What do paleo devotees and grandmas have in common? Their love of bone broth. Athletes sip it on the promise that it will fix creaky joints and damaged muscle with an infusion of collagen. And broth shops have popped up across the country. But before you tuck into a cup of the stuff, know that the science is murky.
Broth is made by simmering animal bones and ligaments in water and vinegar, a process that releases collagen, which is a sturdy type of protein that helps make up tendons, fasciae, and ligaments. The body naturally produces collagen, but slowly. So could broth speed repair after, say, an IT band injury, and help bolster your body in the meantime?
Some research finds consuming collagen can indeed help joints, strengthen tendons, and even smooth skin. Joint-pain sufferers who took collagen supplements reported significantly less discomfort after six months compared with those who took a placebo, according to a study from Penn State University.
But bioengineers from the University of Utah question whether consuming collagen can heal your body. Their research shows collagen molecules’ ropelike structure may not survive digestion—meaning that your body would put it to use like it does any other protein. However, Keith Baar, a physiology professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies collagen, contends that even if it’s broken into amino acids, those protein building blocks may still spur collagen synthesis, though how it happens is still unknown.
Collagen aside, there are other reasons to sip broth. It’s low in calories, tasty, and has a bevy of nutrients, including beta-alanine, zinc, and magnesium—plus you’ll get benefits from whatever vegetables you add to the brew, says Greg Shaw, a dietitian at the Australian Institute of Sport. So if you’re drinking broth as a health food, we have no bones about it.