Bone broth has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among health enthusiasts and folks looking for natural remedies for gut-related issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and/or leaky gut. But what exactly is bone broth, and does it really help to heal the gut? In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of bone broth for IBS and leaky gut, to help you determine whether or not it could be a potential ally on your gut-healing journey.
Disclaimer: This is not medical or nutritional advice! This article was written only for educational purposes. Make sure to consult a qualified healthcare practitioner to help you craft a treatment plan based on your individual needs. (That may or may not include bone broth!) 😉
Affiliate disclosure: This article contains affiliate links*. As an Amazon Associate and an affiliate of FOND, I will make a small commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
Firstly, what is bone broth?
Bone broth is a nutrient-dense broth made from simmering animal bones and connective tissues (like joints, knuckle bones, or sometimes even chicken feet), typically for several hours or overnight.
This slow-cooking process extracts beneficial nutrients like collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin, and amino acids like glutamine and arginine, which have been shown to support gut health, joint health, skin health and more.
Who started this trend?
While bone broth is relatively new to the modern-day wellness industry, this functional beverage isn’t a novelty – it’s actually something our ancestors sipped on for hundreds of years!
Our ancestors used to make bone broth as a way to extract more nutrition from animals after eating them – with the primary goal being to nourish as many people as possible, and also as a way to not waste any usable parts of animals.
The ancient culinary practice of making and drinking bone broth could be one of many reasons (anecdotally) why gut issues and autoimmune conditions were not so prevalent back in earlier times.
Bon broth is also heavily emphasized as a functional food for those following a variation of the GAPS diet and/or Paleo diet for IBS and leaky gut.
So, what are the benefits of bone broth?
While research on bone broth for gut health is still very sparse, it’s looking promising so far.
For example, a 2021 study concluded that bone broth has anti-inflammatory properties in that it was helpful at reducing tissue damage and regulating gene expression in ways that are beneficial for decreasing symptoms of ulcerative colitis. (1)
More research is needed, but I whole-heartedly believe there will be lots more where this came from in the coming years.
Rich in collagen and amino acids
One of the primary benefits is that it naturally contains an abundance of collagen when it’s made with knuckle bones and joints, which are rich in collagen – and when it’s cooked for longer periods of time. (Learn more about the pros and cons of supplementing with collagen for leaky gut here!)
It has also been said anecdotally for many years that bone broth (like collagen) contains a special profile of gut-healing amino acids like l-glutamine, cysteine, proline, glycine, proline, and arginine, serving to help repair and strengthen the gut barrier which can become compromised in those with IBS and/or leaky gut.
- While this claim was challenged by a 2019 study by the International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism (2), a more comprehesive 2021 study by Medicina (Kaunas) completed an in-depth nutritional analysis of bone broth and concluded that it does in fact contain those amino acids as well as other amino acids and micronutrients. Feel free to check out the chart below for more details!)
That is a pretty big discrepancy compared to the 2019 study, which investigated mainstream commercially-made bone broths (versus homemade) and claimed it did not contain these amino acids in significant quanities. This is likely because of the variability in how the bone broth was made in each study.
For example, when bone broth is made with higher concentrations of collagen-rich knuckle bones, joints and nutrient-dense femur bones containing bone marrow, and it cooks for longer periods of time, I notice an exponentially greater difference in the taste and degree to which it gelatinizes in the fridge, as well as how I will feel over the next few days compared to when I drink weaker batches of bone broth or mainstream brands of bone broth from the shelf at a supermarket. Many of my clients recovering from IBS have reported this, too.
Bottom line: not all bone broth is created equal!
Easy to digest
Another benefit of bone broth is that it’s easy to digest for many people. It can be easily incorporated into soup recipes, which tend to be gentle and soothing for the digestive tract.
Bone broth also has a very special place in my heart; it played a major positive role in my own gut healing journey and continues to remain a major staple in my diet now, as a former IBS sufferer!
I’ve also had the privilege of hearing about lots of people’s experiences drinking bone broth first-hand in my private nutrition practice.
- Based on feedback from many clients in my private practice who decided to give it a whirl, drinking a cup of bone broth at least 1x/day has been very effective at helping to reduce and relieve IBS symptoms like stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, and even heartburn/reflux in many cases.
Still, not everyone has a positive experience with bone broth…
Bone broth contraindications and downsides
One size never fits all! In my private practice I’ve noticed over the years lots of people with IBS-D or IBD have had adverse reactions to bone broth, for several reasons.
High in glutamates
Bone broth is generally high in glutamates (a derivative of glutamic acid from l-glutamine). I’ve observed in my private practice can actually exacerbate IBS/IBD symptoms if your gut is too inflamed.
Alas, if you’re dealing with IBS-D or IBD (which often flies under the radar and masquerades as IBS in disguise), you may want to proceed with caution and consult a functional dietitian nutritionist before trying bone broth.
Bottom line: if you’ve ever tried bone broth and noticed it made you feel worse, you may have a glutamate sensitivity!
High in histamines
One potential downside is that it’s high in histamines, which can trigger hives or other allergy-like symptoms in some individuals with a histamine intolerance.
