I’m sharing another part of chapter from my book, A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews. This chapter is where I get geeky.
In the book is info on the difference between broth, stock, and bone broth, and between white and brown stocks (for now we’re just calling it bone broth). Included are instructions for making bone broth with a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or stock pot with poultry, fish, or ungulate (animals with hooves) bones. And, I have six ideas of where to find bones, if you don’t know where to get them.
Bone broth is a bit of a buzzword. Trendy cafés serve flavoured bone broth to go and it is celebrated as a magic heal-all. Others scoff at broth as a fad of plaid-wearing hipsters or dismiss that any health benefits can result from drinking it.
Is the bone broth worth the fuss, not to mention the extra time and energy that goes into making it (or buying it)?
(The following claims are based on articles I trust. I am no scientist and did not dissect each study to see if their procedures were correct or if they looked over a variable. If you are so inclined, you can use this information as a starting place for research.)
Once, it was surmised that stocks must be high in minerals like calcium and magnesium since those minerals are in bones and the bones are boiling away. Analysis of various kinds of stock, however, revealed that the amount of minerals present was in fact much less than thought.
In order for calcium to leach into the water, it must simmer at a pH of at least 3.2. A traditional practice for Chinese women to replenish calcium after childbirth is from pigs feet stewed in a vinegar sauce for 12 days. The dish, geung cho, is a laborious endeavour and is only made to celebrate the birth of a new child.
Some people use a few tablespoons of vinegar in a stock pot to increase acidity, but it’s not actually enough to be effective. And most of us aren’t simmering stock for 12 days, so it’s unknown how long it takes in order for a significant amount of calcium to leach into the water.
If you are boiling your bones into crumbly matter, there ought to be more minerals in the broth, but simmering bones for a day isn’t going to do it.
When I was a child, my mom would make stock and put the bones on the table afterwards. All of us are bone chewers, and we would slurp the marrow or gnaw on the cartilage still left. Yes, my childhood was unique.
Marrow, the fatty stuff inside bones, is responsible for generating red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells— cells that are active in the immune system. Leukaemias are cancers in the bone marrow.
Marrow contains alkylglycerols, a substance that has been examined for its anti-cancer effects, and abilities to diminish effects of radiation as well as boost the immune system While alkylglycerols are sourced from shark liver oil, it was actually pinpointed as having beneficial effects when a researcher gave marrow to children with leukemia with encouraging results (source). Alkylglycerols is also present in breast milk, stimulating the immune system of the baby. Although bone marrow (0.2% in humans) or breast milk (0.1%) don’t have as high a ratio of alkylglycerols as shark oil (10-30%), it is still enough to have an effect and promote health (source).
Collagen is the elastic glue that holds us together. Made of protein, it is in all connective tissues— bones, skin, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments, for example. There are actually 16 different types of collagen, with different structures and functions, but the first three are most abundant in our bodies (source).
Bones are not rigidly hard, but actually bend somewhat under pressure, thanks to collagen. Collagen keeps skin from becoming dry and wrinkly. It supports the connective tissues under skin to reduce the appreance of cellulite. And don’t forget about the cartilage that protects our joints! These are just a few of the roles that collagen plays in our bodies.
Gelatin is the form of collagen when it has been cooked. It can be reduced to a thick jelly or even into a powder. Gelatin is what gives jello its wobbly, resilient structure.
One bone broth skeptic scoffs that just because you eat collagen or gelatin doesn’t mean that you are going to have more collagen— because your body breaks down collagen into amino acids, the building blocks of protein, and uses it as it needs most. Why yes, yes, it does. Aren’t our bodies amazing?
What Is Collagen Made Of?
There are four main, identified amino acids in collagen: glycine, proline, arginine, and glutamine. While they are not essential amino acids (meaning that our bodies can’t make them and our only source is eating them), they are conditionally essential amino acids (meaning that for certain reasons, like severe illness, our bodies stop making it). Indeed, as our bodies age they tend to make fewer of these conditionally essential amino acids.
Let’s look at some of the functions that each of these amino acids play in our bodies.
Glutamine is the main nutrient for rapidly dividing cells, such as those in the immune system and in the gut. It also helps regulate mucous production, which can help normalize stools for those suffering from elimination issues.
