Monday, February 25, 2008

Does Chicken Soup Really Cure a Cold?

Natural healers have known for over 2000 years that how to stop a common cold is with chicken soup.

The twelfth century Jewish philosopher and doctor Maimonides recommended chicken soup for colds in his medical text, noting that he adapted the recipe from classical Greek sources written over fifteen hundred years before his time.

It became the custom of Jewish housewives in what is now Germany to "boil a chicken to death" to make a hot and healing remedy for colds. Chicken soup became so widely recommended in Jewish tradition that it became known as Jewish penicillin and (after "Buby," or grandmother) bubymycin. Other cultures, of course, cook chicken soup with their own special variations. But it is only recently that scientists have begun to understand just how it is that chicken soup is demonstrably prophylactic against colds and other upper respiratory infections.

A research team at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha made chicken soup following the recipe of one of the researchers' grandmothers, Yda Zment. Mrs. Zment made her chicken soup by boiling a chicken for 90 minutes with onions, sweet potato, parsnips, turnips, carrots, and parsley, removing fat from the broth as it accumulates. After 90 minutes, she removed the chicken (for use in other dishes) and then put the vegetables and the broth in a food processor to make a fine puree.

The resulting "chicken soup" is then strained and drunk hot.

The Nebraska researchers took Grandma Yda's chicken soup to the lab to see whether it attracted or repelled a culture of neutrophils, the white blood cells that trigger inflammation in the nose, sinuses, and throat. As they tested varying concentrations of chicken soup and neutrophils, the found that the soup repelled the neutrophils. Chicken soup in a test tube stopped inflammation dead in its tracks.

The researchers also found that no one vegetable in the soup provided any special antioxidant that stops inflammation. Instead, it is the combination of vegetables, simmered together, that's curative. In fact, several of the vegetables by themselves can be made into extracts that are cytotoxic, that is, that kill healthy cells. The soup as a whole, however, does not.

A well-strained chicken soup is just right for relieving sore throat. Tiny particles of vegetables interfere with the neutrophils' ability to "crawl" over the lining of the throat, keeping them from causing pain.

What if you're a vegetarian? Is there a vegetarian "chicken soup"?

Well, yes, there is, but you use different vegetables. For vegetarian relief of colds and flu, try miso. This remedy is so old it even appears in an 1800-year-old Chinese medical textbook, the Shang Han Lun. It's the combination of soy and green onion that triggers a perspiration reflex that also stops pain in the throat.

Whichever remedy you use, there's one old adage that isn't true.

You shouldn't feed a cold, as I explain in more detail here.

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