Chicken Soup: The Home Remedy for Colds That Doctors Love

Learn about the medicinal properties in chicken soup that could help fight respiratory viruses

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A staple of many world cuisines could be more than just comfort food. In a 12th-century treatise, the great medieval rabbi, physician, and philosopher Moses Maimonides recommended chicken soup for treating respiratory tract disorders and he may have been on to something. Today, science suggests that a warming bowl of chicken-and-vegetable soup may not only provide good nutrition, it may even help relieve cold symptoms. (Here are other cold remedies worth trying.)

How chicken soup may help

Researchers from the Nebraska Medical Center tested a traditional chicken soup recipe, which was cooked and liquidized for the laboratory experiment. It was also tested at different preparation stages to determine the individual actions of its ingredients and how they might relieve cold symptoms. (Not sure if you need of a cold remedy? Here are unusual symptoms that can be caused by a cold.)

benefits-chicken-soupistock/Anett Bakos

The study, published in the journal Chest in 2000, showed that chicken soup components could inhibit the movement of immune system cells called neutrophils. It’s possible this could help suppress the body’s natural inflammatory response to an infection, including the streaming flow of mucus that normally accompanies a cold. Each of the ingredients showed a similar effect, suggesting that you could get the same impact from vegetable soup.

A 2012 study in the American Journal of Therapeutics noted that chicken is rich in a compound called carnosine. According to researchers, carnosine influences the body’s immune response and could further help fight off viruses. A variety of phytochemicals within the vegetables have medicinal properties, too. And, while simply drinking hot liquids is known to relieve congestion by loosening secretions, past research suggests that chicken soup does this much more effectively than mere hot water.

Get the most out of chicken soup

Here are the basics of the traditional recipe used, though other versions can work just as well, according to the Nebraska researchers who tested commercial brands as a comparison.

Ingredients:

5 pounds chicken
1 package chicken wings
3 large onions
1 large sweet potato
3 parsnips
2 turnips
12 large carrots
5 celery sticks
Parsley, salt, and pepper to taste

Place the chicken in a large saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Add all other vegetables except the celery and parsley and cook for 90 minutes. Add the celery and parsley, cook for another 45 minutes, then remove the chicken (which can be used in another dish). Chop the vegetables in a food processor; season soup to taste.


Safety first:

No adverse effects of chicken soup are known, except when whole chicken bones or bone fragments have been swallowed. Now, see if other classic remedies, like zinc, are also effective for symptom relief.

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Sources
  • Chest: “Therapeutic Efficacy of Chicken Soup”
  • Chest: “Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro”
  • American Journal of Therapeutics: “Management of the virulent influenza virus infection by oral formulation of nonhydrolized carnosine and isopeptide of carnosine attenuating proinflammatory cytokine-induced nitric oxide production”
  • Chest“Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance”