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!
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.
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.
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).