Fact or Fiction? Chicken Soup as a Natural Cold Remedy
From ancient China to the European traditions that crossed the Atlantic to North America, grandparents have offered up chicken soup as the supreme cold remedy. The anecdotal evidence stretches so far back in history that medical studies have been conducted to find out if this time-honored therapy for the flu and common cold is myth or reality.
Medical science already knows that what we eat can affect our health.
The role that food plays in the management of diabetes and kidney disease is just one example. So when cold and flu season gears up, it comes as no surprise to the nutritional counselors at the National Stem Cell Institute (NSI) when the question comes up: is chicken soup really an effective cold remedy? So let’s see if we can separate fact from fiction surrounding this ultimate comfort food.
What Medical Studies Tell Us About Chicken Soup as a Cold Remedy
In 2000, a study that appeared in the medical journal Chest found evidence that chicken soup exhibited anti-inflammatory effects. The study speculated that chicken soup may act as a cold remedy by relieving symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.
The study involved observing the movement of neutrophils when added to chicken soup. A neutrophil is a type of white blood cell. It was discovered that neutrophil movement was slowed when the cells were combined with the soup. This suggests that chicken soup may have an anti-inflammatory mechanism that could be the basis for so many generations using the soup as a cold remedy. Then, again, maybe not.
The study’s author, Dr. Stephen Rennard, is the first to say the findings are not conclusive.
Dr. Rennard is a Larson professor of medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The doctor said that, regarding the soup as a cold remedy, “There are substances [in chicken soup] that could affect cells in the body, that could potentially have medicinal effects, but whether they are good or bad for you, we didn’t test.”
Dr. Rennard points out that the study did not use human subjects. Until human trials are included in studying chicken soup as a cold remedy, no one will know if the human body is even capable of absorbing the substances that appear to exhibit beneficial effects under laboratory conditions.
Dr. Rennard isn’t saying that chicken soup doesn’t have the “right stuff” to be classified as a cold remedy.
He is simply cautioning that much more research will be needed, including human trials. However, the 2000 study did suggest a biochemical or medicinal basis to chicken soup’s reputation as a way to reduce the symptoms of the common cold and the flu.
Can the Scent Alone from Chicken Soup be a Cold Remedy?
Another study published in Chest looked at the potential of inhaling the aroma of chicken soup as an effective way to clear sinuses and alleviate respiratory symptoms related to chest colds and the flu. The study focused on the heat and possible medicinal properties from the spices that may be carried in the soup’s fragrance.
The study was conducted back in 1978. Dr. Kiumars Saketkhoo, who did his residency and a fellowship at Mount Sinai Medical Center-Greater Miami, recalls, “It was fun study we did about 40 years ago in Miami Beach.” While the study doesn’t confirm chicken soup as a true cold remedy, it certainly helps us understand its reputation.
Unlike Dr. Rennard’s study in 2000, Dr. Saketkhoo’s involved human volunteers.
Fifteen healthy human subjects agreed to have tiny particles that mimicked a clump of bacteria or viruses inserted into their noses. The activity of the particles was measured before and after three elements were ingested: cold water, hot water, and our cold remedy candidate hot chicken soup.
The hot soup was shown to be more effective than hot water in stimulating the mucociliary transport system. This system is a defense mechanism within the human body that helps to protect against invading particles like the common cold or the flu. The mucociliary transport system is crucial in ridding the body of any respiratory infection.
“Whatever can make airways clear up faster may decrease risk of infection or clear an existing infection,” Dr. Saketkhoo said.
The cold water was the least effective in stimulating the mucociliary transport system. This outcome was no surprise to Dr. Saketkhoo, since it is known that sipping on hot fluids, in general, warms the bottom of the nasal pharynx. The warming of the nasal pharynx helps to improve symptoms of the common cold and the flu. Does this prove that chicken soup is a bona fide cold remedy? Maybe not, but it adds to the argument for it.
It was certainly notable to Dr. Saketkhoo and the research team that there is something in chicken soup that appears to give it an edge over simple hot water. Even so, after the study, Dr. Saketkhoo advised caution in coming to any absolute conclusions about chicken soup as a proven cold remedy. Not that the local community around Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami didn’t celebrate the study’s findings. In fact, not long after, a product marketed as “Mount Sinai chicken soup” began making the rounds.
