Grandma was right, one of the best things to do for yourself when you’re down for the count with a cold is a steaming bowl of chicken soup. A couple of researchers from University of Nebraska Medical Center decided to put this age-old remedy to the test—and the results are pretty incredible.
The Test of Time
Having a bowl of chicken soup for what ails you is nothing new—in fact, people have been swearing by the cure since ancient times. Used as a form of folk medicine in cultures across the world—including Bulgaria, China, France, Indonesia, Russia and Poland—chicken soup has been helping people heal for hundreds of years. During the 12th century, Jewish physician and rabbi, Moses Maimonides, detailed the health benefits of chicken soup in his book, On the Cause of Symptoms.
Modern Day Research
In 2000, the medical journal, Chest, published Dr. Stephen Rennard’s research and analysis of his wife’s recipe for chicken soup, passed down to her from her Lithuanian grandmother. Through his tests, Dr. Rennard found that the soup seemed to stop or slow down the migration of certain white blood cells to the upper respiratory tract, which reduced the cold symptoms that come along with upper respiratory infections.
When your body catches a cold, this viral infection causes inflammation which triggers a form of white blood cells, neutrophils, to flood the inflamed area. While neutrophils are there to help the body, they actually have little ability to kill a virus and instead initiate the production of mucous—leading to other common cold symptoms, stuffy head, sneezing, runny nose, coughing, etc.
Along with Dr. Rennard’s research, others have found some positive effects from consuming chicken soup when sick with a cold. Mount Sinai researchers in Miami studied the effect chicken soup had on air flow and mucous by having 15 volunteers with colds drink cold water, hot water and chicken soup. They found that the chicken soup increased the movement of mucous better than hot or cold water. Other research published in the magazine, Coping with Allergies & Asthma, found that chicken soup increased the function of cilia, which help prohibit contagions from entering the body.
Healing Properties of the Ingredients
Unfortunately, research hasn’t been able to determine what ingredients in the soup hold the healing powers—but most suspect it’s the combination of chicken and vegetables. Dr. Rennard’s grandmother-in-law’s recipe contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper.
If you can, make your soup at home from whole, organic ingredients and avoid adding any ingredients with flour, like noodles, which can actually increase inflammation. Store-bought and canned soup is loaded with sodium and many of the vegetables have likely lost much of their nutritional value. You can even make the same recipe used in Dr. Rennard’s study! Visit the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s website to find the family recipe.