Dr. Robert Cook - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Robert Cook

Is Bone Marrow Bad For You?



Short answer

Bone marrow packs a nutrient-rich punch, offering beneficial fats, proteins, vitamins, collagen, and minerals. While it can support joint and skin health, its high saturated fat content means it should be consumed in moderation, especially for those with heart disease risks. Consuming it as part of a balanced diet heightens the benefits while managing potential drawbacks. Sourcing from safe, regulated suppliers is crucial to prevent contamination by pathogens like BSE.



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Long answer

Nutritional Value of Bone Marrow

Bone marrow is a fatty, jellied substance found in the hollow interior of bones. It's a traditional delicacy in many cuisines around the world and is rejoiced for its rich, buttery flavor. But what's the story behind its nutritional content? Assessing the nutritional value of bone marrow involves an understanding of its macro and micronutrient profile, which can have both positive and negative implications on health.

First, let's look at the basic nutritive elements bone marrow provides:

  • Calories: Bone marrow is calorie-dense, predominantly from its high-fat content. A tablespoon of bone marrow can contain approximately 125 to 130 calories.
  • Fats: A significant portion of the calories in bone marrow come from fats, with a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats. The ratio of these fats can vary, with approximately 30% being saturated while the rest are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Proteins: It contains a modest amount of proteins, essential for various bodily functions, including the growth and repair of tissues.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Bone marrow contains trace amounts of vitamins such as vitamin A, several B vitamins, and minerals like iron, zinc, selenium, and phosphorus. These are vital for maintaining many physiological processes.
  • Collagen: It's rich in collagen, the protein that's key for maintaining the strength and elasticity of skin and connective tissues.

Research also indicates that bone marrow may play a role in joint health due to its collagen content. A study published in the Nutrition Journal suggests that collagen can support joint health and possibly reduce symptoms of arthritis.

On the flip side, it's essential to consider the high saturated fat content in bone marrow. Excessive consumption of saturated fats is linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease, as per the American Heart Association. It is advised to consume such fats in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Due to the nutrient-rich nature of bone marrow, it should be approached as a complement to a varied diet rather than a staple. The high caloric value means it must be consumed in moderation, especially for individuals who are monitoring their caloric intake for weight management.

One cannot overlook the potential nourishment bone marrow offers, but like all foods, it is best enjoyed as part of a balanced dietary plan. When considering the role of bone marrow in a healthy diet, it's essential to weigh its nutritional merits against its fat content and caloric density.

Table 1: Nutritional breakdown of bone marrow per tablespoon (approximately 14 grams)

Nutrient Amount
Calories ~130
Total Fat 14g
Saturated Fat ~4g
Monounsaturated Fat ~7g
Polyunsaturated Fat ~0.7g
Protein ~1.5g
Vitamin A Trace amounts
B vitamins Trace amounts
Iron Trace amounts
Zinc Trace amounts
Selenium Trace amounts
Phosphorus Trace amounts
Collagen Present

Keep in mind that nutritional values may vary depending on the source and preparation method of the bone marrow. Consulting a health professional can provide further insight into how to fit bone marrow into an individual's specific dietary needs.

Concerns about Saturated Fat and Cholesterol in Bone Marrow

Bone marrow, a commonly consumed food in many cultures, is known for its rich, buttery flavor and is often hailed for its nutritional benefits. However, it's important to address concerns that arise due to the presence of saturated fat and cholesterol within bone marrow. When evaluating the impact of bone marrow consumption on health, especially concerning heart health, these two components cannot be ignored.

Saturated fats have long been implicated in the rising levels of cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association advises that saturated fats should comprise no more than 5% to 6% of your total daily calories. Given that bone marrow contains a significant amount of saturated fat, it's crucial for individuals with cardiovascular concerns to consider their intake carefully.

Regular consumption of foods high in cholesterol was previously thought to elevate blood cholesterol levels drastically. However, more recent studies suggest that the response to dietary cholesterol varies among individuals. Some people—termed "hyper-responders"—will experience a significant increase in blood cholesterol levels when they consume cholesterol-rich foods, while others will not. Although bone marrow is indeed a source of cholesterol, its effect on blood cholesterol levels may differ between individuals.

Let's delve into the numbers. Depending on the animal it's sourced from, a single serving (about 1 ounce) of beef bone marrow can contain:

  • Approximately 10 grams of fat
  • Of which 4.5 grams might be saturated fats
  • And around 14 milligrams of cholesterol

For comparison, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines recommend less than 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day for the average adult, assuming this affordability from other sources. As for individuals with heightened cardiovascular risk, including those with high LDL-cholesterol levels or existing heart disease, the suggested limit might be lower.

In consideration of these dietary limits, it's pertinent to recognize that the context of overall diet matter. Consuming bone marrow alongside a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins, can mitigate some concerns. Balance and moderation are key, as is receiving personalized advice if you have specific health conditions or dietary requirements.

