Digging deeper into the benefits of broth (for your gut)
Broth is a key underpinning of life here at Kultured Wellness. It’s nourishing, tasty, comforting, and is an amazing ‘go to’ when we are struggling through. You all know that it is also great for our gut health.
This week I want to take a deep dive into bone broth to give you all some real motivation for consuming regular cups of this gorgeous liquid. I’m also going to share one of my favourite broth recipes - an Asian inspired broth that is a little more effort but so yummy when you’re after a special treat. Very cool, with the winter on its way.
I love to get out the three B’s – broth, blanket, book (sounds like a great way to engage our parasympathetic nervous system and get that ‘rest and digest’ happening, hmm?). Even though broth speaks to us at a deep cellular level about healing and comfort, we will delve into some science today. But first, let’s kick off with a history lesson…
Historical Broth Consumption
I love looking back to traditional practices and finding it fits in well with our modern science, and this is exactly the case with bone broth. So how did our forebears consume broth? Well, the answer is - every day, all over the world. Before electricity, before we even had vessels such as pots and crocks, we were making broth. Ancient societies always kept a pot over the fireplace. It would be topped up with water or bones or vegetables as needed and was always hot and ready. Before then even, some cultures would place ingredients into a pouch (usually the stomach of some animal) and add hot stones from the fire to make the soup or broth. This very early practice is where the term ‘stone soup’ came from. Other receptacles for hot stones included bamboo with one end sealed over and turtle shells.
It is amazing that almost all traditional societies, concurrently and without communication, made broths as a source of nourishment. You might be forgiven for wondering: What a lot of hassle to go to for bone broth – slaughtering an animal, preparing its stomach to hold bones, adding the bones, collecting and heating stones in the fire then adding them to the stomach until you have a broth.
Well it certainly does seem like a lot of work – it must have been worth it. The loss of handed down knowledge about bone broth is only recent. Plenty of older people recall their grandparents going to soups and broths for healing and convalescing. Chicken soup was known to the Jewish as ‘penicillin soup’. We do have evidence showing that chicken soup has a positive effect on the immune system.
The components of soup do have an affect on many aspects of gut healing, joint and bone repair, brain function, skin care and immune function. It’s a long list of claims, so lets dive on into some of the many many amino acids and proteins in broth.
What’s In Broth That's Good For Us?
The amino acid profile of each broth will vary depending upon the types of bones, the age of the bones, the animal the bones came from and the cooking time. This review will give you a general idea of the benefits, but all broths will vary.
Collagen and Gelatine
The word collagen is derived from the Greek word for glue. It is the glue that holds the body together and it accounts for 25-35% of the total protein content in our body. Collagen has an immense amount of amino acids that make it up – it’s a huge molecule. The largest number of these amino acids are glycine, which we will get into in a minute. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the building blocks of the body. Here’s a simple rule of thumb. Meat products like broth will rebuild and regenerate, vegetables will cleanse and detox. It’s obviously not that simple and there is cross over, but when you’re building and repairing your gut, broth is our go to.
Gelatine is basically denatured collagen. When we cook collagen, we get gelatine (I know you’ve all been wondering what the difference was, right?). Our society loves gelatine in its most highly processed forms, in our skin care and injected into wrinkled faces. Gelatine is a hydrophilic colloid. That means it is a molecule that attracts fluid, and it actually attracts digestive juices and aids digestion. Gelatine is also protein sparing, meaning you will absorb more of the protein you consume. Finally, gelatine promotes the secretion of hydrochloric acid (HCL) – this gorgeous acid that would be bad anywhere else but great in our gut. Many gut problems such as reflux and indigestion arise from not having enough HCL.
Before I get into the amino acids that make up collagen and gelatine, I want to have a quick look at bones that go into your broth.
Bones – For Minerals
Half of a bone (50%) is minerals. Calcium phosphate, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, sulphur and potassium - all essential components of a healthy diet and essential to healthy functioning cells within our bodies. Having said that, the mineral and calcium (specifically) content of bone broth is not as high as you would think and we add vegetables to our broth to enhance the mineral content. The minerals that do come out of the bones are encouraged along by the addition of apple cider vinegar and are highly bio-available to the body; so we absorb them easily and quickly. Most importantly, they are in balance - the exact ratios that we need for our nourishment, are already in place in the bones, and now in our broth. How clever is nature?
This amino acid is abundant in all plant and animal proteins. It is not an essential amino acid but when we do not get dietary access to proline our levels in the body drop below an optimal level. Proline is an important component of healing a leaky gut and for joint health.
I love glycine. I know there’s a lot of talk among gut health groups about glutamine (coming next) but glycine is pretty special for our body and our gut. Glycine plays a big role in so many key bodily functions, particularly energy and detox capacity. Here are a few:
- Making haemoglobin
- Making creatine (important for energy production)
- Making bile salts
- DNA / RNA
- Gastric acid secretion
- Reduction of inflammation
You can see how these are all important functions: haemoglobin to carry oxygen around the body, energy, detox, digestion, inflammation. We can become deficient in glycine when we have an illness or during periods of high demand like pregnancy. Glycine is a precursor to glutathione. This is the body's master antioxidant and so many people may not be able to produce enough glutathione on their own. It makes sense to give the body every opportunity to have maximal detox capacity and gut function, especially if we are cleansing and healing like the KW crew.
