Got a cold or flu? UNMC researcher says try chicken soup to ease symptoms

by Vicky Cerino
October 04, 2012

Have a cold or upper respiratory flu? You might try chicken soup to ease the symptoms.

In a study published in 2000 in the scientific journal, CHEST, University of Nebraska Medical Center physician and researcher Stephen Rennard, M.D., found that chicken soup may ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. The study has received international attention since 1993 when it was first presented at a conference in San Francisco.

The research was originally conducted in 1993 when Dr. Rennard’s wife, Barbara, prepared three batches of chicken soup in their home, and Dr. Rennard studied in his laboratory under controlled conditions. Known as “Grandma’s Soup,” the recipe includes chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper.

“Everyone’s heard this from their mother and grandmother in many cultures,” said Dr. Rennard, Larson Professor of Medicine in the pulmonary and critical care medicine section at UNMC. “We found chicken soup might have some anti-inflammatory value.”

The suspected benefits of chicken soup were reported centuries ago. The Egyptian Jewish physician and philosopher, Moshe ben Maimon, recommended chicken soup for respiratory tract symptoms in his 12th century writings which were, in turn, based on earlier Greek writings. But, there’s little in the literature to explain how it works.

The study’s focus was to find out if the movement of neutrophils – the most common white cell in the blood that defends the body against infection – would be blocked or reduced by chicken soup. Researchers suspect the reduction in movement of neutrophils may reduce activity in the upper respiratory tract that can cause symptoms associated with a cold.

Researchers collected neutrophils – white blood cells -- from blood donated by healthy volunteers.

In their findings, the team found the movement of neutrophils was reduced, suggesting that chicken soup might have an anti-inflammatory activity, which may ease symptoms and shorten upper respiratory tract infections.

“A variety of soup preparations were evaluated and found to be variably, but generally, able to inhibit neutrophils,” Dr. Rennard said. “Many store-bought, prepared and even canned soups, had the same inhibitory effect.”

Though researchers were not able to identify the exact ingredient or ingredients in the soup that made it effective against fighting colds, they theorize it may be a combination of ingredients in the soup that work together to have beneficial effects.

Dr. Rennard said the soup also may improve rehydration and nutrition in the body and the psychological and physical comfort soup provides may also have benefit.

For more information about the study including a feature video, visit the website.

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