A pediatrician recently told me that to treat colds, chicken soup may be a better choice than over-the-counter cough and cold medicines.
Now, with government experts questioning the safety and effectiveness of cold medications for kids, the best option for parents this cold and flu season may be home remedies like chicken soup. As it turns out, a handful of scientific studies show that chicken soup really could have medicinal value.
The most widely cited of these studies, published in the medical journal Chest in 2000, is by Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He conducted laboratory tests to determine why chicken soup might help colds, beginning with his wife’s homemade recipe, handed down by her Lithuanian grandmother. Using blood samples from volunteers, he showed that the soup inhibited the movement of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection. Dr. Rennard theorizes that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup essentially helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms.
The researchers couldn’t identify the exact ingredient or ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds but say it may be the combination of vegetables and chicken that work together. The tested soup contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper. The full recipe, as well as the scientific article, are available on the university’s Chicken Soup Web site. The researchers also compared commercial soups and found many of them also had a similar inhibitory effect.
Another study by Mount Sinai researchers in Miami also suggests that chicken soup has more than just a placebo effect. They looked at how chicken soup affected air flow and mucus in the noses of 15 volunteers who drank cold water, hot water or chicken soup. In general, the hot fluids helped increase the movement of nasal mucus, but chicken soup did a better job than the hot water, according to the 1978 report, also published in Chest. Chicken soup also improves the function of protective cilia, the tiny hairlike projections in the nose that prevent contagions from entering the body, according to a 1998 Coping With Allergies and Asthma report.
None of the research is conclusive, and it’s not known whether the changes measured in the laboratory really have a meaningful effect on people with cold symptoms. However, at the very least, chicken soup with vegetables contains lots of healthy nutrients, increases hydration and tastes good, too.
Article by Tara Parker Pope.
Originally posted on nytimes.com.