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Health and Animal Systems

Whenever you come down with a nasty case of the sniffles, people are more than willing to offer their favorite in a whole slew of remedies, like sticking your head over boiling water or drinking water through a paper towel. But the one that everyone's heard of is the classic bowl of chicken noodle soup. Is it an old wives' tale or is there some nugget of truth to the age-old adage? The idea that chicken soup can fix what ails you is nothing new, and probably dates back to the 12th century or earlier. For an idea to stick around so long, there's got to be something to it, right?

If you sit down and think about potential therapeutic advantages to chicken noodle soup, you might recognize some obvious things that would help your cold. A hearty bowl of soup will improve nutrition and hydration. Perhaps that's why it helps our colds. Or maybe it's simply a placebo effect—if enough people tell you that chicken noodle soup can treat a cold, you start to believe them. The power of your own positive thinking can actually lead to some therapeutic benefits.

Chicken Soup. There's no cure like a bowl of piping hot chicken noodle soup.

All of these reasons may be true, but none seems particularly compelling. We can find nutrition and hydration from lots of different sources, whether it be split pea soup, orange juice, or a thirst-quenching Gatorade. And there's nothing about the placebo effect that says it has to be applied to chicken noodle soup.

In fact, one scientific study suggests there might be actual bona fide proof behind the health benefits of Grandma's chicken noodle soup. 

What exactly happens to the immune system during a cold or other upper respiratory infection? A type of virus called rhinovirus usually causes these infections, and the innate immune system responds by sending white blood cells called "neutrophils" to the infection site. The movement of these neutrophils to the infection site is called chemotaxis. It's a pretty snazzy name, but we do have to wonder whether that mode of transportation is tough to hail in Times Square.

When neutrophils attach to the epithelial layer of the lungs, they contribute to inflammation. Remember, inflammation means increased blood flow and warmth, which are part of the immune system's arsenal for fighting invaders. But inflammation also carries some not so fun side effects, which is why we feel the cruddy feelings. Thank goodness for daytime television, or we aren't sure how we'd survive.

We know, we know: what about the chicken noodle soup? Well, a group of scientists in Omaha slaved away in both the kitchen and laboratory and found that Grandma's chicken noodle soup decreases neutrophil chemotaxis migration.

Still prefer English? Simply put, a piping hot bowl of soup might decrease how many neutrophils show up to fight the virus, which in turn reduces the inflammation. Less inflammation means less symptoms and yucky feelings. This study wasn't conducted in humans, but it still does suggest that the adage for chicken soup to cure a common cold has at least something going for it.

Now, there's nothing to say some other group of enterprising (or hungry) scientists may find some other reason why chicken noodle soup always seems to hit the spot when you're battling a stuffy nose. But for now, it looks like Grandma might have some scientific knowhow to back up her good intentions when she hits the kitchen.

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