Bone broth is a popular staple in the Paleo community and many other diet philosophies because it is believed that it can help heal and seal your gut, oppose inflammation, encourage healthy digestion, support the immune system, inhibit infection by microbes, reduce joint pain, and inflammation, promote strong and healthy bones, hair and nail growth. It has been consumed by our ancestors since prehistoric times and is rich in a wide array of highly absorbable nutrients like glycine, arginine, proline, chondroitin, glucosamine, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. But, as I will demonstrate below, bone broth is not always good for you.
Bone Broth is High in Glutamate
As you can see, it appears the benefits derived from bone broth can target many of the issues associated with gut problems, Candida overgrowth, immunity, and more. However, it’s important to be aware that bone broth is quite high in free glutamate which can increase your glutamate levels. This can be very problematic for anyone who has issues with excess glutamate, which is quite often the case in the individual with sugar and carb addiction, anxiety and panic disorders, Candida overgrowth, OCD, autism spectrum disorders, migraines, hyperactivity, ALS, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, PANDAS, seizures, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity, insomnia, chronic fatigue, SIBO, and more.
Glutamate is a very important neurotransmitter responsible for stimulating your brain cells so that you can think, speak, pay attention, process and learn new information, and store that information in short or long-term memory. Research implies that higher levels of intelligence and superior abilities in learning and memory are directly correlated to higher levels of glutamate receptors, but so are seizures and an increased risk for stroke because excess glutamate is toxic to the brain.
Typically, glutamate is present in the brain in very modest concentrations. If that concentration level becomes elevated, then glutamate becomes an excitotoxin that overstimulates brain cells and nerves and leads to cell death and neurological inflammation. All of which can incite a wide variety of symptoms like excitability, restlessness, brain dysfunction, irritability, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, insomnia, high levels of anxiety, fear, panic, migraine headaches, self-stimulatory behaviors, cravings for sugar and carbs or drugs and alcohol, and more.
Additionally, high glutamate depletes glutathione levels which among other things is vital for managing inflammation, gut health, and detoxification; and it increases eosinophils, one kind of white blood cells, which creates inflammation; and magnifies the toxicity of mercury that may be present in the body; and fuels growth of cancer cells and tumors. Furthermore, microbes thrive in a glutamate-rich environment.
Additionally, when glutamate is in excess, that means that GABA is deficient because the two of them counterbalance one another. GABA has the exact opposite effect on the brain, it inhibits brain cells, calms us down, relaxes, helps regulate sleep, mood, appetite, sexual arousal, the endocrine system, and the autonomic nervous system. In the gastrointestinal tract, GABA is essential for contractions in the bowels, regulating the lower esophageal sphincter, and supporting adequate quantities of IgA, antibodies that are needed to defend our gut and other mucous linings from pathogens.
The GABA and glutamate balance may be disrupted by a wide variety of factors like drug or alcohol use, sugar, grains, high starch foods, caffeine, chocolate, benzodiazepines, insufficient levels of serotonin, artificial sweeteners, nicotine, food additives, dyes and flavorings, and excess calcium. Additionally, the body may have problems regulating the balance between the two because of a deficiency in an enzyme called GAD that is needed to convert glutamate into GABA. The GAD enzyme can be inhibited by viruses, Candida, and other microbes, problems with methylation, impairment of the Krebs cycle, pancreatic insufficiency, deficiency in B6 that is needed as a cofactor with the GAD enzyme to create GABA, and genetic polymorphisms.
Therefore, in some cases, glutamate levels may be lowered enough that one may be able to enjoy the benefits that bone broth has to offer, but not usually. You can learn more about how to balance glutamate and GABA on the following page. Some people have a genetic predisposition to a higher number of glutamate receptors than others and some of the aforementioned issues may be hard to resolve. When that is the case, then they will always be inclined to have excessive levels of glutamate and will need to engage in lifelong moderating of substances that will increase glutamate further, like bone broth.
Glutamate has a complex and intricate relationship with insulin. When glutamate is elevated, it will provoke an insulin response. However, glucose is needed at the synapses to govern glutamate, therefore, when insulin brings glucose levels down too low, then glutamate levels will rise again. This means that maintaining a balance between GABA and glutamate is critical for managing blood sugar levels and insulin and any food that increases glutamate can affect this process.
Bone Broth is High in Histamine
Additionally, bone broth is very high in histamine, which will make it a bad choice for people with histadelia (high brain histamine) or histamine intolerance. Histamine is also an important neurotransmitter, where it helps control the sleep/wake cycle, mood, learning, appetite, libido, body temperature, memory, pain sensitivity, modulating the release of other important neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, maintaining stability in the endocrine system, and much more. In other parts of the body, histamine is an essential component of gastric acid production, cardiac stimulation, vasodilation, most smooth muscle contraction, and the immune response.
