I frequently ask my patients on their first appointment if they’ve ever made or had bone broth before? Through words, I cannot describe the look on their faces and display of utter disgust that follows. With a chuckle, I give them the warm, healing, soothing description of what it is and how it is meant to truly support the body. Bone broth may not sound appealing to many, but what is found in the broth are some elements we simply cannot obtain through our standard American diet.
For those who have never heard of bone broth, first and foremost….what rock have you been hiding under?
The bone broth craze is catching on and people are learning what a magnificent food/medicine it is. Broth dates back as far as the Stone Age and in many cultures was referred to as “meat teas”.1 With its reputation as “Jewish Penicillin”, philosopher and physician Moses Maimonides reinforced this powerful elixir in the twelfth century after borrowing the practice from Hippocrates, the father of medicine.1 In 1859 Florence Nightingale emphasized the importance of healing the body through “easily digestibility” and “sick cookery should do half the work of your poor patients’ weak digestion”.1
Broth, by far, is one of the best healers of digestion and supporter of the immune system.
How Bone Broth Affects the Immune System
Our body depends on a delicate balance of bacteria, with every system being interdependent. The gut, one of the most integral to this balance, can easily become overrun by damaging bacteria or candida, inflammation, and therefore unable to perform essential actions like absorption and breaking down of minerals.
The key to a strong immune system and preventing illness is not found in any vaccine, prescription medication, or pill. It’s all in the gut!
What some people don’t realize is that 90% of our immune system is found in our small intestine. So, we need a strong, resilient gut that can fight infection, digest and absorb our nutrition, preventing any unwanted proteins from entering our blood stream (a.k.a. “leaky gut”). Because bone broth is packed with healing qualities to promote a healthy digestive tract, you can see why it’s considered a super food.
Bone broth can heal innumerable health conditions – the list is endless! With the ever-approaching less sunshine, cooler days and the time of year that we are more prone to be ill, we can be proactive during this time by feeding our body foods that will help support and improve our defense against pathogens.
How, you ask, does bone broth improve our immune system?? Isn’t it just a base found in soups? Get ready for your “Ah-ha” moment!!
Bone broth is much more than just salt and chicken/beef flavor, and the process is simple to making your own. The end product is beyond what you could imagine. Full of gelatin, collagen, minerals, and essential amino acids, bone broth packs a punch and helps our body stay strong, helping to boost our immune system and metabolism while supporting digestion, brain health, and development of connective tissue in our body.
The rich, nutritional density of bone broth is mainly found in the marrow. Vultures are smart: When scavenging an animal, they go right for the bone marrow, not missing a drop. After all, that is where the core of the immune cells and function are found. So when we boil bones that contain marrow, we’re leeching out all of the immune system building blocks into our delicious, warm mug.
The Healing Ingredients of Bone Broth
Let’s dive into the nitty gritty of what makes broth so amazing for our immune system. The key players are Collagen/Gelatin, Amino acids and Minerals!
Collagen improves joint heath and mobility – it’s literally the glue that holds our bodies together. When we consume collagen it strengthens the tendons that connect the bones to ligaments and helps support our internal organs, maintaining firmness and elasticity. Without collagen, our joints are without lubrication, resulting in arthritis, inflammation and pain.
As we age, our collagen production decreases, promoting brittle, dry, and thin tendons and ligaments, thus increasing our risk for injuries.
Collagen’s benefits translate equally well to the gut. When we have leaky gut, the junctions in our gut become porous and are widened, resulting in proteins and particles entering the bloodstream, causing a domino effect of inflammation, allergies, and even autoimmune disorders.
Collagen tightens and closes these wide junctions that promote leaky gut. If our junctions are tight in our gut we can prevent our immune system from becoming hypersensitive to any foreign particles. Therefore, our body can remain stress free and save its energy for pathogens that we really need to fight against! Cartilage found in bone broth activates the white blood cells in the body, particularly the macrophages whose job it is to destroy bacteria, viruses, toxins, and fungi.1
Amino acids are abundant in bone broth. There are over 19 amino acids in broth (building blocks of proteins) that our body needs to perform basic, everyday functions.
You want to see me giddy like a school girl? Ask me about the amino acids found in bone broth. I know, not a topic that typically brings a smile to the face of most, but maybe it’s just because they don’t know what amino acids do in our body? Let’s quickly discuss the most prevalent healing amino acids found in this super food: proline, glutamine, glycine, and arginine.
Proline is an amino acid that plays a key role in building and maintaining the resilience of hair, skin and nails. It also improves the integrity of our gut lining, making it strong and healthy, thus up-regulating our digestive capacity.
