It is a fact of life that as we age collagen levels in our body drops off due to an increase in collagen degradation and a decrease in collagen production by the connective tissues.

After about the age of 20, we make about 1% less in our skin each year after that. As we reach middle age we begin to notice reduced skin strength, elasticity, thickness, and smoothness. As time goes marching on, our skin becomes more fragile, less able to perform it's barrier functions, easier to damage, slower to heal, and less able to protect itself from damage solar rays.

Preserving the skin's structure and function is a goal of healthy aging and should be started at a young age. The best way to achieve this is to protect our precious collagen, prevent future collagen degradation and supply ourselves with the nutrients it needs to be able to build more of this vital protein. Strong, resilient skin, able to perform it's vital functions from the beginning to the end of life, requires us to carefully consider our diets; optimal nutrition is imperative. 

We are not born knowing what this means. It's knowledge we have to acquire. Sadly, today we are mostly unaware, or grossly misinformed, of what a nutrient dense diet really is, or it's far reaching consequences.

Dietary Information was once encoded in traditional food ways diligent passed down from generation to generation. It was profoundly imperative to not just surviving but for thriving in often hostile environments.  My grandmother didn't know why chicken soup made with hens feet helped us recover from an illness, or how eating liver once a week contributed to us growing a properly developed, strong body and mind, she was just following the rules learned from her grandmother, and hers before that, going way back in time. Today we are tragically out of touch with this vital connection to the past, and the consequences are as serious as it gets. 

When I began studying the food ways of my Jewish ancestors I stumbled upon the now obscure work of the nutrition pioneers of the 18th and early 19th century and their contributions to the science of nutrition. Traditional cuisines from around the world began to fascinate me. 

I learned that one of the foundations of all traditional cuisines is animal bones boiled then simmered in water, to which other food is added. In fact, one can speculate that ever since humans first learned how to make a vessel which could be set on a fire, bones have been used this way.

RESTORING MY HEALTH WITH NOURISHING FOOD TRADITIONS

So, one day I turned to the past for answers.  At the time I was suffering from a variety of ailments, some more serious than others.  I began making a habit of preparing lots of soups and stews based on a broth made by simmering bone covered in cartilage and connective tissue. This is where I started my traditional food journey over 15 years ago.

I began to experience first hand that a primary source of nutrients supplied by carefully handled, properly prepare whole foods (and severely limiting commercially processed and synthetic foods) was having a profound impact on my health and mental well being.  As I introduced more traditional foods and preparation techniques into my diet, I discovered for myself that a healthy mind and body able to heal itself requires careful handling and preparation of a wide variety of whole food from across the plant and animal kingdom, with special emphasis placed on an ample supply of foods providing vitamins A, D, E & K2.

The work of nutrition pioneer, Dr. Weston Price was of of particular value and interest to me. In the early 1930's he and his wife embarked on an adventure in search of healthy native people. Their travels took them around the globe and back again. 

What they discovered blew my mind.  

They found virtually disease free populations of isolated indigenous groups around the world who were still living according to their ancestral ways when they arrived, consuming their traditional diets, relying on resources and environments which varied to the extreme from one place on the planet to another. What surprised Dr. Price was the source of their good health, it was not what he had expected to find. I suspect it won't be what you would expect either, it certainly was not what I had. 

He discovered that some foods were considered sacred. Great effort and often danger was required to procure them. When he analyzed the nutritional makeup he discovered the common denominators of these sacred foods; uncovering in large part a pillar of their disease free, long productive lives, and the development of strong, healthy babies and children.

He teased from their vastly different cuisines vitamins A,D,E & K2 to be at the very foundation of their amazing good health and the richest sources were found in those sacred foods held in the highest regard. How to find and prepare these food was passed down from generation to generation. They didn't know why these foods healed the sick and injured, created healthy mothers and babies, and supported healthy minds and bodies, they just knew they did.  Grandmothers and mothers insisted on following their traditions, and were required to pass on that knowledge and rules. 

The populations which had the most reliable source of the foods rich in vitamin A, D, E & K2, where virtually free of disease, exhibited the most profoundly excellent physical and mental health, and lived the longest. In the most robust cultures people regularly lived productive lives into their 80's and 90's. 

Sadly, these isolated cultures no longer exist, we can never again examine or study them directly. Dr. Price documented his work in his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. (I have linked to the complete work in the reference section below). Today his research is invaluable, in fact, it is a priceless resource where we can turn to learn the practical application of his discoveries and experience for ourselves the profound implications our diets have for growing, supporting and healing our bodies.

BONE BROTH, COLLAGEN AND VITAMINS A, D, E & K2

When prepared with bones covered in collagen rich cartilage, ligaments and connective tissue like skin (beef knuckle/neck bones, whole chickens) the resulting broth will contain dissolved collagen. The ONLY source of collagen is bone, marrow, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues of vertebrate animalsThe more connective tissue covering the bones, the more dissolved collagen will be contained.  

Collagen comprises about 30% of all protein in the body. It forms web-like structures providing astounding strength and elasticity. Without collagen we would literally not be able to stand up and our skin could not protect us from the outside world. 

