Food & Fitness, Food Facts & Lore

Chicken Soup… Myth or Fact?

Chicken Soup will cure your cold; veggies make you strong and bold.

Grandma’s chicken soup. A healing comfort for centuries across Europe and America, one that retains a strong presence in the collective memories of folks who grew up in the 20th century and before. But do these remedies mean anything to younger generations anymore?

It is said that we lose much more than traditions when we forget the origin of the foods on our table. We also lose parts of our own history and parts of that down-to-earth wisdom those before us learned from observation. They did not need science to back what they knew was true. Chicken soup had a distinct and measurable effect on the common cold. That was knowledge enough.

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Old wives’ tale? Placebo or scientifically sound? You might think that the most obvious way to access this might be to simply administer chicken soup to individuals suffering from a cold and see if they heal faster than others deprived of this tasty and comforting potion. This indeed would prove the point, but scientists like to look beneath the surface, and there is great merit to that. It expands our horizons.

Over 10 years ago, a group of researchers did just this, but in a manner that revealed the poultry potion’s true abilities beyond any doubt. They did use a group of subjects, but did not serve the soup.

The researchers, based at the Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, made chicken and vegetable soup using a whole chicken. When it had cooked, they removed the chicken entirely and saved the broth, ran the vegetables through a food processor and returned them to the broth. No one ate the soup. Instead, the subjects, who were healthy, tobacco-free individuals, donated blood.

Our blood contains a type of white blood cell called neutrophil. Neutrophils are drawn to germs because of chemicals, called chemotactic factors, that are present when these germs invade us. The germs themselves do not cause cold symptoms; it is the encounter between neurophils and chemotactic factors that causes these.

The researchers extracted the neutrophils from the blood samples and placed them and chemotactic factors in close proximity. Then, they added the chicken soup to the mix. Here is what happened: The soup inhibited the neutrophils from being drawn to the chemotactic factors, which in turn meant the common cold symptoms could not develop.

In other words, chicken soup does not actually cure a cold; it only diminishes or prevents symptoms.

It appears that grandma, in all her wisdom, probably knew another scientific secret: that we believe trusted authority figures. If your beloved grandmother tells you that her delicious and comforting soup will cure your cold, and your symptoms subsequently disappear, than it stands to reason that you would feel strong and cured and able to carry on cheerfully. A good attitude surely helps the healing process along.

If the components of chicken soup do not actually cure a cold, the interaction with that trusted soul who makes the time to feed you the comforting, time-honored meal, and the sensory experience it provides, surely do a body good.

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