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!