Valine: Bone broth also contains a significant percentage of valine, an essential amino acid, meaning it must be obtained from food. It’s one of three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are necessary for protein synthesis and glucose metabolism, and promotes muscle growth and tissue repair (6).
  • Hydroxyproline: Roughly 14% of collagen contains hydroxyproline, which is produced from proline with the help of vitamin C. It helps give strength to skin, bones, tendons and cartilage.
  • Glutamic acid: Bone broth is also rich in glutamic acid (or glutamate), the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain. It also helps produce the antioxidant glutathione, and protects the gut, bones and immune system. Read more on glutamate’s benefits here.
  • Glutamine: Closely related to glutamate, glutamine is a conditionally essential amino acid that is important for the immune system and intestinal health.
  • Arginine: Gelatin also contains a good amount of arginine, another conditionally essential amino acid, which can help support muscle growth and fat loss, wound healing, the immune system and a healthy heart (7, 8).

It’s important to note that amino acid content of bone broth can vary drastically. In fact, a recent study concluded that bone broth is unlikely to provide a consistently reliable source of amino acids unless following a standardized recipe.

The study also found that amino acid concentrations in bone broth were significantly lower than those provided by therapeutic doses of collagen supplements (9).

Other Compounds and Minerals

Using connective tissue in bone broth can also provide glucosamine and chondroitin, compounds that produce and maintain cartilage (the tissue between the joints), and have been shown to reduce joint pain and inflammation.

Some claim that bone broth is also rich in vitamins and minerals, but there’s not much science to back that up.

Of course, bone itself will contain some minerals, like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, so it seems likely they would end up in the broth.

However, one study from way back in 1934 found that bone broth contained about 12-68 mg of calcium per cup. To compare, one cup of milk contains over 300 mg of calcium. That’s roughly 10 times more.

In fact, cow’s milk also beat out bone broth in amounts of magnesium (with twice as much) and phosphorus (more than seven times) (10).

Another more recent study from 2017 found similar results. The researchers concluded that homemade and commercial bone broths only contained roughly 5% of the recommended daily levels of calcium and magnesium per serving (11).

Adding more ingredients to the broth, like vegetables, could help boost the vitamin and mineral content.

Summary: Bone broth is abundant in amino acids that are essential for protein synthesis, producing collagen, supporting the immune system, promoting muscle growth and tissue repair and more. It also contains anti-inflammatory compounds like glucosamine and chondroitin. However, bone broth lacks in minerals like calcium and magnesium.

Bone Broth Benefits

Bone Broth BenefitsThere are still few studies specifically focused on bone broth itself, so we have to look at collagen and gelatin and the amino acids they are rich in to understand bone broth’s potential health benefits.

Because of its unique amino acid concentration, bone broth advocates claim that it can improve digestive health and “leaky gut,” promote strong bones and joints, aid in sleep, and rejuvenate skin, hair and nails.

Let’s take a look at what the evidence shows.

Promotes Bone and Joint Health

Studies on gelatin and collagen have shown their potential to increase collagen in the human body, which can protect the bones and joints.

A recent review on nutritional strategies for athletes concluded that supplementation with gelatin and vitamin C can improve collagen synthesis in connective tissues, nearly twice as much as individual amino acids (12).

However, vitamin C alone could also help accelerate bone healing and increase collagen synthesis (13).

That said, collagen supplementation by itself may help relieve osteoarthritis symptoms, as shown in a 2016 study of people suffering with pain and stiffness in the knee. It may also improve bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, according to a 2018 study (14, 15).

The glucosamine found in bone broth could also offer protection for the bones and joints. Daily use of glucosamine supplements has been shown to help reduce pain and other symptoms for those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (16, 17).

A few small studies on athletes have also found that glucosamine supplementation can help prevent the breakdown of cartilage (18, 19).

Overall, most of these studies have been very small. The effects of bone broth and its amino acids and compounds on bones and joints is still mostly unknown.

