One of my favorite subjects is how the diets of our ancestors where so much more healthy than our modern diet. They may not have had the science to know why, but our ancestors sure knew what they were doing. A great example is bone broth. There are broths made from the bones and joints of larger animals like Bison, Elk, Deer and, of course Cows. As well, there are broths made from the whole carcasses of chickens and turkeys and then there are broths made from the bones, heads and shells of sea foods.
From a Traditional Chinese medicine perspective, broths made from bones and connective tissues are tonifying to both the Yin an Yang of the body and are also settling and calming to the Spirit. From a scientific perspective, the benefits are many and, given today’s most common health concerns, this old school tradition may be coming back just in time. This four part article is going to be about some basic medical science that proves the benefits of bone broth. This will be followed by a step by step recipe to get you started at home.
There are three elements to a nourishing and medicinal broth. They are dissolved bones, melted bone marrow and thoroughly dissolved cartilage. Each element has unique benefits, so, let’s begin with the benefits of dissolved bones. Believe it or not our bones are actually biochemical “bank accounts” that store and release minerals and proteins that are essential to almost all of our bodies functions. Our bones store and release the minerals Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Sulfate, Fluoride and Boron. All of these minerals, except fluoride, are essential in significant amounts every day from our diets.Calcium is necessary for healthy nerve conduction, muscle contraction, heart function, stable moods and hormonal balance as well a participating hundreds of enzyme reactions. Phosphorus is essential to the activation and regulation of energy production and is essential to healthy the replication of our DNA. Magnesium is essential in over 300 enzyme pathways and is necessary for the proper use of proteins and fatty acids. It helps our muscles contract and relax properly and ensures that we have healthy nerves. Magnesium deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in the developed world and a major factor in weakened immunity. Luckily people who regularly eat bone broth are absorbing 130 to over 2,500 percent more magnesium than people on a modern diet..
I could go on and on about the rest of the minerals, but I think I have made my point. The easiest way to get the most bio-available minerals, in the proportions of a living body, is bone broth. Think about it this way, we are either putting money (minerals and proteins) in the bank or we are spending them, possibly to the point of an overdraft, weakening our whole bodies, especially our bones. Taking supplements with only a couple of bone nutrients like calcium and magnesium is, unfortunately, insufficient for maintaining or rebuilding healthy bones.
Sodium and potassium are essential nutrient and also our primary electrolytes. Electrolytes help “pump” fluids in and out of cells, blood vessels and membranes and also enure proper conduction in nerves, contraction in muscles and the release of signaling molecules like hormones and neuro transmitters. In an Ancestral Diet there is a sodium potassium pump that occurs throughout the year that ensure the proper storage and release of Vitamin D.
Sulfur is also very essential to good health. It helps us build strong connective tissue like cartilage and membranes like our skin. Sulfur also helps with the production of many enzymes, immune system antibodies, hormones and even some of the B vitamins. Sulfur is also essential for your liver to detoxify itself and produce effective bile.
Besides these essential minerals bone broth also provides, with proper preparation, the most important protein in our bodies, collagen. One quarter of our bodies protein is collagen and it keeps our bones strong, resilient and able to absorb the impacts of sports and falls. It is important to notice that people with brittle bones tend to focus on increasing their mineral intake, the substances that make bones stronger but possibly more brittle. Without sufficient collagen, and an abundance of Vitamin D and Vitamin C the minerals cannot be deposited into the bones. Think of collagen as the frame, or all of the lumber of a house, and the minerals as the drywall, doors and finishing touches that make a beautiful home.
Collagen is made up of several amino acids, the most interesting being Glycine and Proline. Glycine helps build our blood cells, strengthens our heart and helps us form our DNA and RNA. It helps our liver make bile and is an essential component of Glutathione, one of the strongest anti-oxidants in our bodies. Glycine is also an important nutrient in balancing our blood sugar when we are hungry, helping us avoid the disorientating symptoms of hypoglycemia. Proline, another amino acid in collagen has been shown to improve memory and prevent or lesson the experience of depression.
Collagen is the substance that makes a good broth so thick and jellylike when it is cold. Collagen is often also called gelatin. Gelatin has been used as a tonic in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, often extracted from the skins of large animals and shells of shellfish and turtles. 100 years ago gelatin was all the rage in “new” approaches to healthy eating. It is known to help people digest meats, legumes and starchy foods. Be aware that some modern preparations of gelatin contain MSG. So, once again, Bone Broth looks to be even more beneficial to our health, especially in our later years.
Another benefit that we receive from the regular consumption of bone broth is from the bone marrow. I always enjoy how surprised new parents are when they watch their young children chewing their way into a chicken bone so that they can suck on the marrow. Something all of our Ancestors did regularly, and something primates do if they come across a carcass. Bone marrow is made up of red marrow and yellow marrow, each supporting our health in different ways. Red marrow is the store house we rely on to build our red blood cells and white blood cells, possibly two of the most important cells in our bodies. While still in the marrow these cells are actually stem cells or structures that are useful across species. Said another way, our bodies can use these precursor molecules to support our blood and immune system. Yellow bone marrow is mostly made of rich and high energy fats, fat soluble vitamins and more collagen. I like to think of the bone marrow in my broth as an unexpected check in the mail, or unexpected help from a friend. All of a sudden I (my body) can get some things done I have had to put on hold because of a lack of time or money. Yummy…
The last and, in some ways, most important element of a good bone broth is dissolved cartilage. Cartilage is made of a group of intricate structures called Glycosaminoglycans or GAG’s. Now there is probably a joke about how you may think GAG’s may taste, but rest assured a good bone broth is delicious. One of my favorite GAG’s to speak of is N-Acetyl- Glucosamine or NAG. NAG has two very important jobs in our bodies, first it is essential for our joints to heal, especially from chronic inflammation like arthritis. Second it is the primary molecule that makes up our mucous membrane, or the membrane that keeps us from digesting ourselves. Have you ever thought about that? We can digest meat, we are made of meat (more or less) but we do not digest ourselves.. This is because our body produces a mucous like fluid or film that coats our stomach and intestines.
The integrity of our mucous membrane has almost unbelievable impact on our health. A strong and well fed mucous membrane keeps us from absorbing the bad kind of cholesterol as well as a variety of parasites and fungi into our blood stream. This membrane, with the support of our Lymphatic system make up the greater proportion of our immune systems actual effort. If this membrane breaks down we are at risk of developing Leaky Gut Syndrome, the suggested cause of all Auto-Immune disease.
Cartilage, as a shock absorbing structure in our bodies, has a necessarily small blood supply in order to keep it dense and strong. This is ensured by very specific enzymes that inhibit the growth of blood vessels. These enzymes have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors and are now an accepted part of treatment, unfortunately as shark cartilage.
It is important to cook a broth long enough to ensure the cartilage dissolves into fluid and mixes in with the dissolved gelatin. Remember that cartilage is made up of the same substances that make up our mucous membrane, a membrane and substance that is, by necessity, indigestible. Once the cartilage is dissolved and dispersed something subtle and almost magical happens. The surface tension or thickness of the broth drops below that of our mucous membrane making it highly absorbable. As well, the tendency of these molecules to attract and absorb water ensures that our digestive enzymes have maximum surface area to interact with a and ensure that we will immediately begin assimilating the nutrients in the broth.
So, there you have it. A few of the reasons our Grandmothers or our ancestor’s Grandmothers almost always had a pot on the stove or Clay container over the fire making sure we had good broth and that we used all of the part of the animals we eat.