Of all the traditional remedies for fighting the flu, there’s one with a scientific backing: chicken soup

  • It would be a mistake to abandon solutions just because they are “traditional”

  • There aren’t many studies on soups and winter illnesses, but what there is is surprising.

In 2015, the secretary of Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm stood in front of the camera and announced that the Nobel Prize in Medicine would be awarded to Tu Youyou. Since entering the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1965, Tu Youyou has been immersed in a long race to analyze every treatment chosen by ancient Chinese civilization.

Of course, most of this is pure pseudoscience. A mixture of superstition, gullibility and placebo. Yet, amid the subterfuge, lie the real gems. The best example is artemisinin, a revolutionary malaria treatment.

Tu Youyou’s research shows that there are interesting things hidden in traditional medicine if we look at it from a scientific perspective. The best example is chicken soup.

chicken soup? In fact, the soup is average. Throughout (at least) Western culture, soup has been used as a very useful remedy against colds, flu, and the vast majority of respiratory ailments that typically affect us during the winter months…but what’s all this about?

Is chicken soup effective? Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Apparently, soup (chicken soup or otherwise) does not cure disease. Winter respiratory illnesses are caused by pathogens (mainly viruses), and soup can at best help “soften” the associated symptoms.

Is it missing? It’s a small amount, but (considering that most treatments for non-risk people are paracetamol and water), it’s quite a lot. So let’s break it into parts.

Hydration and temperature. guadalupe blay, Responsible for the Endocrinology and Nutrition Working Group A member of the Spanish Association of General Practitioners and Family Physicians explained a few months ago in the magazine El Periódico de España that soup is a particularly interesting meal because the body “needs water and also helps maintain body temperature.”

This makes sense, the usual advice for winter respiratory illnesses is to stay hydrated and regulate room temperature. Additionally, drinking “warm liquids can relieve sore throats and nasal congestion.”

Inflammation. More than 20 years ago, a team at the University of Nebraska studied whether the “efficacy” of soups against all types of common respiratory illnesses was related to the “anti-inflammatory” properties of these types of foods. In fact, this study did find this effect, but it was small, and as a laboratory study, this hinders extrapolation of conclusions. More research is needed, but in these two decades, no one has gone further.

Of course, this is logical. The logic (and, most importantly, the necessary resources) to conduct a study that could shed light on this issue makes it unfeasible. We did a lot of research, but nothing mapped the problem to the quality we wanted.

There is a growing consensus. Nonetheless, consensus among experts is growing. As Colby Teeman, assistant professor of dietetics and nutrition at the University of Dayton, explains, soup “has real health benefits.” It’s “rich in essential nutrients such as lean protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc.”

And, plus, as we say, it’s very effective at “keeping hydrated, relieving nasal congestion, and reducing respiratory inflammation.” Along these lines, some studies have found positive effects on the sinuses. In fact, Tieman says, “Studies show that chicken broth is more effective at dissolving mucus than hot water.”

In Shataka | The indomitable George Danziger and the truth hidden in urban legends, ancient stories and traditional remedies

Pictures| Gail Marcel

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