Despite the apprehensions surrounding saturated fats and cholesterol, it is essential not to overlook the fact that bone marrow also contains beneficial compounds such as monounsaturated fats, which can help improve cholesterol profiles. Additionally, bone marrow provides some macro and micro-nutrients that support various body functions. Therefore, the decision to include bone marrow in your diet should be informed not only by considerations around saturated fats and cholesterol but also by the potential health benefits it offers, through a holistic lens.

Ultimately, understanding how saturated fats and cholesterol in bone marrow can impact individual health is a complex matter. It is highly recommended to consult with a healthcare provider or a dietitian to assess personal health status and dietary goals when incorporating foods like bone marrow into a regular diet. By tailoring dietary choices to individual needs and health profiles, one can enjoy various foods, including bone marrow, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Bone Marrow and Collagen: Potential Benefits for Skin and Joints

When discussing the potential health benefits of bone marrow, its role in the production and supply of collagen cannot be overlooked. Collagen is a protein that's vital for maintaining the integrity of our skin and joint health. Let's delve deeper into how consuming bone marrow might be beneficial for these aspects of our wellbeing.

Collagen Synthesis: First and foremost, bone marrow is rich in the amino acids required for collagen production. Glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline found in bone marrow provide the necessary building blocks for creating collagen fibers, which are essential for skin elasticity and joint functionality.

Joint Health: Research indicates that collagen supplementation can support joint health by reducing inflammation and pain associated with conditions like osteoarthritis. Since bone marrow naturally contains collagen, incorporating it into your diet may have similar benefits. A study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences found that collagen derived from bone marrow might help improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, suggesting the potential for bone marrow to aid in joint health and comfort.

Skin Health: The collagen content in bone marrow also supports skin health. Collagen helps in maintaining skin hydration and elasticity, which is crucial for youthful skin appearance. Regularly consuming collagen-rich foods like bone marrow could contribute to skin that looks firmer and more radiant. A 2014 study in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology found that women who took a collagen supplement derived from pigskin, which is similar in composition to human collagen, experienced improved skin elasticity compared to those who did not.

Nutrient Absorption: Bone marrow fats enhance the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, which are essential for skin health and wound healing. These vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K, play critical roles in skin cell regeneration and overall dermal health. The fats in bone marrow might aid in the bioavailability of these nutrients, thereby indirectly benefiting skin health.

Ancient and Modern Perspectives: Traditional dietary practices often revered bone marrow for its nourishing properties, and modern nutrition is beginning to recognize these benefits as well. By blending ancient wisdom with contemporary science, we can appreciate the role of bone marrow in supporting collagen production and maintenance.

It's essential, however, to source high-quality bone marrow for consumption. Preferably, sourcing from organically raised and grass-fed animals will ensure that the bone marrow is free from unwanted chemicals and antibiotics, which can negate the health benefits.

In summary, while more research is needed to fully understand and quantify the effects of bone marrow on skin and joint health, the existing links between bone marrow, collagen production, and nutrient absorption suggest that moderate consumption of bone marrow could offer potential benefits. As with all food sources, variety and balance in your diet are key, and bone marrow should be considered a part of a holistic approach to health and nutrition.

Risk of Contamination in Bone Marrow: BSE and Other Pathogens

When discussing the safety of consuming bone marrow, it is crucial to consider the potential risks of contamination with various pathogens. Bone marrow, like any animal product, can be a carrier for infectious agents if not handled or sourced properly. The two main concerns when it comes to bone marrow contamination are Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, and the transmission of other bacteria and viruses that could cause illness.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)

BSE is a neurodegenerative disease found in cattle, which can have dire consequences if transmitted to humans through contaminated beef products, including bone marrow. Human contraction of BSE leads to a condition known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), which is fatal and has no cure. Strict regulations and surveillance systems have been implemented, especially after the BSE outbreak in the 1980s and 1990s, to minimize the risk of BSE-contaminated products entering the food supply. When sourcing bone marrow, it is essential to select products from countries with a known low incidence of BSE and to opt for suppliers that adhere to rigorous testing and safety standards.

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs)

BSE is one of several Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) that affect animals. These diseases are caused by prions, which are misfolded proteins capable of inducing abnormal folding of normal cellular proteins. Prions are incredibly resistant to common methods of sterilization and can lead to devastating effects on the brain. While BSE is the most recognized form that can impact humans, other TSEs underline the importance of ensuring the bone marrow is sourced from healthy, well-monitored animals.

Other Bacterial and Viral Contaminants

In addition to the risk posed by prions, bone marrow can also be contaminated by a range of other pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, or Listeria. These bacteria, and some viruses, are typically introduced through poor slaughterhouse practices or cross-contamination during processing and packaging. Eating bone marrow from animals that are raised in unsanitary conditions or slaughtered in facilities with low hygiene standards increases the risk of exposure to such pathogens. Cooking bone marrow to an appropriate temperature generally helps eliminate these potential threats, but sourcing from reputable suppliers remains the best defense.

