Does Chicken Soup Really Fight Viruses?

050820_Getty Chicken Soup

When you were little and got sick, along with access to the TV all day, your mom probably brought you a bowl of chicken soup. What was once thought of as a folk remedy may actually have some real benefits. Here’s how slurping down a bowl does your body good:

Chicken and veggies may fight viruses

Homemade chicken soup may exert anti-inflammatory activity on neutrophils, the white blood cells that respond to infection, found a now-famous study published in the journal CHEST in 2000. This, in turn, may help alleviate symptoms of a cold.

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It’s all about the ingredients—and their interaction as they cook. “This study shows that both the vegetables and chicken reduce inflammation and possibly even kill the virus,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, a board-certified allergist and immunologist with Allergy and Asthma Network and New York University School of Medicine in New York City. So, vegetarian versions may also provide some benefit, she says. (One note: it’s important to remember that this was done in vitro—a test tube/Petri dish—so the results would need to be replicated in humans. It’s also one of the only pieces of research on chicken soup we have.)

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Warm soup can clear a stuffy nose

Some of the benefits of a steaming bowl of soup are all about what you’re inhaling. “Heat and steam help with mucus and congestion and have a soothing effect on sore throat,” says Parikh.

Soup helps hydrate

It’s important to stay hydrated whether sick or well but keeping up with liquid intake can get you better faster. “Dehydration impacts your ability to fight infections,” says Parikh. “Fevers dehydrate the body, as does diarrhea, which is common in viral infections,” she says, adding that most people should be drinking two to three liters of water at this time. It’s easy to forget that what you eat can also provide the fluids an ill body needs—and soup is a great way to drink up.

The bottom line

Think of chicken soup as supportive care—meaning it’s one thing you do to make you feel a bit better while your body fights the virus—not a cure for it. As the CHEST study notes, potential antiviral benefits vary widely between brands, says Parikh. The study used a homemade “grandma’s recipe,” so it’s best if you can make your own (or better yet, ask someone in your household to make it for you). Try these easy versions: Classic Chicken Soup, Ginger Chicken Soup with Vegetables, Spring Chicken Soup, and even a recipe nicknamed “Immunity Soup.”

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