Your mom served it to you when you were sick, and you may have recently slurped a bowl of it up at your local ramen place. One of the newest food trends is also one of the oldest: bone broth. Bone broth is shining in the spotlight lately, served through take-out windows in New York City and helping professional athletes bounce back after injury. But does it live up to the hype?

First, what it is. Bone broth is very similar to plain old grocery-store chicken broth (the kind in the square containers) with some important distinctions. Homemade bone broth is cooked for much longer than store-bought, up to 72 hours simmering in a crockpot, on the back of the stove, or in a low-heat oven. Any type of bone can be used, including leftover bones from roasted chicken, beef stew bones, and fish bones.

The idea behind bone broth is to harness the power of the nutrients in the bones themselves by simmering the bones to release those nutrients. It is true that bones do contain nutrients known to improve joint health like hyaluronic acid, calcium, chondroitin sulfate, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. Proponents of bone broth recommend bones with more marrow for people who have anemia, respiratory issues, immune disorders, and chronic infections. Those suffering from digestive issues (e.g., leaky gut or an excess of Candida in their gut) should consume smaller bones that have more gelatin (like chicken).

But does it work? Or is it, as David Katz, M.D., director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, says just another case of us searching for more “nutritional pixie dust?”

Turns out there is not much research-based support for bone broth as a magical health elixir. While some of the essential elements contained in the bones themselves (glucosamine, hyaluronic acid, etc.) have been proven to help with joint pain and inflammation, there are no research studies that prove that they are present in high enough concentrations to actually help with chronic pain and inflammation.

As far as respiratory health goes, one study in the 1970s did indicate that sipping hot chicken soup through a straw improved mucus flow more than cold chicken soup or hot water, but the research there is also pretty thin.

Does this mean that bone broth isn’t good for you? Not necessarily.

Anecdotal evidence when combined together and studied in a systematic way by implementing a study then becomes research with findings that are reliable. While you cannot believe everything you read online, there is something to the fact that a bowl of hot broth has been offered as a comfort to sick people, including those suffering from chronic pain conditions, for thousands of years. Whether it’s a placebo or an actual remedy has yet to be proven, but bone broth can be part of your pain management plan. Talk to your doctor before including bone broths in your diet, and then keep the following points in mind.

Bone broth should be prepared only with organic, free-range bones

Because the bones are simmered for hours and the bones are broken down, any chemicals, pesticides, or antibiotics in the bones will be released into your broth. If you are drinking broth for health, it’s counterproductive to ingest unwanted chemicals. If you are buying prepared broth, make sure it is organic.

Bone broth is not a meal replacement or a nutritional substitute

This point is very important especially if you are working with a doctor to holistically treat a pain condition. While bone broth might confer benefits to a pain patient, proper, adequate nutrition is essential for your body to feel strong and healthy. Bone broth is not meant to be taken as the only form of nutrition, and it is important that you work closely with your doctor when making dietary changes.

Bone broth from the grocery store offers even fewer health benefits (and lots of sodium)

The shelf-stable cardboard cartons on grocery store shelves contain preservatives and extra sodium that is not helpful for anyone, much less a chronic pain patient. The goal for grocery-store broth is meat-flavored water prepared consistently and quickly, not slow-simmered nutrient extraction. If you are not able to make your own broth from free-range, organic bones and meat, it’s best to not drink it at all.

Make your own bone broth

To make your own bone broth, follow these easy steps.

Choose three to four pounds of bones. They can be bones from any animal, including bones that have already been roasted (as in a roast chicken or pot roast). Place bones in a large pot and add two onions, cut into quarters (no need to peel the onion), two or three celery stalks, cut into large pieces, two or three carrots, two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and two or three lightly smashed garlic cloves. All vegetables should be organic. Cover with water and place on the stove. Bring water to a simmer; do not boil. Alternatively, you can place all ingredients in a crockpot and cook on low, or you can use an oven-safe pot and cook in the oven.

Leave the bones and vegetables to simmer anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. The longer you simmer the bones, the more nutrients will be extracted. Strain out the vegetables and cool the broth. Skim off any fat that gathers at the top. If your broth wobbles and is gelatinous when it cools, that is a good sign that you have cooked it properly. Broth can be heated as needed. Season with a bit of salt, and feel free to add more aromatic or anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, a pinch of cayenne, or freshly chopped oregano.

It is imperative to discuss this change with your doctor, especially if you are planning on drinking more than one cup a day (as advocated by some bone broth champions).

What do you think? Will you give bone broth a try, or is it already a part of your diet?

Image by liz west via Flickr

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