Consumers are advised to thoroughly research the origin of their bone marrow and to and ensure it has been subject to proper safety inspections. This is especially important for individuals who choose to consume bone marrow raw or lightly cooked, as is common in some culinary practices. Cooking bone marrow to an internal temperature recommended for eliminating pathogens, typically around 160°F (71°C), is a key step in reducing the risk of contamination.

To summarize, while bone marrow can be a nutritious addition to the diet, it is not without its risks. Awareness and precaution regarding the source and handling of bone marrow are essential to avoid the transmission of BSE and other harmful pathogens. As a consumer, you have the power to choose high-quality, safe food products by staying informed about their origins and the safety measures taken by producers.

Culinary Uses of Bone Marrow and Balance in Diet

Bone marrow, a spongy tissue found inside bones, has been a staple in cuisines around the world due to its rich flavor and nutritive properties. Its culinary uses are diverse, ranging from being spread on toast to being the base for broths and stocks. When incorporated into a balanced diet, bone marrow can provide several health benefits, but it's crucial to consider the portion size and frequency of consumption.

Roasted Marrow Bones: This is perhaps the most direct way to savor bone marrow. Seasoned with salt and roasted until rich and spreadable, roasted marrow is commonly served alongside toast and a parsley salad in many high-end restaurants. However, due to its high calorie and fat content, it should be consumed in moderation.

Marrow Broth: Bone broth made from marrow bones is praised for its potential health benefits, including support for joint health and the digestive system. The bones are typically simmered for an extended period to extract the marrow and nutrients. This creates a broth that's rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Bone broth can be a nourishing addition to a balanced diet, particularly when homemade to control sodium levels.

Soups and Stews: Marrow bones can be incorporated into soups and stews, adding depth of flavor and extra nutrients. For those mindful of their dietary balance, using marrow in this way provides a means to enjoy its benefits while also consuming an array of vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains found in these dishes.

When considering the inclusion of bone marrow in a balanced diet, it's necessary to weigh its nutritional content. Here's a breakdown:

  • Rich in Fats: Although marrow is high in beneficial monounsaturated fats, it also contains saturated fats. Balancing this with intake of healthy fats from plant sources can help maintain a healthy heart and blood cholesterol levels.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Marrow provides vitamin B12, riboflavin, and minerals like iron and phosphorus. These contribute to bone health, energy production, and overall well-being.
  • Collagen and Glycine: Two important substances for joint health. Glycine has also been observed to have sleep and cognitive benefits.

Expert Opinions: Many nutritionists recommend enjoying bone marrow as part of a nutrient-dense diet. Its high caloric density makes it important to consume it alongside a variety of other healthier, lower-calorie-density foods. The key to including bone marrow in your diet without adverse health effects is balance and moderation.

Moreover, studies suggest that the nutrients found in bone marrow may support immune function and gut health. For example, a study published by the Journal of Nutrition suggests that the amino acids found in marrow can be beneficial for maintaining the immune system and repairing the gut lining (Elango & Ball, 2016).

Incorporating bone marrow into a balanced diet requires considering your overall dietary patterns. Marrow is best enjoyed as part of a meal that includes plenty of vegetables and a good balance of other macronutrients to offset its rich nature.

Frequently asked questions

While bone marrow contains cholesterol, its impact on blood cholesterol levels can vary among individuals. Those with high cholesterol should consume bone marrow in moderation and consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice. Incorporating plant-based sources of healthy fats and consuming foods high in fiber can offset potential concerns.

Cooking bone marrow, especially roasting, can enhance flavor and potentially increase fat absorption. However, high temperatures might slightly reduce levels of heat-sensitive vitamins. To optimize nutrition, bone marrow should be cooked to safe temperatures while preserving its natural benefits.

Bone marrow is high in fats and low in carbohydrates, which aligns with the macronutrient distribution of a ketogenic diet. However, due to its high saturated fat content, it should be balanced with unsaturated fat sources. Individuals on a ketogenic diet should consult with a nutritionist to ensure variety and overall nutritional adequacy.

The ideal way to include bone marrow in a balanced diet is by consuming it in small portions as a complement to meals rich in vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Moderation is key, and individuals should be mindful of their overall fat and calorie intake when adding bone marrow to their diet.

Ask a question about Bone Marrow and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • nausea
  • indigestion

Possible long-term side effects

  • increased risk of heart disease
  • variant creutzfeldt-jakob disease (vcjd) from bse

Ingredients to be aware of

  • high saturated fat content
  • cholesterol
  • prions in case of bse contamination
  • potential bacterial and viral contaminants


  • rich in collagen
  • supports joint health
  • potentially improves skin elasticity
  • provides vitamins and minerals
  • source of glycine for immune support

Healthier alternatives

  • lean meats
  • plant-based fats
  • vegetable broths
  • collagen supplements

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Swanson Sipping Bone Broth

  • Rich in protein
  • Infused with ginger
  • Contains turmeric
  • Convenient sipping cup
  • Gluten-free
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-19-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-19-2024

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