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How chicken soup helps fight off colds

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In Jewish tradition, chicken soup has long been considered a valuable aid to recovery from the common cold and other mild viral infections. It is often referred to in jest as “Jewish penicillin”.(Callie Jones)

Jewish medicinal use of chicken soup dates back to the renowned 12th century rabbi, physician and philosopher Moses Maimonides, who recommended it in his book ‘On the cause of symptoms’. He claimed that it “neutralises body constitution” as well as having general nutritional benefits.

But Maimonides was by no means the first medic to promote chicken soup. As early as AD60, the Greek physician Dioscorides, employed in the court of the Roman emperor Nero, hailed it as a treatment for respiratory illness.

Modern research suggests that Maimonides and Dioscorides were not wrong. Chicken soup really does help in fighting colds, partly because chicken meat contains the amino acid cysteine, a mild decongestant. And a recent study has demonstrated that the soup also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to ease congestion.

Research by Stephen Rennard, professor of medicine at the University of Nebraska, focused on how neutrophils respond in the presence of chicken soup. They usually rush to airways to destroy an invading virus, but they also trigger inflammatory response symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and nasal congestion. Dr Rennard found that his wife’s home-made soup slowed cell migration and reduced congestion, thereby helping eliminate one of the symptoms. However, his wife

was probably not pleased with another of his findings: that some store-bought chicken soups were much more effective than her own.

But Dr Rennard failed to prove that the neutrophil response was directly due to the soup’s chicken content. He acknowledges that the vegetables in traditional recipes also contain potentially active compounds such as vitamins and antioxidants.

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