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Cold and Flu

Common Cold Cure

12/18/2008

Question:

Is chicken soup a medical cure for the common cold?

Answer:

In a word, no. Chicken soup will not cure the common cold. Colds are viral infections and curing a cold implies activity that eradicates or inactivates the responsible virus. There is no evidence that chicken soup does this. One author stated that chicken soup is likely to have as much curative power for the common cold as antibiotics. The irony here of course is that antibiotics do not cure viral infections either. That said, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that chicken soup can reduce the symptoms associated with colds.

Many Internet sites refer to a study reported in the October, 2000 issue of Chest as proof that chicken soup is a cure the common cold. The study does not provide this proof. Instead, the study attempts to provide a physiological rationale for the anecdotal reduction in cold symptoms often reported after ingesting chicken soup. The authors theorize that reduction of cold symptoms could be due to a reduction in the attraction of neutrophils to areas affected by the virus causing the cold.

Neutrophils are cells of the immune system that are involved in production of the inflammatory response. Many of the complaints associated with the common cold are likely due to inflammation mediated by substances released by neutrophils. Chemical attractants cause neutrophils to migrate to mucosal cells that are infected with the cold virus. Reducing neutrophil migration and subsequent inflammation could reduce cold symptoms.

The study uses a standard in vitro laboratory procedure to evaluate the ability of chicken soup to inhibit the movement of neutrophils. It was not done in humans with colds. The investigators used homemade and various commercially prepared chicken soups as well as some vegetable broths. They were able to demonstrate that many of these soups produced a statistically significant reduction in neutrophil attraction (chemotaxis). Whether a similar reduction occurs in humans with colds and whether this results in reduced cold symptoms was not studied.

It is often stated that an untreated cold will last about 7 days, but with treatment a cold will only last a week. Current medical treatments for the common cold are all aimed at reducing symptoms. It certainly seems reasonable to give chicken soup a try. We have not seen a head-to-head trial comparing chicken soup to standard over-the-counter cold remedies. Chicken soup is typically well tolerated although rare reports of allergic reactions, and choking on chicken bones can be found. We would not recommend attempting to drive or operating other potentially dangerous machinery while eating hot chicken soup.

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Response by:

Robert James Goetz, PharmD, DABAT
Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati