Jewish World Review March 6, 2001 / 11 Adar, 5761

Michael A. Glueck, MD

What bubbie said has now been scientifically proven: Chicken soup is more than just 'good food' -- WITH a nor'easter blanketing much of the American Northeast and after what the country has been through these past four months with electionitis (horrible headache, incoherent mumbling to yourself, extreme dislike of lawyers), Gatorgate, Chad-aquidick, the influenza season with limited vaccine, Pardongate, Spygate, and Hill-Billy-gate, what this country needs now is a huge kettle of grandma's loving chicken soup.

Just in time medical researchers, from The University of Nebraska in Omaha, have finished the monumental task of reviewing 40 references on chicken soup and doing some studies on their own. They looked at reports published between 1963 and 1998 in both newspapers -- including the Jerusalem Post -- and distinguished medical journals, reporting their findings in an article entitled, "Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro." That means this concoction may help cure your cold.

Chicken soup has been regarded as a remedy for centuries. The Egyptian physician and philosopher Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (known as "Rambam" or "Maimonides") recommended chicken soup for respiratory tract symptoms in his 12th Century treatise. So widely recommended is chicken soup in the Jewish tradition that some have jokingly referred to it as Jewish penicillin.

Colds are generally the result of mucosal infections of the upper respiratory tract by a variety of viruses including the rhinoviruses. It is likely that many of the symptoms related to colds are the consequence of an inflammatory response to the viruses. Chicken soup may combat colds in such ways as improving hydration and nutrition and accelerating mucosal clearance. It may lessen the inflammation.

In the study, traditional chicken soup was prepared according to a family recipe, referred to as "Grandma's soup:" One five-to-six pound stewing hen or baking chicken; one package of chicken wings; three large onions; one large sweet potato; three parsnips; two turnips; 11 to 12 large carrots; five to six celery stems; one bunch of parsley; salt and pepper.

Put the chicken in a large pot, cover it with cold water and bring the water to a boil. Add the chicken wings, onions, sweet potato, parsnips, turnips, and carrots. Boil about one and a half hours. Remove fat from the surface. Add parsley and celery. Cook 45 minutes longer. Remove the chicken. Put the vegetables in a food processor until they are chopped fine or pass through a strainer. Salt and pepper to taste.

As an aside my personal suggestion is to also add three chicken feet bought from the butcher for that rich flavor found in Chinese chicken soup. Even though the Jewish people lived 2000 years without Chinese food the chicken feet are a major societal and cultural contribution.

The study found that chicken soup significantly inhibited the migration of a type of inflammatory white blood cell and suggests that chicken soup may contain a number of medically beneficial substances. A mild anti-inflammatory effect is one mechanism by which the soup mitigates upper respiratory infections.

But the exact identity of the these beneficial ingredients remains unknown. A number of fats and substances with antioxidant activity are likely to be present. Extracts of each vegetable, as well as of the chicken, all were able to inhibit the inflammatory response, suggesting that many inhibitory substances may be present.

The soup used for these experiments does have several unusual features. It contains several vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, not found in many chicken soup recipes. In many recipes, the vegetables are removed from the clear broth prior to serving. This recipe calls for the vegetables to be pureed and added to the soup. The effects in vivo (in humans) of chicken soup undoubtedly include more than the effects on neutrophils. The warm liquid, particularly when sipped, can stimulate nasal clearance. The social setting in which chicken soup is sipped may contribute to a strong placebo effect.

To assist science I plan to do my own human taste testing this weekend. To the delight of wives and girlfriends this recipe is so simple that even a guy can cook great soup. You, too, need a break today from the pols, lawyers, flu, and all those ghastly-gates. Try Grandma's chicken soup. If chicken soup is good for your health it is probably good for your soul as well.

Michael Arnold Glueck, MD of Newport Beach, CA., writes extensively on healthcare, disability, and legal reform issues. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Michael Arnold Glueck