One Thing Everyone Agrees On: Chicken Soup is Loaded with Nutrients
Studies on whether chicken soup is an authentic cold remedy or not may be inconclusive, but one thing medical experts do know is that the soup is nutrient-rich. That’s always a plus when fighting a cold or the flu. It is especially beneficial to those who struggle with poor appetite when they’re sick. Chicken soup has the added benefit of helping you stay hydrated during illness.
The majority of chicken soups, whether canned or homemade, provide loads of vitamins and minerals. These come from the vegetables, stock, and meat that are often part of a standard chicken soup recipe. For example:
- The vitamin A in carrots helps boost the body’s immune response.
- Chicken stock contains the mineral zinc which, in higher amounts, is believed to help fight a cold.
- Chicken meat is believed to help the body repair tissue.
Chicken soup may never garner the official title of “cold remedy.” But there is little doubt that it provides nourishment and a good deal of comfort, two things that boost everyone’s motivation to get well sooner.
Is There Any Truth to the Old Saying, “Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever?”
The adage of “feed a cold, starve a fever” is likely as old as the belief in chicken soup as a cold remedy. The difference, however, is that there is intriguing medical evidence that using chicken soup to fight a cold or the flu is beneficial while the “starve a fever” part of the old saying has been categorically debunked for decades.
The origins of why it was believed that starving or limiting food for someone suffering from a fever are murky at best. It may have to do with the ancient theory that when a person was sick with a cold, his or her body was literally colder than when healthy. So it may have been thought that “warming up” someone with hot food was a good cold remedy. Conversely, when someone was feverish, it may have been surmised that limiting food –especially hot food- cooled the person’s fever.
Fortunately, today we know that starving a sick person is NEVER a good idea.
Quite the opposite is true. Making sure the person receives proper nutrition and hydration is essential for recovery whether a fever is present or not. This is because, when someone is sick, his or her metabolic rate skyrockets. This is the natural reaction of the body as it fights a cold or the flu. Starving a feverish person is very much the opposite of a sound cold remedy.
The hotter the fever, the more energy is being exerted by the body in order to fight the illness. That means that someone who is sick needs more calories in order to support the higher metabolic rate. This is especially true for a child because children don’t have the same energy reserves as adults.
Today we know that both colds and fevers should be well fed.
Chicken soup fits the bill of restoring both nutrients and much-needed hydration. Dehydration, especially in children, is a particular concern when it comes to illness. The soup’s generally mild nature makes it easy for most people to digest, even those who experience nausea or a lack of appetite when fighting a cold or the flu.
Chicken soup may not be a proven cold remedy, but the nutrition and hydration it offers put it high on the list of good foods for those who are sick.
The Importance of Hydration
When we’re ill, whether a fever is present or not, the amount of hydration our bodies need is dramatically elevated. Regardless if an illness spikes the body temperature or drops it, getting plenty of fluids is critical for successful recovery.
For example: if a child’s temperature hovers at or drops below 96 degrees Fahrenheit, most doctors recommend a 20% increase in fluid intake. Conversely, if a child’s temperature rises to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the recommendation is a 30% increase in liquids.
Within reason, any type of liquid is fine.
Water is always good, whether the sick person is an adult or child. However, choosing drinks such as Gatorade or soup broth helps to replenish the sugar and electrolytes the body burns while fighting the cold or the flu, as well as that lost through sweating. While chicken soup isn’t a true cold remedy, it can be considered a super food in combating illnesses of many kinds.
The Importance of Nutrition and Calories in Fighting Illness
Though far from putting an official stamp on chicken soup as a cold remedy, Dr. Jon S. Abramson, pediatric infectious disease expert and World Health Organization chairperson, is on the same page with Doctors Rennard and Saketkhoo regarding the facts and evidence surrounding chicken soup:
“What [chicken soup] has is calories and salt, which your body needs. There has also been evidence that hot vapors from the soup can help clear congested nasal passages. And it is generally easy to stomach.”
Particularly in the case of children, calories and nutrition are critical in fighting off colds, the flu, and other infections because they do not generally have the fat stores which most adults can depend on while fighting illness. This means that any cold remedy for children should take all of this into consideration.
Grown Ups with Colds: Feed Both the Cold and the Fever, but Don’t Over-do It
Just as with children, calories are also an important cold remedy for adults. But because of years of building up the immune system through exposure to bacteria and viruses, the adult body is better equipped for fighting off illness.
