Chicken soup: home remedies for colds? | the medicine is transparent

Chicken soup for colds has been recommended by grandmothers for more than one generation. But what does science say, can you get rid of a cold quickly with steamed chicken broth?

Question: Does chicken soup help with a cold?
reply: scientific evidence is lacking
Explanation: So far, this has only been investigated in laboratory experiments. Research on its effectiveness in humans is still lacking. Therefore, we cannot judge whether chicken soup is useful for a cold.

A sore throat, a runny nose, a pounding head – surely each of us knows the unpleasant symptoms of a cold. In most cases, these symptoms are caused by cold viruses (rhinoviruses). The side effects of a cold can be unpleasant, but they are usually not dangerous [2] [3].

A week instead of seven days

There is no causal treatment against the causative virus. Medicines can only relieve symptoms such as nasal congestion, cough or sore throat. However, symptoms usually disappear on their own within a week [2] [3]. Some doctors jokingly say: without treatment, a cold lasts seven days, with treatment – only a week.

Many of us don’t want to or can’t wait that long and want to nip a cold in the bud. Various home remedies are said to help, such as chicken soup, which has been recommended for generations. A plate filled with smoky chicken broth should not only taste good, but also put an end to a cold.

The body is not a test tube

First, the researchers have hardly scientifically investigated whether there is actually anything in the miraculous chicken soup. So far, only laboratory experiments have been conducted on the possible effectiveness of chicken soup for colds. In one such experiment, soup in a test tube inhibited the mobility of certain leukocytes involved in the development of inflammation. This anti-inflammatory effect can reduce cold symptoms [1].

However, such experiments – no matter how promising they sound – do not provide evidence that the soup has the same effect on the human body. This will require well-conducted clinical trials with patients.

Chicken soup for a cold: theories without evidence

There are no meaningful studies on the effects of chicken soup, but there are more and more attempts to explain them. In addition to its purported anti-inflammatory effects, some scientists suspect that the vitamins, iron, and zinc found in the soup may support the immune system.
It also sounds plausible that when you pour a spoonful of hot chicken soup, you inhale the steam, which moisturizes the mucous membranes. It would be good for the senses. However, this effect can also be achieved with hot water or warm drinks.

Warm liquids have a beneficial, soothing effect on the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. In addition, soup helps to provide the body with a sufficient amount of liquid, which, according to experts, is especially important during a cold [2]. Also, if a loved one serves you the soup, the affection that comes with it can also speed up recovery.

There are conjectures not only about effectiveness, but also about how a pot of effective chicken soup should be prepared and stored.
But the whole theory is gray. Until there are human studies, we simply cannot judge whether and which ingredients in chicken soup can help people suffering from the common cold.

Chicken soup on the test bench

A well-designed randomized controlled trial is needed to answer this question. For example, researchers can use the following formula:

Take soup chicken, vegetables and salt and plenty of sniffing items. The latter are randomly divided into two equal groups. For a fair comparison, participants in both groups should not differ in eating habits, general health, or medication intake.

Then one half is served daily with chicken soup, and the other half with a similar-tasting vegetable soup without the poultry. It is important that no participant knows which of the two soup recipes they will be given. Disturbance of the sense of taste caused by the undead of the participants may prove beneficial. If the chicken soup patients recover faster than the vegetable broth participants, this would indicate the effectiveness of the home remedy.

If there is no difference and all participants recover equally quickly, you are as smart as before. Perhaps chicken will not work, but vegetables, greens or even salt in the soup will work?

Prevention of colds: wash your hands well

There are a number of medications, such as cough medicine, nasal spray or pain relievers, to help keep colds from feeling so bad. Medicine Transparent has often talked about different remedies and their possible help with colds. There is some evidence that zinc supplements may slightly shorten the duration of a cold. Echinacea or Cape geranium extract can also help with cold symptoms. In our report, we could not confirm the myth that taking vitamin C as a prophylactic can prevent the onset of colds.

Nevertheless, we are not completely powerless in the fight against the virus. Experts recommend washing your hands regularly with soap and water to prevent the highly contagious virus from spreading from person to person. This is the best and cheapest way to prevent colds [4].

[Aktualisiert am 3. 10. 2017, ursprünglich veröffentlicht am 7. 3. 2016. Keine neuen Studien gefunden.]

Research in detail

No clinical studies

(Author: C. Christof, Review: B. Kerschner)

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Scientific sources

[1] Rennard et al. (2000)
Rennard BO, Ertl RF, Gossman GL, Robbins RA, Rennard SI; Chicken soup inhibits chemotaxis of neutrophils in vitro. breast. October 2000; 118 (4): 1150-7. (summary of laboratory studies)

[2] UpToDate (2016)
Diane E Pappas, Colds in Children: Treatment and Prevention, Retrieved February 23, 2016, from:

[3] UpToDate (2016)
Daniel J. Sexton, The Common Cold in Adults: Treatment and Prevention, Retrieved February 23, 2016, from:

[4] IQWIG (2008)
Institute for Quality and Effectiveness in Healthcare (IQWiG), Preventing colds: handwashing protects more than vitamins, accessed 23 February 2016 at: washing-protects-more-than-vitamins.2342.html

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