Based on my experiences in private practice, adverse reactions to the histamine in bone broth is relatively common among people with an underlying mycotoxin (mold) overgrowth and/or those with a condition called Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS).
May contain other reactive ingredients
I’ve noticed that many pre-made bone broths on the market often contain added ingredients that aren’t suitable for those with IBS and/or leaky gut.
For example, in my private nutrition practice, I’ve noticed that lots of people with gut issues find that garlic and certain potent spices can make their symptoms worse, either by feeding and fermenting certain microbes in their gut, or by stimulating colonic contractions.
Pre-made bone broths and many bone broth recipes also often feature certain high FODMAP foods like onions, which may not sit well if you notice you better on a low FODMAP diet.
If you’ve tried a ready-made bone broth for leaky gut and it has a lot of added ingredients, you may want to consider making your own or purchasing a more basic, simple variation of pre-made bone broth.
Time-consuming and expensive
Another potential drawback of bone broth is that it can be time-consuming to make at home, and very expensive to buy. (While this isn’t a clinical or medical contraindication, it’s still worth considering!)
Realistically, if you’re on a very tight budget or short on time, that will make it difficult to sustain the quantities and level of consistency that you would need in order to reap the benefits. (More on recommended quantities further down!)
Either way, if you notice that you do feel better when drinking bone broth, I think it’s worth finding your “sweet spot” in terms of how often you make it versus purchasing it, so you can still reap the benefits.
(When I was on my gut-healing journey, I made about 90% of my bone broth at homeand I found ways to tweak my budget as needed for when I didn’t have it on-hand.)
Bone broth for IBS and leaky gut: how much do you need?
I was originally taught by my holistic nutrition consultant and by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride (founder of the GAPS diet protocol for leaky gut) that 1 to 2 quarts per day of bone broth is considered a therapeutic dose.
However, since that’s not easy to execute or sustain for most people, I’ve found that sipping on ~1 to 4 cups of bone broth per day can be helpful anecdotally, if you have IBS/leaky gut and respond well to bone broth.
What’s the best bone broth for IBS and leaky gut?
A homemade beef bone broth or gut-healing chicken soup recipe could be a fun and cost-effective way to dive into the wonderful world of bone broth!
But if DIY isn’t your scene, you may want to try out one of the following store-bought bone broths which have been tested and vetted many times over by yours truly:
- FOND bone broth* (Enter my affilite code JENNAV for 10% off your first order!)
- Bonafide Provisions bone broth*
- Epic bone broth* (contains garlic which is high in FODMAPs)
Alternatives to bone broth
If you’re vegetarian/vegan and/or you’re among those who doesn’t tolerate bone broth, don’t worry – I’ve got you covered!
Luckily, in the world of holistic nutrition and functional nutrition for gut health, there are many potential paths and many options to choose from.
Below are a few alternative functional foods and supplements that can potentially help you support, heal, and repair a leaky gut.
(These are only the tip of the iceberg – there are lots of other options as well. Make sure to consult a qualified practitioner who can help you narrow down the best option for your individual needs!)
- Meat stock (gentler on the gut, and lower in glutamates for those with IBD/IBS-D)
- Colostrum* (vegetarian)
- SBI Protect* (dairy free)
- DGL powder* (vegan)
- GI Revive* (vegan)
- Leaky Gut Revive*
What about L-glutamine?
L-glutamine has some pros and cons. Since it’s 100% glutamine, this would actually defeat the purpose for people who can’t tolerate bone broth due to a glutamate sensitivity! There are also some other contraindications. (Get my full low-down on l-glutamine and leaky gut here!)
Bone broth is one of many types of functional foods which can be helpful if you have IBS and/or leaky gut. To learn more, make sure to check out the following articles:
Prebiotics & Probiotics
- What’s the Best Sauerkraut for Probiotics and Gut Health?
- Probiotic Sauerkraut (Recipe)
- How & Why to Enjoy Raw Sauerkraut
- Ultimate Prebiotic Foods & Herbs List PDF
- Prebiotics vs Probiotics – What’s the Difference?
- Should You Take Colostrum for Leaky Gut?
- Collagen for Leaky Gut – Does It Work?
- Turmeric for IBS & Leaky Gut – Does It Work?
- The Low-Down on L-Glutamine for Leaky Gut Repair
- Potential Benefits of Zinc Carnosine for Leaky Gut & Beyond
In my first-hand experience and research, bone broth’s potential gut-healing benefits come from the collagen and amino acids it contains, which may support gut health and help to reduce symptoms of leaky gut. However, I would love to see more reseach to validate these claims, for peace of mind.
Either way, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks of drinking bone broth (specifically for IBS/IBD sufferers), such as the high histamine and glutamate content.
From a lifestyle perspective, making and drinking bone broth consistently (for those who benefit) requires a great deal of time and/or money to make or purchase it in high quantities.
Bone broth may be a helpful addition to a 5-R protocol for gut repair, but it’s not enough as a stand-alone intervention for IBS and leaky gut. As with any dietary change, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional before adding bone broth to your routine.
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XO – Jenna