However, when histamine is in excess it creates a vast array of negative effects like brain racing, high levels of unexplained fear, excessive sex drive, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, anxiety, hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, sex and gambling addiction, depression, and/or hives, sneezing, runny nose and eyes, itchiness, inflammation, motion sickness, migraine headaches, diarrhea, fatigue, constipation, insomnia, abdominal pain, and swelling.
Excess histamine can be caused by a wide variety of factors as well like overgrowth of histamine-producing bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, Candida overgrowth, nutritional deficiencies, impaired methylation, food sensitivities, insufficiency in the DAO and HNMT enzymes that are needed to break it down, and genetic polymorphisms. Therefore, sometimes people who have problems with high histamine can lower their levels enough to be able to consume foods like bone broth comfortably, but maybe not. You can learn about addressing high histamine on the following page. However, sometimes high-histamine may be a lifelong issue, and limiting high histamine foods will be needed on an ongoing basis.
Both excess histamine and/or glutamate create an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system, which puts the body in a state of chronic sympathetic arousal. When the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the stress response system, is activated this too leads to a wide variety of negative effects like weakened immunity, impaired production of gastric acid and digestive enzymes, inhibited digestion and absorption of nutrients, suppression of serotonin, an increase in blood glucose levels, destruction of healthy gut bacteria, inhibition of the migrating motor complex, and much more. All of which can encourage overgrowth of Candida and other microbes, degradation of health, or exacerbation of conditions that already exist.
Bone Broth Feeds SIBO
Bone broth also contains mucopolysaccharides from the joint and cartilage tissue of the bone, which is a substance that will feed small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This will cause overgrowth to become substantially worse and can be difficult to turn around.
Experts on SIBO recommend making broth from meat, not the bone. So this is an alternative you can try. However, make sure there is no bone at all connected to the meat, as any amount of bone will increase the histamine and glutamate. Additionally, cooking any meat slowly for long periods of time also increases histamine and glutamate. I find that I must stay under 1 hour and 15 minutes of cooking time to avoid an increase.
Therefore, as you can see, the consumption of bone broth is not always good for you. For people with the aforementioned issues, it can be downright harmful and should be avoided. Ironically, under these circumstances, it can actually cause or exacerbate some of the very conditions that it is publicized as healing. I frequently work with clients who have experienced a very significant setback in their health from following diets that encourage the consumption of foods like bone broth, because nobody educated them about the potential risks and contraindications. I learned about these issues through my own personal experience when a very tiny little sip of bone broth made my lips and tongue immediately become numb, produced severe heart racing and anxiety, and I developed a migraine instantaneously. I can’t even cook food that has a bone present, I must remove the meat from the bone or the meat will do the same thing. If you are highly histamine or glutamate sensitive you will want to consider removing the bone from all meat prior to cooking.
If you have no issues with excess glutamate or histamine and are sure you don’t have SIBO or any disorder that may be associated with SIBO (e.g. IBS, GERD, heartburn, autoimmune disorders), then bone broth might be good for you. If you’re not sure, then pay close attention to your symptoms when it is consumed, and monitor your response. In most cases, negative symptoms will develop quickly and it will be apparent that it is causing problems. However, sometimes symptoms may develop more gradually, as the histamine and/or glutamate load builds up over time. Many people are instructed to keep drinking the broth despite a worsening of symptoms, because their practitioner or a website may claim that this is a healing crisis. I would disagree with this stance; the most likely cause of negative symptoms is a histamine, glutamate, or SIBO issue, and continuing to consume it will lead to serious problems. I have also worked with clients who had no known issues with histamine or glutamate until after they began consuming bone broth, so it appears it can be an instigator for the issues as well.
Chicken bones are higher in glutamate than beef bones, so some people who can’t drink broth derived from chicken bones can drink it from beef bones, but not always. If your only issue with bone broth is high glutamate and not high histamine, then this may work; but it will have no impact on the histamine issue. In my own situation, it doesn’t matter what type of bones they are, they all cause problems. And both chicken and beef bones will contribute to SIBO, so it won’t solve that either.
This is a perfect example to demonstrate how we cannot assume that all Paleo-friendly foods will be good for everyone and why the Paleo diet must be individualized according to each person’s unique biochemistry and needs.
If you need help determining if bone broth is good for you, or for individualizing your diet, or optimizing your health overall, contact me today, for a coaching appointment.
Joan Mathews Larson. Depression Free Naturally. Wellspring/Ballantine (January 2, 2001)
Dr. Amy Yasko, Autism: Pathways to Recovery. Neurological Research Institute, LLC 2004, 2007, 2009
Siebecker, Allison, ND, MSOM, LAc, and Steven Sandberg-Lewis, ND, DHANP. Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth: Often-Ignored Cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Townsend Letter February / March 2013.