Improves Skin, Hair and Nail Quality

Given that collagen is most abundant in the skin, it seems that consuming it would have a direct positive impact.

Indeed, several small studies have shown that taking collagen supplements can help increase skin elasticity and hydration, and possibly reduce signs of skin aging (20, 21, 22, 23).

Oral collagen can also improve nail growth and texture. In one study, it promoted an increase of 12% nail growth and a decrease of broken nails by 42% (24).

Again, many of these studies were small, and some were even sponsored by skin care companies, so there’s still no conclusive evidence that taking collagen, or even bone broth, can lead to healthier, age-defying skin.

Meanwhile, the amino acid proline, which is abundant in bone broth, could be the answer to healthier hair. After all, hair is made up of the protein keratin, which is mostly made up of proline.

While there’s little evidence to prove this, a few small studies have found that taking gelatin can promote hair growth and thickness.

For example, one found that hair numbers increased by 29% and hair mass by 40% in people with alopecia (hair loss) who took a gelatin supplement for almost one year (25).

Good for the Gut

Proponents of bone broth often refer to its therapeutic effects on the gut, especially its ability to aid in digestion and treat “leaky gut.”

This may be due to its high concentrations of glycine and glutamine, which both may offer some support for digestive health.

In particular, glycine stimulates the production of stomach acid, which we need to digest food properly (26).

Glycine could also be an effective anti-inflammatory for those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). On a similar note, low blood levels of collagen have been linked with IBD (27, 28).

Meanwhile, glutamine is crucial for the absorption and metabolism of nutrients in the gut, and assists in the production of the antioxidant glutathione (29, 30).

It has also proven to help maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier (31).

However, few studies have actually shown it can help heal the gut, aside from very small trials. In fact, one of those trials found that whey protein powder was just as beneficial (32).

That said, gelatin has been shown to help protect and heal the lining of the digestive tract in rats, which could show a similar effect in humans (33).

As of now, though, it appears that there’s little to confirm that bone broth can help improve gut health.

Promotes Weight Loss

Because bone broth is high in protein and low in calories, it may be a good addition to any weight loss program.

The gelatin in bone broth can help with feelings of satiety, which is crucial for weight management (34).

Gelatin has also been shown to promote appetite suppression (35).

Improves Sleep Quality

Bone broth’s main amino acid is glycine, which has been found to improve sleep quality (36).

Glycine may also indirectly aid in improving sleepiness and fatigue brought on by lack of sleep (37).

It may be worth drinking bone broth before going to bed to see if it helps you sleep better and feel less fatigued the next day.

Works as an Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant

The amino acids in bone broth could offer potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

First of all, glycine and glutamic acid (along with cysteine) make up glutathione, one of the body’s most important antioxidants.

Glutathione levels decrease with age, so getting enough glycine in the diet is important, especially as you get older.

Glycine alone has shown to be a powerful anti-inflammatory throughout the body (38).

Glucosamine, often alongside chondroitin, may also reduce inflammation, but the evidence is still lacking.

One study on just over 200 people found that glucosamine and chondroitin did reduce a few markers on inflammation, but more research is needed to make any conclusions over their overall anti-inflammatory effectiveness (39).

As far as bone broth itself, the only study we could find is from 2000, which found that some components of chicken soup acted as an anti-inflammatory in vitro (test tube). However, which parts of the soup offered this effect is unclear (40).

Summary: There’s very little research on bone broth itself. Looking at studies done on collagen, gelatin and amino acids found in bone broth, we can deduce that it could help potentially offer protection for the bones and joints, and may help improve skin and nail quality. It could also help improve gut health, promote weight loss, improve sleep and work as an anti-inflammatory—but more research is needed to prove this.

How to Make Bone Broth

Bone broth only requires a few ingredients and a little bit of patience.

You can use leftover bones and other animal parts and scraps from your own cooking, or buy from a local butcher or at the meat section at most grocery stores.

