Chicken soup's true value may go beyond its taste

Posted: Jan. 26, 2013 4:54 pm Updated: Feb. 10, 2013 12:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Remember when grandma used to bring over a hot bowl of her chicken soup, promising it would cure whatever ails you?

Well, if the American Journal of Therapeutics is correct, Granny was way ahead of her time.

A recent study showed a compound found in chicken soup -- l-carnosine -- helps the body's immune system to fight the early stages of the flu and the viruses associated with it. But the study warned this benefit ended as soon as the soup was excreted by the body, meaning a fairly constant supply of the broth would be a prerequisite.

"Every few years someone seems to come up with something like this, but this is probably not a magic bullet," said Dr. Jim Daniels, a Quincy family physician who is affiliated with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Daniels was quick to emphasize, however, that chicken soup can be a key element in combatting viruses, most notably because it is a liquid.

"Staying hydrated is important," Daniels said.

The report in the American Journal of Therapeutics said "most broths are easy on the stomach, and you need to eat when you're ill. So sipping on broth or soup will give you the vitamins from the food without making you terribly nauseated."

Mike McCourt, a registered nurse at Physicians Care of Marietta in Ohio, said in published reports exactly what Daniels inferred.

"Probably the best benefit (from the chicken soup) is hydration from the actual liquid," said McCourt, who noted the soup also helps restore electrolytes, which assist many bodily functions, ranging from your natural heart beat to your muscle contractions.

The information revealed by the American Journal of Therapeutics is not the only study in recent years tying chicken soup to helping battle illnesses:

º More than a decade ago, Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center wanted to find out why his wife's recipe for chicken soup, handed down through generations, was so healing, according to the website.

Using blood samples from volunteers, he showed that the soup inhibited the movement of the most common type of white blood cells, neutrophils, which defend against infection.

The report also said: "Rennard theorized that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms. What he couldn't do was identify the exact ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds."

º Another study, from an unidentified medical group in Miami, Fla., said "chicken soup has more than a placebo effect." It looked at how consuming chicken soup affected air flow and mucus in the noses of 15 volunteers who drank cold water, hot water or chicken soup.

Daniels said the common denominator in all of this remains preventing colds and the flu, especially at this time of the year, plus combatting those illnesses if they are acquired. He said prevention theories are regularly upgraded these days.

"For example, you're now supposed to sneeze or cough into your elbow, rather than into your hand, to prevent the spread of germs," he said. "There is a lot more public awareness now."