For example- there are a variety of illnesses that can cause feverishness in a child. But in adults, fevers are almost always caused by strains of the flu. With adults, then, the concern lies more in keeping the adult well hydrated rather than fed.
Adults with colds should simply eat when they are hungry.
That being stated, modern medicine does not believe “starving a fever” as part of a cold remedy is ever a sound health choice. But for adults, it’s important to not consider a cold or the flu as carte blanche for busting a balanced and healthy diet. The best rule of thumb for adults with colds is to simply eat when they’re hungry.
But what if you aren’t? As with children, loss of appetite isn’t unusual when adults come down with a cold. Even if hunger pangs are infrequent, most adult bodies have the natural resources needed to get through a cold or the flu without forced feeding. In fact, in cases where nausea, vomiting or diarrhea are present it can be detrimental to force yourself to eat more than you want.
When fighting off a viral or bacterial infection, suppressing hunger is frequently the body’s way of conserving energy.
It takes energy to digest food. Therefore, by suppressing appetite, the body can devote that energy to fighting infection. For most adults, this is a plus rather than a minus since they have sufficient fat stores to sustain them for the average duration of a cold or the flu.
For adults, dehydration during illness poses greater risks; especially when fever is present. As with children, virtually any liquid is better than none at all. But whenever possible, hydration should include drinks that contain electrolytes.
Of course, this is not to say that some calorie intake isn’t essential for adults with colds as well.
But food choice becomes more important. Vitamin-rich and fiber dense foods, along with an increase in antioxidants, should trump fat intake. Which takes us right back to that stand-by cold remedy so sworn by for generations: chicken soup.
For kids and grown-ups alike chicken soup warms us, nourishes us, hydrates us, and comforts us when we need it most and is a key way to boost the immune system.
About the National Stem Cell Institute
The nutritional counselors at the National Stem Cell Institute (NSI) are always happy to answer any questions you may have about cold remedy facts and fiction. NSI is a leading regenerative medicine cell clinic based in the United States. NSI has helped people recover from disease, heal from injury, and improve quality of life. NSI is a fully licensed regenerative medicine facility (also known as stem cell clinics) that strictly adheres to FDA guidelines. Below, NSI offers tips on selecting the right stem cell clinic for you.
What to Look for in a Stem Cell Medical Clinic
When searching for a qualified stem cell therapy center it’s important to remember that not all of them are created equal. Stem cells, when used properly, are your body’s most powerful means for healing that can repair everything from ligaments, tendons, and cartilage to organs including your liver, pancreas and lungs and even neurological tissue like your brain, nerves, and spinal cord.
Unfortunately, the majority of so-called “regenerative medicine clinics” in the world aren’t trained in the latest, most technologically advanced procedures and will, therefore, provide poor results if any.
The good news is the National Stem Cell Institute (NSI) has established the most advanced stem cell and platelet rich plasma procedures on the planet which has drawn patients from all over the world as well as professional athletes and celebrities because they are recognized as the best in the world at stem cell therapy.
What makes NSI Stem Cell the top stem cell clinic in the world is demonstrated in 5 key areas:
1. Highly trained and experienced, board-certified doctors and team members who have performed stem cell procedures on thousands of patients with incredible results.
2. Cutting edge procedures utilizing all that regenerative medicine has to offer for many chronic degenerative conditions.
3. Leading scientific researchers who follow the advanced guidelines to maximize the healing potential of your stem cells and to maintain compliance and ethics
4. Use of only the most potent and viable resource of living, viable stem cells and harvested on the same day. No vial that you can purchase will contain living stem cells. If there is no harvest then there are no stem cells.
5. Post-operative guidance for supporting stem-cell growth including rehabilitation, diet and supplement protocols. NSI is a full-service healthcare center focused on patient outcomes. Stem cell therapy is only one tool used to help improve patients’ lives.
Patients have raved about their experience at NSI Stem Cell Clinics testifying that it was their unique cutting-edge procedures that helped them experience a breakthrough when nothing else worked.
If you want to learn more about NSI Stem Cell Clinics, you can set up a complimentary consultation today to see if you are a candidate. You can contact the National Stem Cell Institute at (877) 278-3623.
* Disclaimer: Individual patient results may vary. As each patient’s problem is different, each treatment must be tailored around your specific needs.