Does Chicken Soup actually help colds?

Bowl of clear chicken soup with noodle and vegetables

You’ve been hearing it for ages: If you don’t feel well, get yourself some chicken soup and you’ll be feeling better in no time. But is grandma telling the truth? Does chicken soup actually help you recover from a cold? In order to find out, I decided to use the scientific method and do some research.

First off, I needed to set up a null hypothesis and an alternative hypothesis to test. My null hypothesis would be: No, chicken soup does nothing to help you recover from colds. My alternative hypothesis would be that chicken soup DOES help you recover from colds.

The first study I found on the subject was done by Dr. Stephen Rennard, a researcher from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. It was Rennard who found out that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that can help ease cold symptoms. He tested the ability of white blood cells to go through a filter to another side of a chamber in the presence of chicken soup as researchers think colds are cause by infections that the body responds with through inflammation (which causes white blood cells to migrate to the area). These cells can’t do much, however, and just start the production of mucus, which causes the average cold symptoms of coughs, sneezing and a headache.

Rennard found that after testing 14 different chicken soups (including homemade and canned), the white cells migrated less when in the presence of the chicken noodle soup. Since there were less white cells that migrated, there were less to cause cold like symptoms. He concluded that chicken soup did in fact help colds. But can we trust his study? It was experimental, and was conducted using many different types of chicken soups, so it is very likely that the fact that the results were NOT due to chance. However, he could not find any biological basis for why less white cells migrated in the presence of the soup. While it is highly possible that he has yet to find the biological mechanism (like with lemon juice and scurvy), it is also a little harder to accept as a fantastic source since he has no science to back up his conclusion. Still, it is convincing that chicken soup helps fight colds.

Another study done by Mount Sinai researchers also shows that chicken soup isn’t just a placebo effect, as some believe. The researchers looked at how the soup affected 15 volunteer’s air flow and mucus. The volunteers drank cold water, hot water and chicken soup. The hot liquids (soup and hot water) both helped increase the movement of mucus (which helps people feel better), but the chicken soup actually helped more than hot water, meaning that something in the chicken soup is actually helping the movement of mucus. While a biological mechanism was not found in this study either, it also supports Rennard’s idea that chicken soup helps fights colds. This study also rules out one confounding variable- the idea that heat is the reason why chicken soup helps colds (and not chicken soup itself). Reserve causation is impossible in every study, since there is no way feeling better while having a cold can cause someone to have chicken noodle soup.

To build on both researchers work, one more report found chicken soup helps the cilia of the nose move faster so they can defend against contagions. Some of the ingredients in chicken soup were sent to the laboratory to see what helpful properties were involved, as it was found that organosulfides (found in garlic/onions) along with Vitamin D help start the production of macrophage, which is an immune cell. Vitamin C also effects interferon, another immune chemical. The vitamin A in carrots also helps antibody production. While that doesn’t tell us why less white blood cells migrate over in the presence of soup, it definitely helps support the idea that chicken soup ingredients help the body fight a cold!

Personally, I have always felt better after having my mother’s “Jewish Penicillin”. I would have it religiously until my cold was gone. So along with my personal experience and all the evidence above, I would have to reject the null hypothesis that chicken soup does not help people recover from colds. While it is not completely certain how or if exactly it cures colds, it definitely affects the body.

All in all, if you end up with the Penn State plague anytime soon, I would get some chicken soup to eat!




5 thoughts on “Does Chicken Soup actually help colds?

  1. Megan Ann French

    My mom would always give me chicken noodle soup whenever I wasn’t feeling well and I would also think is this actually helping? It would always feel good on my throat but I just thought it was the heat from the soup that was helping, I never thought about the ingredients in it. So I’ve decided to see what each ingredient has that benefits our bodies when we have the common cold, and here’s a breakdown of it.

  2. Margaret Kreienberg

    As I was reading your post I started to think about what things in chicken noodle soup could possibly serve as the mechanism for this. I wonder if the pasta, chicken chunks, and vegetables are better than the broth itself or is it the other way around? When I am sick, my mom always puts a chicken bouillon cube in a cup of hot water and makes me drink it up. Here are the ingredients in a Knorr Chicken Bouillon Cube:
    “Salt, monosodium glutamate, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, chicken fat, hydrolyzed soy/corn protein, dehydrated mechanically separated cooked chicken, dehydrated chicken meat, dehydrated chicken broth, autolyzed yeast extract, dehydrated onions & parsley, lactose, water, colour, spices & spice extract, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, citric acid, tartaric acid, hydrogenated soybean oil and sulphites.”
    One of these ingredients must be the reason for chicken soups healing affects, right? Perhaps a scientist should focus on these things and go into greater detail with the study.

  3. Caitlyn Ark

    Reading your blog it got me thinking that maybe chicken soups saltiness has something to do with helping you get better. The high levels of sodium could make you thirsty, getting more fluids going into your body and flushing out whatever bacteria in your body. Here is a blog post that talks a bit about how chicken soup helps increase hydration. Thanks for the great article!

  4. Colleen Byrne

    I’m always a fan of eating soup when I’m sick, and it’s nice to know that there are some scientific studies that back that up. It would be interesting to learn more about how the trials were conducted- did all of the volunteers have the exact same symptoms, meaning that soup only helps one strain of the common cold or one specific illness, or was it just random, sick people, because that could change the end result and hypothesis if chance becomes involved.

  5. Marcella Santos

    Since I was little my grandma, mom, aunts, and other relatives always feeded my cousins and I soup as a remedy for colds. I always just thought it was because it’s the best thing to eat/was just the norm to eat when you’re sick. Reading this post would’ve come in handy about a month ago when I found myself not only adjusting to Penn State as my new home but adjusting myself to the whole penn state plague. I was sick for about two weeks and found myself feeling more miserable than ever since I was away from home. Interesting enough I would make myself microwavable ramen in attempt to instantly cure my cold symptoms and found a lot better as well after having some. To actually know that there is science behind it is very interesting. I guess Andrew was right by saying science is behind everything. Thought the post was really interesting and I wonder if there are other foods like chicken soup that can have the same effect on a cold – might be another blog idea.

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