Top 6 health claims about bone broth and how to make it
Skim the menu of a trendy restaurant these days, and there’s a decent chance you’ll spot bone broth among the offerings. Though this savoury liquid isn’t exactly a groundbreaking new food, its high-protein status has made bone broth a buzzy choice among people following low-carb weight-loss regimens like the Paleo diet and keto diet. Meanwhile, some fans claim bone broth has restorative properties that can deliver a host of feel-good benefits, from joint-pain relief to wrinkle reduction.
Though there’s nothing wrong with enjoying bone broth if you like the taste (in that case, read on for a delicious recipe), evidence supporting its health perks is mixed. Here’s a deep dive into what bone broth really is—and how the science stacks up.
What is bone broth?
In certain ways, bone broth is similar to an animal-based stock—both are savoury liquids made by simmering the bones of animals in water, sometimes along with flavour elements such as herbs, veggies, and aromatics like garlic. But while stock normally cooks for a mere three to six hours, bone broth requires simmering for an extended period—anywhere from 16 hours to two days(!). This marathon cooking process partially breaks down collagen, a fibrous protein found in bones, which then releases into the liquid as gelatin. Gelatin is what gives bone broth a protein edge over traditional stock, as well as a thicker consistency. One other difference: While stocks are most often used as the basis for soups, stews, and other dishes, many fans of bone broth enjoy sipping that liquid straight, like a meaty tea.
Benefits of bone broth: Fact or fiction?
At this point, health claims about bone broth are difficult to verify because there are so many ways to make the stuff. Meghann Featherstun, RD, a clinical dietitian, wellness coach, and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics at University Hospitals, notes that high-quality research is lacking on many of bone broth’s reputed perks, which include everything from better digestion to “younger”-looking skin.
Most of the claims are tied to bone broth’s collagen content. See, this protein isn’t just found in the bones of animals; it’s also a key connective component in the human body. “Collagen is essentially the building block for all the structures that hold us up and keep us together,” says Jessica Beacom, a registered dietician in Boulder, Colorado, and co-founder of The Real Food Dietitians. Those structures include bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, skin, and other organs.
The body’s cells produce at least 16 types of collagen using the amino acids we get from food, with an assist from nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc, and copper. People who eat a variety of foods generally don’t need to take special measures for their bodies to produce adequate collagen. “Everyone with a healthy and balanced diet should be able to get enough of these different amino acids to produce the amount of collagen that the body needs,” says Dr. Charlotte Gistelinck, PhD, a former research fellow at the University of Washington School of Medicine who specializes in collagen biochemistry.
That said, collagen synthesis does tend to decline with age, notes Dr. Bruce Robinson, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist in private practice and clinical instructor of dermatology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. As a result, some people look to dietary sources of collagen in hopes of making up the difference.
Enter bone broth. The question is: Does drinkable collagen have the same effect as collagen made in the body?
To date, most research has looked at collagen supplements, not bone broth. But it’s clear that collagen doesn’t work by traveling directly to the areas where it’s needed, says registered dietitian Brittany Modell, MS, CDN, founder of Brittany Modell Nutrition and Wellness. Since the body is unable to absorb collagen in its intact form, the digestive process actually breaks down collagen into peptides and simpler amino acids, she explains.
Dr. Gistelinck says those components may or may not go on to support collagen synthesis. Sure, some preliminary studies suggest that certain collagen-derived peptides may enhance collagen synthesis to support actions such as wound healing. But since amino acids and peptides serve various purposes in the body, there’s no guarantee that collagen’s constituent parts will go toward the body’s collagen synthesis, Dr. Gistelinck says.
Some proponents contend that dietary collagen:
- Alleviates joint pain
- Strengthens bones
- Improves gut health
- Reduces wrinkles
- Promotes weight loss
- Relieves cold symptoms
Here’s a closer look at those claims.
Claim 1: Alleviates joint pain
Experts who spoke with WW do not consider collagen or bone broth a cure-all for achy knees and hips. A 2018 research review found that despite short-term improvements in pain and mobility, people with osteoarthritis who took collagen supplements “experienced no clinically important effects” at medium- and long-term follow-up evaluations. Both a 2016 study of people with osteoarthritis and a 2009 study of more than 500 people with rheumatoid arthritis only covered periods of about six months.
More research is needed on whether collagen can impart meaningful improvements in joint pain over time. Until then, “we really cannot advocate for [it],” says Dr. Nancy Lane, MD, co-author of the 2016 study cited above and a distinguished professor of medicine at the University of California, Davis.
Claim 2: Builds strong bones
In bones, collagen fibres create a matrix of scaffolding for deposits of strength-building minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. There is limited evidence that consuming collagen may help strengthen bones in this regard.
A 2018 trial of 102 postmenopausal women experiencing age-related losses in bone mineral density found that those who took a collagen peptide supplement for 12 months experienced “clinically significant” improvements in that measure—an effect not seen in the placebo group. Still, the study authors note that more research is needed to figure the optimal source of collagen, as well as appropriate dosage size and long-term effects of supplementation.
