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Q & A: Bone broth and collagen.  It’s everywhere that we need to be drinking bone broth and taking collagen! Do we? 

A: Bone broth and collagen are super trendy, and promoted for improving joint health, gut health, improving skin elasticity, improving bone health, providing electrolytes, and providing high quality protein.  Most of these claims do not hold up to scrutiny.  Let’s take a closer look:

1.     Providing high quality protein.  FALSE.  The protein in bone broth is mostly from collagen, and as we’ve discussed collagen is about the very worst source of protein.  When I say “worst” I mean least available, or a protein where almost none can be used for building things in your body.  Plain collagen has a bioavailability score of 0, and bone broth is better at 28, but corn flakes register a 70, and whey is 100+ on a 100 point scale.

2.     Providing electrolytes.  TRUE.  Electrolytes are just minerals that carry electrical charges – sodium, calcium, potassium, etc.  Yes, bone broth contains electrolytes, but very few people in our society have trouble getting enough sodium in their diet, and there are many food sources of electrolytes. 

Quick electrolyte fact: potatoes have far more potassium than bananas per calorie.

3.     Improving bone health.  MEH.  We don’t have any evidence where we have randomized two groups of people with half drinking broth and the other bone broth with DEXA scans every 2 years… but we don’t have that evidence for much of anything.  Bone broth, stock, fat free Greek yogurt, most whey protein supplements and calcium supplements will all provide calcium.  If you get enough calcium, enough vitamin D, and enough stress on your bones then your skeleton will be in as good a shape as it can be. 

Quick aside: there are quite a few medications that can cause significant loss in bone mass.  Proton pump inhibitors (to reduce stomach acid) are the most common medications that have this side effect.

4.     Improving skin elasticity.  SORTA.  The research on collagen and skin appearance has found evidence that hydrolyzed collagen has a positive impact at doses of 1,000 to 5,000 mg (1-5 grams) per day.  The collagen in bone broth is not hydrolyzed, so it’s not going to have the same affect.  Yes, collagen protein powders are often (but not always) hydrolyzed, but keep in mind that 5g is a very small amount. 

Quick aside:The BioCell preparation of collagen seems to give the biggest impact on skin and joints.  Here’s our favorite way to get it

5.     Improving gut health.  MEH.  There is one study in mice with ulcerative colitis that shows that bone broth was helpful.  That’s all the research we have.  It should go without saying that what works in mice doesn’t always work the same in humans.  It is hard to see how bone broth would be bad for your gut health, but it is also hard to see how it would be more important than the basics: get enough fiber, get enough steps (movement begets movement), drink enough water, strength training (especially things for you core and legs), and sleep.

6.    Improving joint health.  See #4 above.

What is bone broth?

Bone broth is essentially another name for stock.  Chicken broth doesn’t need to have been made with bones, but stock does require the whole carcass be simmered for long periods of time.  It is sort of based on “traditional foods,” in that we used to have to eat from the rooter to the tooter because all humans were extremely poor by today’s standards.  When you had picked the carcass clean you couldn’t let those bones go to waste, so you turned them into flavoring for soup… just like we ate all the organs and the meat because we couldn’t afford not to.  Some of these things are probably good for us, and some will be neutral. 

Bottom line

Hydrolyzed collagen seems to be good for your skin and joints.  You don’t need 20-30 grams of it per day however.  Because it is such low quality protein, once you get past 1-5 grams per day, you are just adding calories to your diet, and nobody has the budget for that.

Bone broth has vitamins and minerals in it, as well as low quality protein, and unhydrolyzed collagen.  If you currently fall short of your calcium needs, bone broth could be quite helpful for you, but, overall it does not really live up to the hype.

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