Lead in Bone Broth: a Threat or a Tempest in a Crock-Pot?

self-made bouillon de volaille (chicken broth).

self-made bouillon de volaille (chicken broth). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An article by Chris Kresser brought to my attention the idea that lead in bone broth might pose problems. Bone broth is widely used among people practicing GAPs diets and Paleo diets. Weston A Price proponents also tend to use bone broths. These broths are thought to be very healing.

English: Dense metaphyseal lines from lead poi...

English: Dense metaphyseal lines from lead poisoning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My own concern centers around my family’s use of bone broth. We’ve been using broths for some time and have really enjoyed them. To find that there may be some issues with lead accumulation is alarming, so I set out to find out what I could about that.

I could not find much in the way of good news. The study that brought this up is at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23375414. It looks to be a well done, though smallish study, done in England by Munro, Leon and Puri. published in “Medical Hypothesis” in Jan of 2013. They found elevated levels of lead in bone broth made from organic chicken. It is, apparently, well known that lead accumulates in bones. The lead concentration in the broth reached 9.5ug/L. That is the same as 9.5 parts per billion (ppb). 15ppb is the EPA’s current legal limit for lead in drinking water. The FDA considers 23ppb to be the ‘level of concern, and there is an upper limit of 50ppb. Lead and arsenic have been found in fruit juices with the lead coming is at around 5ppv. Of course, the FDA did not voluntarily find that lead in juices, rather a lawsuit forced their hand. To me, that makes every food suspect. There is no government “watch dog” for heavy metal contamination.

This chicken broth report comes a year after the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention (ACCLP) released its letter to the CDC. The effects of lead have been widely studied and are known to lead to developmental and mental problems at extremely small dosages.

“Because no measureable level of blood lead is known to be without deleterious effects, and because once engendered, the effects appear to be irreversible in the absence of any other interventions, public health, environmental and housing policies should encourage prevention of all exposures to lead.” ACCLP letter to CDC

Lead warning on a gas pump at Keeler's Korner,...

Lead warning on a gas pump at Keeler’s Korner, Lynnwood, Washington. Keeler’s Korner, a former grocery store and gas station (built 1927) listed on the National Register of Historic Places, listed 1982, NRHP listing #51549. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A book by Lydia Denworth entitled “Toxic Truth: A Scientist, A Doctor and the Battle Over Lead” really puts some context into this issus. In 1923, people began using lead in gasoline as an anti-knock compound. In 1924, the Ethyl corporation was created by General Motors and Standard Oil to make and market tetraethyl lead as a gasoline additive. In 1975, after being sued,
the EPA ruled that all new cars must have catalytic converters, so no new cars would used leaded gas. In 1986, the EPA removed lead from gasoline completely. But during the 43 years when leaded gasoline was in use, about 30 millions tons of lead were dispersed into the air in the US.

Lead exposure damages cells in the hippocampus...

Lead exposure damages cells in the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory. Hippocampi of lead-exposed rats (bottom) show structural damage such as irregular nuclei (IN) and denaturation of myelin (DNS) compared to controls (top). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The efforts to stop lead pollution were very similar to the fight to get cigarette smoke declared cancerous. The industry fought tooth and nail in courts, in PR campaigns and by controlling academic funding to keep lead in gas. For the Advisory Committee for Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention to come out an say to the CDC that there is NO un-harmful amount of lead is amazing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Photo credit: Nrbelex)

But, there is a huge problem. Those 30 million tons of lead we spread around are not going to leave on their own. The exhaust pipe lead is everywhere. They even found it in Greenland and Anarctica. Unfortunately, lead accumulates in the top few inches of soil and just stays there. This means that grasses or grains grown in that soil will provide a source of bioavailable lead for animals that graze or which are fed grain.

I looked at some of the ways of remediation that have been attempted. Again, it is not a happy picture. One study by Rebekah Doyle at Brown University tried out remediation with compost and phosphates only to find that lead levels increased, but she did point that a group in Trail, British Columbia had has some success with remediation with HFO (hydrous ferric oxide).

Welcome to Trail BC

Welcome to Trail BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In another article, there was an attempt at soil remediation using plants to pull the lead out of the soil. They concluded “The results from three years of research showed that plants alone do not accumulate lead fast enough for phyto-remediation to serve as a practical remediation method.”

Another possible way to remediate lead loaded soil is with electrokenesis, but it seems good only for small plots and is energy intensive.

Most recommendations are to 1) remove the contaminated soil and treat is as hazardous waste or cover the soil over with a thick layer of earth, gravel or pavement. However, that won’t work for the vast areas of the world’s farmlands.

English: Earth moving down on the farm. Seen f...

English: Earth moving down on the farm. Seen from the B7042 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been found that diatomacious earth (DE) can be used to bind with lead making it bio-unavailable. DE is often added to livestock feed in order to decrease gut parasites and does not seem to harm the animal. It is possible to use DE in animal feed to bind with lead, but DE binds with other minerals as well, so high levels of DE might starve the animal of needed minerals. It might be possible to use higher levels of DE in pastured animals with the addition of clean, lead free mineral supplements and get a reduced lead level in the subsequent broths.

Add fish broth

Add fish broth (Photo credit: jyri)

Another idea is that fish broth, because it is from a completely different ecosystem is unlikely to be contaminated the same way that land animals are. And it has yet to be determined if beef bones or those from lambs, goats or pigs have the same sort of lead concentrating capacity that chicken bones have shown. There still needs to be more research, but there is hope.

Another approach is to try various strategies to bind the lead in the guts of people consuming leaded foods. Alginates in seaweed and bacteria have demonstrated ability to attract and bind heavy metals of all sorts in the gut. Perhaps they can also work in the soil. And finally, detox protocols may be needed as well.

English: Seaweed at Largs The exposed shorelin...

English: Seaweed at Largs The exposed shoreline is covered in this seaweed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, do we stop giving bone broth to our children?  Children are far more susceptible to all sorts of environmental hazards including lead, than adults. But, I’ve heard tales of fantastic recoveries due to GAPs and bone broth. But, what would you give your kids instead? Certainly not fruit juice which is contaminated, as noted above. Furthermore, we don’t know what levels of contamination are in many other possible foods. Perhaps is is better to stick with the ‘devil you know?’

Here are some links to tales about the successes of GAPs.











Obviously, we need to find a way to clean the environment of this scourge and there is research going on about how we might do that.We could use a larger research effort.

But I’m asking people who read this to reflect their own thoughts about this topic. Given this information, would you keep eating bone broth, or feeding it to your children? Please comment.

Randy Wright

UPDATE – Feb 26, 2013: Testing for lead. You cannot use most consumer lead test kits for finding out the levels of lead in your broth. They are not sensitive enough. The EPA has a list of labs from whom they recognize lead testing. Among those labs, I was able to confirm that EMSL Analytics can test bone broth samples. It is about $35 per sample. You can call them at 1-800-220-3675.

You can also download EPA lab list here.


Paques01 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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