“The quality of the collagen research thus far is not particularly rigorous, so we would not advocate collagen as a standalone supplement,” says Dr. David Hunter, PhD, a professor of medicine and chair of the Institute of Bone and Joint Research at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Bone-building minerals themselves are not especially abundant in bone broth. One study found that a typical serving of the liquid contains less than 5% of the daily recommended intake of calcium and magnesium.
Claim 3: Improves gut health
Since the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is largely made up of collagen, it might seem plausible that ingesting collagen would help reinforce the intestinal barrier to ease or prevent problems such as leaky gut syndrome, says Featherstun. Nevertheless, bone broth’s popular reputation for easing digestive woes is largely anecdotal at this point, she says. There’s no good-quality research to support the theory at this time.
Claim 4: Prevents and reduces wrinkles
“The jury is still out on whether consumption of collagen helps promote skin health,” Dr. Robinson says. Some research findings have been iffy: In one arm of a small 2014 study , for example, adults between the ages of 23 and 69 who took a collagen supplement every day were found to have less skin wrinkling and enhanced firmness after 12 weeks. But the study was funded by a supplement company, and many of the volunteers also underwent cosmetic procedures (such as cheek augmentation and Botox injections) during the trial period. A 2019 independent review of 11 studies involving over 800 people did not yield clear conclusions on efficacy or dosage, determining only that “preliminary results are promising” for the impact of collagen supplementation on skin elasticity and hydration.
Claim 5: Promotes weight loss
There’s no evidence to suggest that bone broth has special slimming powers, but like any food that’s high in protein, it may support weight loss and weight management when consumed as part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet. According to nutrition labels on commercially packaged brands of bone broth, a 1-cup serving generally delivers about 10 grams of protein and 80 calories or so. Subbing that amount of bone broth for an equal measure of beef stock (which contains about 3 grams of protein and 15 calories) could help you feel fuller for longer.
Claim 6: Helps fight cold symptoms and inflammation
For many people, chicken soup is a go-to comfort food when colds strike. And there is some evidence that it may help relieve the misery. A 2000 study suggested that compounds in the broth or stock may have an anti-inflammatory effect that curtails upper-respiratory symptoms. Another study conducted back in the day found that people who sipped chicken soup experienced greater “nasal mucus velocity” (i.e., were less likely to suffer with stuffy noses) than volunteers who drank plain hot water. That’s not exactly a huge body of research, Featherstun points out, but don’t let that stop you from slurping up a bowl if it makes you feel good.
How to make bone broth
These days, many supermarkets carry bone broth alongside their selection of soups and stocks. Bone broth is also relatively simple (if time-consuming) to make at home. Here’s a flavourful recipe for bone broth adapted from The Real Food Dietitians. You can use it to make chicken, turkey, or beef bone broth.
- 3 lb chicken, turkey, or beef bones
- 2 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
- 3 stalks celery, scrubbed and cut into large chunks
- 2 small onions, peeled and cut into quarters
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1-inch segment of fresh ginger, unpeeled
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- If you are using beef bones, preheat oven to 375℉ and roast bones in a baking pan until they turn deep golden brown, about 45–55 minutes. According to Beacom, this improves the taste of the finished broth.
- Combine bones with all solid ingredients in a large stock pot.
- Add apple cider vinegar and enough water to cover, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 24 hours, adding water to the pot as needed to keep bones submerged in liquid.
- Remove from heat and allow broth to cool slightly before straining through a fine-mesh strainer.
- Serve or store for future use. Broth may be refrigerated for up to 5 days in a tightly closed container.
Note: If you don’t want to run a stovetop burner overnight, you can make bone broth in a slow cooker instead. Follow the recipe through step 3, then transfer contents of the pot to a 6-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 24–36 hours, then cool slightly, strain, and serve.
The upshot: Can bone broth benefit you?
Thanks to an extended cooking process, bone broth is rich in collagen. In humans, collagen serves as an important structural component of skin, bones, muscles, and more. The body’s collagen production tends to decline with age.
Some evidence suggests that the collagen in bone broth may contain peptides that support the body’s collagen synthesis. But experts who spoke with WW caution that research in this area is sparse and inconsistent—and any findings thus far should not be taken as definitive. Also worth noting: The health impacts of bone broth itself have not been studied widely. Most research has evaluated collagen in the form of dietary supplements, with a number of studies funded by supplement manufacturers.
One thing we know for sure about collagen: It is a form of protein. Like other high-protein foods, bone broth may help with weight management by promoting feelings of satiety. Certain elements in animal-based broth may also ease the misery of the common cold. If you enjoy the taste of bone broth, feel free to include it in your healthy eating plan. Either sip the savoury liquid on its own, or use it in place of stock as a base for soups and stews.
Colleen de Bellefonds has been covering health and wellness for over a decade for publications including U.S. News & World Report, Women's Health, Vice, Prevention, Healthline, and more. She lives in Paris, where she shares her croissants with her dog and plans her weekends around runs by the Seine.