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Science Finally Shows What Grandma Knew All Along

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Oct. 17, 2000 -- Run, chicken, run! From the plains of Nebraska comes evidence to uphold a mother-hen myth: Chicken soup, prepared with a variety of vegetables, has been scientifically shown to inhibit a process that leads to the respiratory symptoms seen with the common cold -- and just in time for cold season.

Researchers at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha came up with this conclusion after first preparing and testing a homemade chicken soup containing a whole chicken and additional wings, onions, sweet potato, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery, and parsley. After cooking for a couple of hours, the chicken was removed and not used any further. The vegetables, meantime, were passed through a food processor and strained, then returned to the broth.

Healthy, nonsmoking volunteers made up the study subjects -- or rather, their blood did -- because the experiment was strictly done outside the body: No one ate the soup. Samples were collected, and neutrophils, a type of white blood cell important in defending the body against infections, were obtained from the volunteers' blood. "Neutrophils are responsible for migrating to sites where the body has been invaded [by germs]," says lead author Stephen Rennard, MD. "They eat germs and kill them." What draws them to those invaded sites are chemicals called 'chemotactic factors.' The whole reaction leads to inflammation -- and in the case of a cold, symptoms such as coughing."

To test the effect of the chicken soup, the researchers separated the chemotactic factors and neutrophils in a lab. After mixing the soup with the neutrophils, they checked to see whether it stopped the cells' tendency to move toward the chemotactic factors. If the soup worked, inflammation would not take place, and the symptoms of a cold might be avoided. The overall conclusion: Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil movement toward chemotactic factors. In other words, soup is good for a cold.

"There very clearly are medicinal or biologically active compounds in the soup. There's really no surprise. The vegetables we used are known to be chock full of active compounds," says Rennard. "To be right, we shouldn't say anything about what people should do in real life. However, if your grandmother always said you should take chicken soup when you have a cold, this would be data that could provide theoretical evidence to support that."

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