Glutamine is absolutely essential for gut health. It promotes the finger-like villi in our intestines to repair and grow, giving us more useable surface area to absorb ever-important nutrition. For those who suffer with ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, the glutamine in bone broth is an essential component for healing. It significantly impacts our immune system by increasing white blood cell production, stimulating the neutrophils in our body to fight bacteria, and increases macrophages to ingest waste products, which accelerates healing.
When post-surgery patients were given supplemental glutamine, it translated to quicker recoveries and shorter hospital stays.1 Harry Engle, a physician from the National Institutes of Health in the 1950s, found that glutamine was essential for the growth and integrity of immune cells in our body, being linked to increasing the Secretory IgA levels in our mucus membranes (which is our body’s first line of defense against pathogens).1
Glycine is another amino acid found in bone broth that aids in the cleansing and detoxification of pesticides and heavy metals like mercury, lead and cadmium. This in itself will allow the body to heal and perform tasks easily without being scummed up with waste and metals that block function. Glycine also helps to convert glucose into useable energy and decreases inflammation. When a scientist looked at glycine supplementation it was shown to decrease homocysteine levels which can decrease our risk of cardiovascular disease, premature aging, and cancer.1 Glycine also stimulates the production of stomach acid which allows us to digest and absorb foods, decreasing the symptoms of gastric reflux.
Arginine is another amino acid that can accelerate wound healing, repair muscle, and relax blood vessels by breaking down nitric oxide, which improves blood flow and artery relaxation, thus decreasing our blood pressure.2 Arginine production can significantly decrease inflammation and is essential for normal T-cell function, whose job is to scan the body looking for infections and destroy the bacteria or viral infected cells.3
When our body is stressed and not receiving nutritionally dense foods (i.e. the modern American diet), it can become critically deficient of the tools needed to maintain healthy daily living. In order to stay afloat, many of us burn through minerals by taking synthetic vitamins from the drug store that we think are helping us, but are actually doing nothing but wasting our money and energy, flushing it down the toilet.
When we up-regulate our digestive capacity and feed our body easily absorbable minerals, only then are we able to boost our body’s reserves, giving us the tools we need to heal.
Bone broth is full of electrolytes and minerals, primarily (but not limited to) calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and phosphorus.
OK, so I know you’re sitting there reading this thinking, “I had no IDEA bone broth was so wonderful!”
You’re welcome for blowing your mind.
Bone broth is quite possibly the most healing food we can feed our body. Nothing is better to me than sipping on a warm cup of broth in the morning thinking about the good I am doing for my body. I can literally feel the junctions in my gut tightening, thanking me for helping them maintain their integrity while my villi are doing their happy dance. OK . . . maybe I can’t actually feel that, but I can envision that’s what’s happening when I drink my bone broth!
If drinking a cup of bone broth sounds boring to you, jazz up your broth any which way by adding veggies or adding it to any gourmet meal. I like to add mine to my fantastic beef stroganoff and chicken paprikash (minus the noodles and inflammatory gluten of course).
Let me share with you one of my favorite uses of bone broth that is delicious and super simple, French onion soup!!
How to Make Basic Beef Bone Broth
- 4 large grass-fed beef bones
- 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar
- 3 onions, chopped large
- 6 stalks of celery
- 4 carrots
- 8 cloves of garlic
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh rosemary and/or marjoram
- Fresh bay leaf
In a large crockpot (I have an 8.5 quart), place your bones in the bottom with the 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar along with your carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Leaving your seasonings large, place on top of the veggies and bones, adding salt and pepper. Cover the ingredients with water. Place your crock pot on low. You want it to be a slow bubble for the next 48 hours, not a strong, rolling boil. (HINT: if you are making chicken you only need to cook for 24 hours).
Next, forget it for the next 48 hours and enjoy the aroma as it fills your house. After 48 hours of cooking, strain your broth through a fine cheesecloth or strainer and let cool. If you place your broth in the refrigerator it should gel up, meaning it’s full of fabulous gelatin. If there is a layer of fat, your can skim some off. This will make a good amount of bone broth which you will be able to freeze some for later.
Transforming your delicious Beef Bone broth into French Onion Soup:
- When your broth is close to being done, sauté 4-5 onions, chopped, in a large skillet with approximately 5 tablespoons grass-fed butter. You want them to remain semi-firm, cooking 8-10 minutes.
- Once your broth is done, place your onions in your oven-safe bowl and ladle your broth on top to fill ¾ of the bowl.
- Place your oven on broil.
- Top your onion soup with a slice of provolone or Parmesan cheese.
- Place your bowls on a cookie sheet and place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
1 Fallon, Sally. Daniel, Kaayla (2014) Nourishing Broth: An old-fashioned remedy for the modern world. New York, NY. Grand Central Life & Style.
2 Axe, Josh. (2016) Bone Broth Breakthrough.
3 “Arginine and immunity”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/17513447/