Chicken Soup- actually helpful?

It’s that time of year at Penn State- when everyone’s sick and I can’t walk into one of my lecture classes without hearing a symphony of coughs. With all the new germs around and the close proximity of living that most of us freshmen are not used to, it’s almost impossible not to experience some kind of illness during this first semester. A busy schedule makes it hard to find time for the health center, so is there anything you can do at home to shorten your cold? I’m sure we’ve all heard chicken soup helps, but does it actually? The null hypothesis would be that chicken soup doesn’t have any real affect on sickness while the alternative would be that it helps your cold in some way! I researched this old wives tale and overwhelmingly, the answer seems to be yes, it helps!


First Study

Perhaps the most famous study done on this topic was by Dr. Stephen Rennard. The overall conclusion in this study was that chicken soup helps inhibit the movement of neutrophils (or “chemotaxis” of neutrophils, which is migration of an organism is due to a stimulus entering the system), Neutrophils are leukocytes (or commonly known as white blood cells) that help fight infection. This helps reduce inflammation in the upper-respiratory system, or the area that becomes inflamed when you have a cold. Anti-inflammation is just one of the suggested mechanisms for this link between chicken soup and feeling better from an illness. This chemotaxis was seen when Dr. Rennard tested different dilutions of the soup on blood samples. He observed that the more concentrated the soup was, the better job it did at inhibiting neutrophil chemotaxis. However,they found that this constraining of white blood cells was only present in the soup as a whole (the vegetables and chicken together). Each individual ingredient wouldn’t have the same effect. It does not appear that the soup being homemade or store-bought had any affects on the outcome.chick-soup

Other conjectured mechanisms about why chicken soup helps colds have been that hot fluids such as soup help to loosen congestion and help move mucus through your system quickly, giving this unwanted substance less time to settle in your system.

Second Study

This would suggest that all hot liquids would have the same effect on curing colds as soup, but one study says different. According to Mount Sinai researchers, chicken soup does a noticeably better job at moving mucus through your system than just hot water. They had 15 people with clogged nasal pathways drink either cold water, hot chicken soup or hot water. The people who had soup had the clearest system (system with the least mucus) after the experiment. The size of this experiment gives way to doubt. 15 people can only prove so much and this experiment would have to be repeated on a much larger scale and many more times of it have any credibility.

Other proposed mechanisms? Liquids and soups help a person stay hydrated. Hydration is a very underrated aspect of health, as most humans don’t even realize how dehydrated they are. Having a lot of soup at the time of illness can definitely help with hydration. Another idea is that soup has what’s known as the TLC element. Comfort is a huge part of feeling better and chicken soup is the ultimate comfort food. Having chicken soup and someone to take care of you can be just as important to recovery as medicine. Although, this idea has so many confounding variables (the soup isn’t the thing making you feel better, the love is).

It seems the first study has the most credibility and staying power. That study was done in 2000,
 yet people have been eating chicken soup to feel better for centuries. It appears this topic falls
victim to the same problem we discussed in class, that the pirates had when using lemons or
citrus to cure scurvy. They knew it was helping but they didn’t know the mechanism. This test
done by Dr. Rennard is the first real evidence we have to reject the null hypothesis and believe
that chicken soup truly helps illness!
Next time you’re sick, don’t knock this old tradition. It may really help!

6 thoughts on “Chicken Soup- actually helpful?

  1. Brendan Mironov


    Your blog immediately made me think of the first class session where Andrew mentioned that we tend to believe things because people who we admire and respect tell us these things instead of actually using science to discover them. Ever since I can remember, I have been told to eat a bowl of chicken noodle soup whenever I get sick (as recently as last week!). I always thought it would help with my cold because my mom told me it would, and she is always right, not because of science. I am glad to find out that there is actually science to back this up. I am interested to find out if things like tea, coffee, and other soups are as effective, more effective, or less effective than consuming chicken soup.

  2. Samantha Francesca Sichenze

    Great blog! Being sick this past week, all I wanted was a bowl of chicken noodle soup. As a child, chicken noodle soup always made me feel better when I had a cold. I was interested on how it could make a person feel better, due to the fact that there is no medication in it. However, I agree with you’re idea that it’s the love that makes the person feel better. The feeling of comfort and nurturing can truly help someone when they are feeling under the weather. Chicken noodle soup isn’t the only non-medicine that can help a person feel better when they are ill. In this article,, it explains how animals can help a person feel better. So when you’re sick in bed, all you need is a delivery order of chicken noodle soup and a puppy to make you feel better!

  3. Griffin Lambert Brooks

    Growing up whenever I got sick I would eat chicken noodle soup and ginger ale. I think its a personal preference. I don’t think they scientifically help but sure makes you fell better because of the myth that everybody associates it with. When you’re sick your also have no appetite. Chicken noodle soup is primarily bland so eating it one you’re sick it settles your stomach which is possibly why we think we feel better after eating it.

  4. Erin Kelly

    I loved this article! I always eat soup to feel better and my mom makes it for me and my siblings when we’re feeling bad. However, I would have thought that homemade soup would have more profound effects because homemade foods tend to be healthier with less preservatives. It makes me wonder what property of the soup is acting helping with the toxins. If you were to compare the effects of chicken soup on colds versus other types of similar soups, would it have the same effects?

  5. Gulianna E Garry

    Before reading your blog, I loved the layout of it! It was much easier to stay focused and actually want to read about the topic. As for the chicken soup, I found it really interesting that it does indeed help. I remember when my mother would make chicken soup when I was sick I would feel better, but I wasn’t sure if it was just in my head that was making me believe it tasted better. As well as eating chicken soup when I was sick, my mother would also make me grilled cheese and tomato soup. I decided to look up if tomato soup was actually beneficial, and sure enough just like the chicken soup it was! Here is a link explaining the benefits of eating tomato soup!

  6. Margaret Eppinger

    One aspect of your post I found interesting was the idea that hot liquids help because they move congestion. I often drink tea when I’m sick, so this was of particular interest to me. I was drawn to the study you cited about soup having a greater impact than other hot liquids. Since the study was so small, I wondered if there were other studies that could point to that same conclusion, or whether other studies found that all hot liquids have the same impact. I found this article in the New York Times about this very topic: In the article, they cite a study that found that hot beverages in general help to ease cold symptoms compared to beverages at room temperature. However, this study was also pretty small, drawing a conclusion from just 30 people, and unfortunately did not contain any information about soup specifically. It seems, though, that hot liquids in general seem to help colds, which explains why soup has the same effect.

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