Collagen synthesis in our bodies occurs continuously throughout our lives. It is used to repair and replace damaged skin tissue and build new cellular structures, helping maintain the integrity of our largest organ, the skin. Collagen synthesis provides us with Glycosaminoglycans, complex compounds containing the amino acids arginine, glycine, glutamine and proline.

Collagen rich bone broth is one of the most ancient Chinese medicines to heal the gut and reduce intestinal inflammation. A damaged gut is inflamed and has an impaired ability to absorb vital nutrients from our food. Over time every function and system in the body suffers. Even the brain. The direct gut-brain connection has been established by science, and the serious consequences of a poorly functioning digestive system on every part of our body is just beginning to be understood.

ANIMAL FATS AND THEIR ROLE IN COLLAGEN SYNTHESIS: WHAT DOES BONE BROTH HAVE TO DO WITH FAT?

So what does bone broth have to do with fat? Bone broth is not intended to be rich in fat at all. In fact, making a healthy bone broth requires skimming off the fat that rises to the top and discarding it. Cooling the strained broth and removing the fat that rises and hardens at the surface leaves underneath a gelatinous liquid rich in dissolved collagen. 

In order for collagen synthesis in the body to unfold we need ample amounts vitamins, A, D, E & K2. Which are only found in animal fat.  In fact, all amino acids, including those which structure collagen can only be properly used if the body has enough fat soluble vitamins, especially A & D.

 

I like to increase the collagen richness of my broth by adding powdered, hydrolyzed collagen from grass fed cattle. Hydrolyzed simply means that the amino acid chains have been broken down into smaller units. Hydrolyzing collagen untwists the strands of collagen into individual peptides, which are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream than gelatin itself. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies investigating the age-defending properties of collagen have found that 2.5–5 grams of collagen hydrolysate (peptides) used among women aged 35–55 once daily for eight weeks supports skin elasticity, skin moisture, trans-epidermal water loss (dryness) and skin roughness. At the end of only four weeks, those using collagen showed a statistically significant improvement in comparison to those using a placebo with regard to skin moisture and skin evaporation, plus noticeable decreases in signs of accelerated aging, all with little to no side effects. It should be noted that there is anecdotal evidence that supplementing with collagen peptides does not agree with a small percentage of people. If you find you become bloated, or gain weight when starting on a collagen supplement is often due to impaired gut function.  Choosing instead the regular consumption of bone broth would be the superior alternative.  

For the rest of us, a high quality source of hydrolyzed collagen peptides has shown to have dramatic, long lasting effects. Remember that collagen is needed everywhere in the body, including the brain! So, if you are taking collagen supplements to improve your skin or joint health, is important to note that your body will put it to it's best use so visible results may elude you. Over time, as the body's thirst for collagen is quenched, a reduction in joint pain and better skin structure is likely to become noticeable.

Make sure you choose collagen over gelatin, and that the collagen is hydrolyzed and rendered from 100% grass fed cattle. I have not found a maker who sources their hides in the US, only imported. Many companies get theirs from Brazil and other south American countries. They advertise as grass fed but there is some question as to the validity of that claim based on the standards in those countries. That said, I found one company, Antler Farms. Their products are sourced and made in Germany, where organic and grass fed standards are more strict and transparent than in the USA.


HOW TO PREPARE A BONE BROTH

This is how I prepare my bone broth, you will find other ways but this is what I have found works for me. 

What you'll need: 

  • Find a source of bones from grass fed animal which are well covered with cartilage (a whole chicken carcass with skin is a good option - marrow bones devoid of connective tissue are not preferred) Good choices would be beef knuckles, oxtail, or shanks. The bones can be raw or cooked (save all of the bones from your meals by freezing them for this use).
  • A large stock pot
  • A metal sieve
  • 1 or 2, 1/2 gallon mason jars. I usually make a gallon of bone broth so I need 2 jar.  

  1. Place about 1 pound of bones in the stock pot and cover with 1.5 gallons of cold tap water. 
  2. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and put the pot in the refrigerator for an hour or 2 or over night. This helps extract some minerals from the bones. It is important to note that despite what you may have read, bone broth is NOT a rich source of minerals, regardless of this step. So I often skip it and proceed to the next step.
  3. Bring the pot of bones to a boil, then simmer for about 12 hours. I do not bother skimming or straining the broth during cooking. After 12 hours or so I pour the broth through a large sieve over a clean pot. I allow the bones to cool enough to handle, then remove and break apart all of the meat and cartilage from the bones and put it all back in the pot. I find this step really increases the amount of dissolved gelatin in the final product. 
  4. Bring to a boil again, then simmer another 12 hours. Strain through the sieve again, allow to cool, before pouring into 1/2 gallon mason. Make sure the liquid is cooled or the jar WILL crack and make a huge mess - I know. 
  5. Put the jars in the refrigerator for 24 hours - 36 hours. When all of the fat has risen the top and hardened, it is easy to remove. What is left is a liquid rich in dissolved collagen. 
  6. You can now freeze the stock in ziplock freezer bags, or pour it into ice cube trays. Caution, 1/2 gallon mason jars WILL break if you try to freeze the stock in it, from experience!  
  7. Fresh, unfrozen stock should be consumed within 4 days. Use the stock to make soups, stews and gravy.
  8. I add collagen peptides when I make the soup, stew or gravy to increase the collagen richness. 

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