Chicken Soup Really Is Good for a Cold

ByMelissa Schorr

B O S T O N, Oct. 17, 2000 -- Grandma was right, after all: Chicken soup is good for the cold, not just the soul.

Using an in-depth laboratory analysis of old-fashioned chicken soup, a team of medical researchers explored the science behind the broth’s reputation as salvation for the sniffly.

Dr. Stephen Rennard, a pulmonary expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, found evidence the soup contains anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent a cold’s miserable side effects.

“My wife’s grandmother says that chicken soup is good for colds,” explains Rennard, whose findings were published in the current issue of Chest, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians. “Just because your grandma said something doesn’t mean that it’s not true.”

Used in Ancient Times The idea that chicken soup, often dubbed the “Jewish penicillin,” has medicinal effects dates back to ancient times, but modern scientists have never fully deciphered the reasons.

Some doctors believe that the soup’s benefits are mainly psychosomatic, that it’s the ultimate comfort food. Others say the steaming hot soup clears congestion and provides the body with necessary hydration to flush out viral bugs.

Researchers believe colds are caused by viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. The body responds with inflammation, which triggers white blood cells to migrate to the area.

These bacteria-devouring cells, however, have little ability to kill off a virus, and as a side effect, stimulate the production of mucous, which may cause the traditional cold season symptoms of stuffy heads, coughs and sneezing.

In the lab, Rennard tested the ability of those white blood cells to migrate from one side of a chamber across a filter to the other side, as they normally do. In the presence of the chicken soup, however, he noted that fewer cells migrated to the other side of the chamber.

His theory is that some ingredient in the soup blocks or slows the amount of cells congregating in the lung area, possibly relieving the development of these cold symptoms.

Biological Basis Unclear

Rennard tested a family recipe passed down from his wife’s Lithuanian grandmother that contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery, parsley, salt and pepper.

The white blood cells migrated less often in the presence of each of the tasty ingredients. But it remains unclear what chemical compound within the ingredients prevented their motion.

“The biologically active material is unknown,” Rennard admits. “It may be that some complex chemistry takes place, that the entire concoction makes it work.”

If you’re feeling too sick to get out of bed and cook, take heart: Rennard also examined 13 brands of canned chicken soups and found many may work even better than homemade.

They included Knorr’s chicken noodle, Campbell’s Home Cookin’ chicken vegetable, Campbell’s Healthy Request chicken noodle, Lipton Cup-o-soup chicken noodle and Progresso chicken noodle.

“You hate it when your grandma’s soup doesn’t come in first,” Rennard says, “but in our house, in terms of which one taste best, grandma’s soup wins hands down.”