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Why is chicken soup good when you have a cold?

Joel H. Fuhrman, MD
Family Medicine
Chicken soup has almost no effect on the common cold or other viral infections; however, eating lots of hot soup may temporarily lessen nasal symptoms, but certainly would not shorten the duration of infection. In fact, it may even lengthen the duration of illness via suppression of mucosal flow and white blood cell movement.

Overall, the important point regarding eating when ill is to eat lightly and avoid animal products (like chicken) that are more demanding to digest. In other words, make it vegetable soup over chicken soup.
Super Immunity: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body's Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free

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Super Immunity: The Essential Nutrition Guide for Boosting Your Body's Defenses to Live Longer, Stronger, and Disease Free

In Super Immunity, world-renowned health expert and New York Times bestselling author of Eat to Live Dr. Joel Fuhrman offers a nutritional guide to help you live longer, stronger, and disease...
Chicken soup is good when you have a cold for several reasons. First, it helps keep you hydrated. You need at least eight glasses of fluid a day when you’re sick. Second, the steam from chicken soup helps relieve a congested nose and throat. And finally, some researchers believe that substances in chicken soup reduce the inflammation associated with a cold.

Hot chicken soup has been regarded for centuries as a "cure" for common colds.  While research affirms that this is not a cure, hot chicken soup is a potent mucus stimulant, especially when it is loaded with pepper, garlic, hot curry powder, and other pungent spices that help to thin out mucus in the mouth, throat, and lungs.  

Chicken also contains a natural amino acid called cysteine, which is similar in chemical content to a drug called acetylcysteine that doctors give for bronchitis and respiratory infections to help thin mucus and make it easier to eliminate. You might throw in some chili peppers and spices and gain an extra advantage in thinning mucus, making it easier to expel.

Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine
Eating chicken soup when you have a cold helps because you're breathing steam, which loosens up congestion. You are also hydrating. And you are not taking antibiotics -- all the right treatment for simple upper respiratory viruses!
In fact, chicken soup is good for soothing both cold and flu symptoms.  The hot soup helps break up the congestion associated with both colds  and the flu. The salt in the soup and its warmth can soothe a sore throat. A 2000 study claimed to have shown that it also has anti-inflammatory  properties, which can relieve congestion too, although this is still uncertain.

A scientific study found that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, it relieves congestion by reducing the movement of white blood cells in the upper respiratory tract.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.