Bone broth has become a popular health food trend in recent years, with claims that it can help with digestion, immunity, joints, skin, and more. While bone broth does provide some benefits, it’s important to understand the potential downsides as well. In this article, we’ll take an objective look at some of the negatives of regularly consuming bone broth.
One potential problem with drinking large amounts of bone broth regularly is that it can lead to an imbalance in your nutrient intake. Here are a few examples:
- Excess sodium – Bone broth can be high in sodium, depending on how it’s made. Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure in some individuals.
- High in amino acids, low in carbohydrates – The amino acid profile of bone broth is very different from a balanced meal. Regularly replacing meals with broth could lead to insufficient carbohydrate intake.
- May lack micronutrients – While bone broth provides minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, it does not contain appreciable amounts of vitamins and antioxidants that are abundant in fruits, vegetables, and other unprocessed foods.
Over time, a diet high in bone broth could lead to an unbalanced intake of different nutrients. This highlights the importance of eating bone broth as part of a varied diet, rather than relying on it as a nutritional panacea.
There are some safety issues to be aware of with homemade bone broth:
- Food poisoning risk – Just like meat, bones can harbor pathogenic bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. If bones are not sourced and handled properly, the broth could become contaminated.
- High lead content – The bones of animals can accumulate lead over their lifespan. This lead leaches into the broth, potentially causing high lead exposure with regular consumption.
- Acrylamide formation – Cooking broth at high heat for long periods can result in the formation of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen.
Purchasing bone broth from a reputable company can help mitigate these risks. However, homemade broth should be made with care and moderation. Simmering the broth for long periods is not necessary and may do more harm than good.
Bone broth naturally contains the amino acid glutamate, which acts as a neurotransmitter in the body. Consuming large amounts of glutamate from broth could have effects such as:
- Sensitivity reactions – Some people report reacting to the high glutamate levels in bone broth with symptoms like heartburn, headaches, rashes, or drowsiness.
- Neurological effects – High glutamate intake can overexcite neurons and potentially lead to neurological issues. This is still under debate, but worth being aware of.
Those with chronic conditions like migraine, fibromyalgia, IBS, or mood disorders may want to limit bone broth intake and pay attention to how it affects symptoms.
The sustainability of bone broth depends heavily on the source of the bones:
- Meat industry byproducts – Bones sourced from conventional meat production may support environmentally harmful practices like CAFO farming anddeforestation for cattle grazing.
- Wasted byproducts – On the other hand, using bones left over from meat consumed by others diverts waste from landfills.
To make the most sustainable choice, consider sourcing broth bones from local, grass-fed, or pasture-raised cattle farms whenever possible.
May Contain MSG
Some pre-made bone broths contain added ingredients like yeast extract, hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed yeast, etc. These compounds contain free glutamates that act similarly to monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Consuming large doses of MSG has been associated with:
Check the ingredients list on manufactured bone broths and avoid products with these additives if you’re sensitive to MSG effects. Making homemade broth is the best way to control the ingredients.
May Contain Allergens
Pre-packaged bone broths may contain potential allergens that sensitive individuals need to watch out for, including:
- Soy – Added for flavor
- Nightshade vegetables – Onion, garlic, etc
- Eggs – Used to clarify some broths
- Tree nuts – Almond extracts or cashew cream for flavor
- FODMAPs – Garlic, onion, shallots
Always read the label carefully and ask manufacturers about their production practices if food allergies are a concern.
High in Histamines
The collagen and amino acids in bone broth can spike histamine levels for some people. High histamine can provoke reactions like:
- Itching or flushed skin
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Racing heart
Those with histamine intolerance may experience exacerbated symptoms from bone broth. It’s best to start with a small amount and discontinue use if reactions occur.
Bone broth contains oxalates, compounds that bind to calcium and can contribute to kidney stone development in susceptible individuals.
People who get recurrent kidney stones may want to limit high-oxalate foods like bone broth. However, broth likely only poses a risk when consumed in large quantities.
Could Lead to Metabolic Acidosis
There is some concern that the acidic nature of bone broth could alter pH balance in the body when consumed regularly. Potential effects of metabolic acidosis include:
- Bone loss
- Muscle wasting
- Kidney stones
- Impaired growth hormone
However, research has not firmly established that bone broth causes clinically significant metabolic acidosis in most people. Those with kidney disease may be at higher risk.
May Exacerbate Gout
The high protein content of bone broth may raise concerns for those prone to gout. Protein metabolism produces purines, which can contribute to gout flares.
However, there are no direct studies linking bone broth itself to gout attacks. People with gout may want to monitor symptoms when adding broth.
The collagen in bone broth contains amino acids like cysteine and methionine. These degrade into oxidizing peroxides during cooking.
Consuming large amounts of broth peroxides could theoretically increase oxidative stress and inflammation. Those with chronic inflammatory conditions may wish to limit intake.
Potential for Contaminated Fats
Bone broth often contains small amounts of fat skimmed from the surface. This fat could harbor toxins if the animal was exposed to contaminants.
Pesticides, dioxins, and other harmful chemicals have been found in the fats of commercial livestock. When possible, source bones from grass-fed, organic animals.