Because glutamine is the main fuel source for cells in the small intestine, it can help heal leaky gut (source). Leaky gut syndrome is when the villi of the intestines are damaged and let through substances into the bloodstream that should not go through while at the same time blocking substances that do need to go through. It has been connected to the reason behind autoimmune diseases. Glutamine provides the nourishment needed for those cells to grow and repair the gut wall.
Glutamine also boosts metabolism, improves focus, and builds muscle (more info).
Further, glutamine is vital for brain health. It is involved in triggering neurons, the organization of memories, and, as it can be made into GABA, for reducing anxiety and dealing with stress (more info).
There has been some concern with using glutamine as supplement, however, and it is recommended to get your glutamine via real food sources (source). What is the number one food source of glutamine? You guessed it— bone broth.
Arginine is most known for its beneficial effects on the circulatory system. The body converts arginine into nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to open more. This in turn lowers blood pressure, improves blood flow, especially through clogged arteries, prevents blood clots, and improves stamina.
It also stimulates insulin and other hormone production, lowers inflammation (a common factor in diseases), and even is used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction (more info).
Arginine is a common amino acid in foods with a high amount of protein.
Proline is most associated with skin, cartilage, and repair of arteriosclerosis, i.e. the thickening and hardening of artery walls. It is particularly useful for those healing from severe skin injuries, such as burns.
Together with lysine, proline helps clear arteries. Cholesterol gathers at the site of arterial injury. If you think of arteries as hoses with high pressure fluid, you can imagine that at places where the flow is disrupted, like a smaller hose turning off, the artery can get damaged by that high pressure fluid.
Lysine supposedly can attach to the artery wall instead of cholesterol, and proline and other collagen-forming amino acids help heal the wall so there is no longer an injury (more info).
Although proline is a fairly common amino acid in food, the most abundant source is…bone broth!
Collagen is composed of 1/3 glycine, another amino acid. While the body does make glycine, it only makes about 3 grams per day, while the body uses about 10 grams per day. The difference of 7 grams needs to come from our food (source).
Glycine aids digestion by promoting the production of bile and stomach acid. Bile helps digest fats; heartburn occurs when low amounts of stomach acid prevent food from being broken down properly which then pushes the acid up the esophagus. It also helps in the healing of the gut wall, as it is made from collagen.
Glycine is used during the liver’s process of filtering out toxins. There is, by the way, an important reason especially for those on the Paleo diet to eat not just muscle meats but also the more adventurous animal parts containing collagen. Methionine is an essential amino acid (you must eat it or you eventually die of malnutrition) that is found in especially muscle meats. While we of course need to eat some methionine, if we eat too much of it, the liver starts to shuttle it out of the body. That process uses up glycine. While we make glycine, our bodies may not produce the optimal amounts and eating a large amount of muscle meats can use it up. Eating a diet also rich in glycine, therefore, can counteract some of the negative effects that have been associated with eating meat, as ‘eating meat’ is primarily considered as eating muscle meat (source) (more info).
Glycine is also vital to regulating the response of the immune system and inflammation. While inflammation is a necessary part of dealing with bacteria and viruses, for various reasons it can become a chronic problem throughout the body, not just in the rare sprained ankle. Chronic inflammation begins disease processes and is linked to type II diabetes, heart disease, and many other diseases. Glycine regulates macrophages, the eat-the-bad-guy cells of the immune system, so that they remain calmly eating bad guys and don’t rush mistakenely to sites of injury that are not caused by infection, thus causing more inflammation (source).
Glycine also helps people sleep better at night and, conversely, keep sleep-deprived people more awake during the day (source). Finally, Glycine promotes muscle growth and repair, balances the nervous system, and repairs and protects all areas of collagen in your body such as skin, joints, and bones (source).
The best source of glycine is also our beloved bone broth (source).
Hyaluronic acid is a major component of synovial fluid, the lube in our joints that prevents friction and thus the wearing out of cartilage. It is also vital in skin repair, as it regulates inflammation and encourages cell rejuvenation (more info) and thus helps delay skin aging (source).
Chondroitin Sulfate and Glucosamine
Chondroitin sulfate composes part of the structure of cartilage. The supplemental source comes from, not surprisingly, animal bones and cartilage. It has been used to treat osteoarthritis with varying results, with some studies showing a decrease in cartilage loss.
Glucosamine is another component of cartilage, and the two are often sold together for joint health.
Now that you know all about the benefits of bone broth, find more ways to use it in the my book A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews, which shares both recipes and traditional cooking practices (like making bone broth).