Here’s an easy bone broth recipe:

  • 2-4 pounds of bones, marrow, knuckles, feet and/or connective tissue
  • 1 gallon of water
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

You can also add vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, garlic, etc.) and other herbs and spices (sage, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, etc.) for additional flavor and nutrients.

  1. Place all ingredients in a large stock pot or slow cooker.
  2. Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 8 to 24 hours. The longer you let it simmer, the more nutrients will be drawn out of the bones. Chicken bones are typically good to cook for about 24 hours, while beef can cook up to 48 hours.
  3. Let the broth cool, then strain.

You can pour the broth into containers to store in the fridge or freezer to use for soups, stews, sauces or to drink on its own.

Summary: Bone broth is easy to make. Use leftover bones and other animal parts and scraps from your own cooking or from a local butcher. Simmer with water and vinegar, as well as any extra vegetables and spices, for around 24 hours. Let cool and strain. You can store broth in the fridge or freezer to use for soups, sauces or to drink on its own.

Is Bone Broth Protein Powder Better?

Is Bone Broth Protein Powder Better?There are now several bone broth protein powder products available online.

Bone broth protein powder is made from bone broth that is dehydrated at a low temperature and then turned into a powder.

You can add the powder to a dish, batter or any beverage, shake or smoothie to, ostensibly, get the same nutrients as consuming regular bone broth.

This can be a time-saving alternative to making your own liquid bone broth, but what’s in the powder could be questionable.

It’s often unclear how the bone broth was made and what it was made from. Some bone broth protein powders also might contain additives and preservatives.

There are also no scientific studies on bone broth protein powder and its potential health benefits at this time.

If you’re simply looking for a protein supplement, bone broth protein may not be your best option, since it doesn’t offer a well-balanced mix of essential amino acids like other protein powders, such as whey. It’s also likely far more expensive.

Summary: Bone broth protein powder is now a popular supplement that offers similar nutrients in a powdered formula. However, it’s hard to tell how the powder is made and what it’s made from. Some products may also contain unwanted additives and preservatives. If you’re looking for a protein supplement, bone broth protein is not the best option as it doesn’t include a well-balanced mix of amino acids like other protein powders.

Is Bone Broth Worth Trying?

Bone broth has long been a part of traditional cuisines around the world, and is now being touted as one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.

It’s made by slowly simmering bones, skin and connective tissue from animals.

It’s easy to make and is a sustainable way to use all parts of the animal when cooking.

The key nutrients in bone broth come from the gelatin that’s produced from the breakdown of collagen.

These include amino acids (the building blocks of protein), as well as anti-inflammatory compounds like glucosamine and chondroitin.

There are many claims that bone broth is good for the bones, joints, skin, hair, nails and gut, and can promote weight loss, improve sleep and reduce inflammation.

However, very little research has been done on bone broth itself.

Instead, we have to look at studies that have been performed on gelatin, collagen and individual amino acids to deduce how it could be beneficial.

It does appear that bone broth could potentially offer minor support in protecting the bones and joints, enhancing skin and nail quality, promoting good gut health and weight loss, improving sleep and serving as an effective anti-inflammatory.

That said, the same could be true for taking gelatin or collagen supplements.

And, while bone broth contains many amino acids, it doesn’t offer the same well-balanced mix as other protein sources.

In general, bone broth does offer valuable nutrients, but maybe not to the extent that some claim.

As of now, it may be most effective for helping you get a good night’s sleep, thanks to its glycine content.

For the best value and quality, make your own.

If anything, it’s a great, cost-effective way to add flavor and some extra nutrition to your meals.

It can also serve as a nice, comforting nightcap.

About Stephanie Garr (Certified Nutrition Consultant)

Stephanie is a certified nutrition consultant. She graduated from the University of Iowa with degrees in journalism and psychology in 2003, and later studied holistic nutrition at Bauman College in Berkeley, California.

Learn more about her on the About page

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