May Contain Acrylamide
Cooking any food at high temperatures for long periods can cause acrylamide to form, and bone broth is no exception.
Acrylamide is classified as a potential carcinogen and neurotoxin. To limit exposure, avoid boiling broth for more than 24 hours. Shorter simmer times are likely safer.
All mammalian bones contain a compound called Neu5Gc that can trigger inflammation in humans. This little-known molecule contributes to “xenosialitis”, an immune reaction from eating non-human animal products.
Over time, ingesting Neu5Gc from bone broth could provoke chronic inflammation leading to problems like arthritis, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Consider limiting intake to 2-3 times per week maximum.
May Promote Feedlot Farming
Large-scale broth companies need constant access to huge numbers of animal bones. This supplies a financial incentive for factory farming and feedlot-style meat production.
Broths made from the bones of humanely raised pasture livestock offer a more ethical alternative. However, these broths can still enable and create demand for animal slaughter.
Purines are natural compounds found in many foods like bone broth. The body breaks down purines into uric acid.
In susceptible individuals, too much uric acid can provoke gout attacks and kidney stones. Those prone to these conditions may wish to moderate purine sources like broth.
Risk of Lead Contamination
The bones of animals can bioaccumulate sources of lead over their lifetimes. Slow-simmering bones in broth leaches this lead out, resulting in a contaminated final product.
Broth made from the bones of factory farmed animals or wild game are at the highest risk of having dangerously high lead levels. Always test lead levels if using these bone sources.
Negative Interactions with Medications
The amino acids in bone broth may interact with certain medications through different mechanisms:
- Reducing absorption – Binding to medication molecules in the gut
- Altering excretion – Interfering with drug metabolism
- Changing efficacy – Impacting neurotransmitter activity
Those taking antidepressants, sedatives, and heart medications may wish to check for potential broth interactions. Starting with a low intake is wise.
Increases Cell Growth Factors
The collagen in bone broth provides building blocks for factors that stimulate cell growth in the body. For most people this supports healthy tissue regeneration.
However, elevated growth factors may also accelerate cancer progression in some cases. Those with a history of cancer may want to exercise caution with high intakes of bone broth.
Meat and bone broth provide carnitine, a compound involved in transporting fats into mitochondria. This helps generate cellular energy from fat.
While beneficial for most, high carnitine intake is linked to increased risk of heart disease in those with preexisting cardiac conditions. Moderation may be warranted.
Imbalances the Gut Microbiome
The high protein and lack of fiber in bone broth can encourage growth of proteolytic bacteria species in the gut that produce harmful metabolites linked to higher cancer and disease risk.
A gut overgrowth of proteolytic microbes creates an imbalance compared to fiber-loving commensal bacteria that produce beneficial metabolites.
May Disrupt Sleep
Bone broth is typically high in glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter that can overstimulate the nervous system.
Consuming broth before bed may make it more difficult to fall asleep or lead to reduced deep sleep for sensitive individuals. Those with insomnia or anxiety may wish to avoid broth at night.
Unlike whole vegetables and fruits, bone broth contains no beneficial plant compounds like antioxidants, polyphenols, or fiber.
Regularly having broth in place of phytonutrient-rich foods may contribute to cellular oxidative damage over time without the antioxidant benefits.
Contains Heme Iron
The iron found in meat, poultry, and fish is predominantly heme iron. Heme iron is absorbed more efficiently than non-heme iron from plant foods, but also has downsides.
Excess accumulation of heme iron in the body has been linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. People with high iron levels may wish to limit consumption of bone broth.
Promotes Loss of Calcium & Collagen
There is some evidence that the amino acids abundant in bone broth can increase calcium excretion through urine.
Over time, this could undermine bone collagen stores leading to problems like osteoporosis. Those with bone loss or osteopenia should use bone broth cautiously.
Contains No Fiber
Bone broth is entirely lacking in fiber, a nutrient essential for healthy digestion. Fiber nourishes beneficial gut bacteria, promotes regularity, and reduces disease risk.
Relying on low-fiber foods like broth long-term may contribute to dysbiosis, constipation, diarrhea, colon cancer risk, and imbalanced gut flora.
May Contain prions
Prions are misfolded proteins that cause neurodegenerative diseases like Mad Cow Disease. They are found concentrated in the bones of infected cattle.
While rare, drinking broth made from the bones of prion-infected animals could theoretically transmit these fatal brain conditions to humans.
No Vegans or Vegetarians
Those adhering to vegan or vegetarian diets for ethical, environmental, or health reasons will want to avoid bone broth entirely, as it relies heavily on animal bones.
Plants, fungi, and marine sources like seaweed and algae provide ample nutrition without requiring animal slaughter or exploitation.
Bone broth certainly has some health benefits, however the hype around its “superfood” status may be exaggerated. Like any food, bone broth has potential downsides that warrant consideration.
The negatives mostly revolve around bioaccumulated toxins, safety risks, nutritional imbalances, and sustainability issues with conventional farming practices. Many of these can be mitigated by choosing high quality bones from local, organic sources.
Overall, bone broth can be a healthy addition to the diet in moderation for most people. But it’s always wise to be informed about any potential harms. As with most foods, the dose makes the poison.