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Good for what ails you

Chicken soup has been scientifically proven to help ease cold symptoms

There is an old physician’s saying that a cold, left untreated, will last seven days while a cold that is treated will last about a week.

Well I’m half way through a particularly virulent strain and feeling pretty miserable but I managed to throw together my favourite home remedy – spicy chicken soup. Sure, there are lots of cold medicines available at the local drugstore but most of those only treat certain symptoms and more often than not will leave you feeling more groggy and irritable and your wallet a little less fat. There are no cures for the common cold but easing the symptoms – sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, fatigue – can be done by throwing some key ingredients into a pot.

Chicken soup has long been a folk remedy for the common cold. There are historical records dating back to as early as the 12th century showing chicken soup prescribed as a cold and asthma remedy. More recently the medicinal claims have been put to the test and scientific research backs folk lore, chicken soup does help alleviate a cold, but the findings vary.

Pulmonary specialist and professor at the UCLA School for Medicine, Irwin Ziment, M.D., found that when chicken is cooked it releases an amino acid which chemically resembles acetylcysteine, a drug commonly prescribed for bronchitis and other respiratory ailments. He also points out that many spices that are traditional ingredients of chicken soup – pepper, garlic, or onions, for example (all ancient treatments for respiratory diseases) – help to thin mucous and make breathing easier.

Another researcher, Stephen Rennard, Larson Professor of Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Neb., used his wife’s Lithuanian mother’s recipe for chicken soup as the test subject in his work with inflammatory white blood cells, also called neutrophils. Inflammation in the bronchial tubes is often the result of an accumulation of neutrophils, which then cause cold symptoms such as congestion and coughs. Neutrophils showed less tendency to congregate in the presence of "Grandma’s soup", even when diluted 200 times. In other words, the chicken soup helped to slow the progress of a cold.

A true researcher, Dr. Rennard also tested various store bought soups with even better results. Knorr’s Chicken Flavor Chicken Noodle, Campbell’s Home Cookin’ Chicken Vegetable and Campbell’s Healthy Request Chicken Noodle were the three top brands (he tested several others too) that effectively slowed the progress of colds.

One could argue that any hot liquid which produces steam helps alleviate colds by increasing the flow of mucous, thereby reducing respiratory inflammation. But in controlled studies with hot water, chicken soup performed better. Studies also show that if chicken soup is drunk through a straw the benefit is not as good as if it is taken from a cup or a bowl, so it must have something to do with inhaling the soup’s aroma. In addition, it has also been shown that the effectiveness of chicken soup is in the broth, not the bits of chicken in the soup.

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