Glutamine is the third most abundant amino acid in broth. Glutamine is so key in gut healing and, in fact, any healing. We can produce it within the muscle tissue of our bodies, but when we are under stress we need this amino acid in abundance. If you are healing your gut, if you are dealing with infections, if you are managing an autoimmune condition, then broth should be on the menu. If any of you have completed a cleanse in the OGHP or a candida cleanse, then you will be familiar with glutamine and its role in healing and sealing the gut.
Why so important?
Enterocytes – this is the name of the cells that line your gut wall. Their preferred fuel source is glutamine. They break down glutamine into glutamic acid and then into (adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is used for energy production. Healthy gut walls require (among other things) healthy enterocytes that are fed the right kind of food and can function optimally. What else does glutamine do?
- Stimulates the immune cells
- Encourages immune cells to hunt down and destroy bacteria
- Encourages phagocytosis (do you remember the Pac-man cells and autophagy? – the clean-up for the body)
- Helps those little hairs (villi) that line our intestines to heal and grow. These villi are like an anemone to a clown fish. They support each other, and supporting healthy villi will support a robust microbial community in your gut
- Glutamine has been shown to be effective in the treatment of Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal ulcers and colitis.
- Boosts metabolism and cuts cravings (who knows broth helps regulate their appetite?)
- Glutamine is another precursor to that very cool substance – glutathione
- It crosses the blood-brain barrier and is suspected to play a role in alleviating irritability, anxiety and mood swings
- Glutamine deficiency (and we use a LOT when we are ill and stressed) can contribute to a leaky gut
Glucosamine and Glycosaminoglycans (GAGS)
Glucosamine is found in the cartilage (or gristle) of bones. Always choose bones with some cartilage. The glucosamine is great for joint support. If you keep hydrated and move you can enhance the flow of synovial fluid to your cartilage and the goodness from the bone broth you’ve consumed can repair and soothe joint issues. In the gut, glucosamine is important because it helps build the GAG layer. The GAG layer?
The GAG layer forms a defensive barrier in the mucosa of the gut and is key to proper gut function, microbial health and gut wall integrity. Its very important and we cannot be well without it.
Quality Of Ingredients and Length Of Cook
This is not an exhaustive list of the beneficial compounds in broth, but gives you an idea of the massive list of things going on for the gut when we consume broth, and even more when we combine it with an optimal diet and lifestyle.
Another key factor worth mentioning is the quality of the ingredients you use to make broth. Organic is best. There have been some issues raised over heavy metals from animal bones contaminating our bone broths. Research into lead content of organic chicken bones has found levels below the threshold for safe drinking water. There is still no evidence I am aware of that heavy metals are a problem in broth, but organic is always best. Your fatty acid profile will be better in grass-fed, pastured and organic bones.
The amino acid content of broth tends to increase with the length of time you cook it (within reason). Glutamic acid increases 3 fold from a short to a long cook. Glycine increases from 1350 mg/750 mls to 5320 mg/750 mls from a short to a long cook. Now, these numbers do not matter exactly, but they are there to demonstrate that you can cook a beef broth for 8 hours, or for 48 hours. The difference may be in the number of amino acids and nourishing electrolytes and minerals you draw into the liquid. It is also the reason why we discard the vegetables and bones and only retain the liquid. They have been depleted of any goodness. Let’s jump into a recipe:
Asian Inspired Beef Bone BrothIngredients
- 2 kg (ish) beef bones - marrow and joint
- Coriander root - 1 bunch
- Lime - quartered
- Cinnamon sticks - 2 or 3
- Coriander seed - a small handful
- Star anise - 6 or 6
- Garlic bulb - cut across the bulb
- Ginger - 3 cm chopped in 3 pieces
- Shallots - 3 or 4
- Chili- to taste, I use 3 or 4 whole red chilies
- Apple cider vinegar - dash
- Filtered water
- Throw everything except ACV, corriander and water into a pan and roast at high heat (230 degrees) until browned.
- Pop it all in your slow cooker and fill with your filtered water. Add ACV and corriander root. Place on low heat for 24-48 hours.
- Strain off the liquid and enjoy with some salt.
In a nutshell:
- Bone broth is an ancient healing drink
- It is key for healing and repairing the gut wall
- Broth restores the mucous layer, feeds our enterocytes, encourages growth of our microbiome
- Is an established treatment for gut dysbiosis
- Is easily digestible and allows the gut a rest to repair
- Supports proper digestion
Wahls, T. (2014) The Wahls Protocol. Penguin: New York. ISBN: 978-1-58333-521-5
Ballantyne, S. (2013) The Paleo approach. Victory Belt Publishing Inc.: USA. ISBN: 978-1-936608-39-3
Fallon Morell, S. and Daniel, K.T. (2014) Nourishing Broth, an old fashioned remedy for the modern world. Grand Cenrtal Life and Style: New York. ISBN: 978-1-4555-2922-3.