The one thing I love when it comes to talking about health and wellness is the enormous amount of uncharted territory there is to explore around these topics. A few days ago, I was asked to speak to a large group of folks who were in town for a conference. At the end of the talk, I was asked a lot of really good questions. For the most part I could answer them all except one. I was asked about collagen supplementation.
Since I have only touched on collagen supplements a couple times over the past eight years, I was not familiar with issues around taking collagen as a supplement. Collagen, as many of you may know, is a family of fibrous proteins that are key building blocks for skin, hair, bones, teeth and all of our primary connective tissues. I am always careful when talking about supplements of any kind, so I opted not to guess on how to answer the question I was asked.
Based on what I did know about collagen, I was suspicious that it could be one of those substances that could have risks associated with its use. What I found confirmed that, in fact, there are a few concerning side effects associated with collagen supplements. These supplements can increase your calcium levels causing hypercalcemia, leading to kidney stones and causing irregular heart rhythms. Other less serious conditions can come in the form of a mild reaction for people who are allergic to eggs or shellfish since some manufactures process their collagen from these sources. So clearly, collagen can be a tricky supplement to get into, but one area I found with similar beneficial properties is bone broth.
Bone broth in one form or another has been around for a very long time. However, books and diet fads recently have moved bone broth into the limelight. Clinically, bone broth has no absolute proof of being a superfood with miraculous health benefits, but it also has a pretty good track record for being a healthy source of protein, amino acids and some minerals.
So what's up with bone broth and how does it differ from other broths and stocks? Most broths are typically made with meat and small amounts of bone. Regular cooking broths you buy pre-made have a short cooking cycle and are very light in flavor and volume. Stocks, on the other hand, have a long simmer process, usually made with just roasted bones and in some cases a little fat to increase their flavor.
What sets bone broth apart, but makes its name a little misleading, is the fact that the broth is cooked and simmered for more than 24 to 36 hours or longer with bone and a fair amount of meat still attached. Now I know for vegans or vegetarians, this idea does not sound very appealing, but for the rest of us it sounds kinda good.
So what is the primary purpose for the long simmer time and large amounts of meat and connective tissue attached to the bone? Long cook times and more material attached to the bone means you get the most out of the collagen, minerals and amino acids in the cooking process. Since bone broth's claim to fame and health comes from the compounds found in the meat, connective tissue and bones, what do those consist of exactly? Simmering all this material into a broth causes the meat, connective tissue and bones to release compounds consisting of collagen, gelatin, proline, glycine, glutamine, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur and minerals. The simmer will also pull hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate from the connective tissue and bones, which have good health value for the body.
Although all of these healthy compounds and minerals in the broth are easily absorbed by the body, just how much of these nutrients are actually extracted? From what research I have found, not very much. It is a mixed bag of results that have a number of variables like how much meat and bone is used, how long it simmered, etc. The problem is no matter what process was used, only a few compounds seem to register in notable amounts. These were protein and gelatin with the rest of listed nutrients found in much smaller or only trace amounts.
Bone broth seems to be a healthy source of protein and gelatin, but more of a minor contributor as a solid source for minerals. Increasing your protein intake has many healthy benefits, especially if you're getting older. As for gelatin, studies have shown some benefits in helping digestive problems, specifically its anti-inflammatory amino acids which help reduce inflammation in the gut. There does seem to be some indication that consistently consuming bone broth does help with hair, skin and nail condition, but there is just not enough research to say conclusively it is an end all to better joint and bone health.
I have also seen a number of articles on bone broth as a diet or a way to lose weight. I think that may be a bit of a reach to link bone broth to weight loss. Now I am pretty sure drinking broth or stock and eating little to nothing else would result in some weight loss, but at what cost to your health is not for me to say.
The other aspect of bone broth is adding vegetables to the mix and in my mind, now you're just making a great soup for cold weather. I am sure some people would take issue with this statement. To me, bone broth is good for you as a food with some nutrients for good measure, but let's face it bone broth is just another form of soup… it's all good stuff I am sure.
I tend to agree with the critics, we have been eating broths for thousands of years, so what's the big deal? I remember my grandparents talking about surviving the great depression by eating broth made for a few cents using only a soup bone and veggies. Even growing up, our family had to endure the dreaded turkey soup for months after Thanksgiving since our mother loved boiling the turkey carcass into oblivion making turkey soup broth.
Now don't get me wrong, bone broth is a great primal type meal full of protein and other nutrients. To include it in any low-carb diet plan certainly gives it a place at the table so to speak. But I am not sold on the idea that bone broth is a cure-all and science has not given us enough tangible proof that the benefits of bone broth go above and beyond a great nutritious soup.
So if you're a person who loves good soup that is low-carb and low-cost, I think bone broth is a great addition to your diet and you can probably get some collagen out of the deal along the way.
A recognized health and wellness presenter, fitness trainer and now primal health coach in the Inland Northwest. Now in his eighth year of bringing health and wellness through his writing, teaching and coaching, Judd delivers his well-rounded message of mindfulness, nutrition and fitness to readers and clients alike.