Chicken Soup is Good for More Than Just the Soul

The science behind the benefits of this natural remedy.

Dear Doctor,

I’m really hoping to keep my family healthy through the rest of cold and flu season. Is it true that eating more chicken soup will boost our immunity? And if they do get sick, will chicken soup really help them feel better?


"So Over Sick Season"


Dear So Over Sick Season,

While chicken soup won’t prevent you from getting sick, some people do experience relief from cold or flu symptoms. 

Turns out, one of the main reasons chicken soup appears to help is that you’re drinking a warm liquid (the broth). In lab studies, the combination of the warm liquid base and the ingredients in chicken soup helped slow down the attack of white blood cells that happens when you get sick. If your white blood cells are not racing to attack, you’ll have less inflammation and that can mean you won’t feel as miserable. 

Keep in mind that your immune system is more than just white blood cells—it’s a complicated network of different things happening at the same time—so you are still able to fight the virus, whether it’s a cold or flu. (Colds come from more than 200 different viruses, while the flu is caused by a much smaller number of them.) But sometimes our immune response is too much all at once and we may want to reduce it just a little bit. And that’s what chicken soup seems to do.

One study found that hot liquids in general help loosen nasal mucus more than cool ones—and chicken soup does a better job than other warm liquids. Sipping soup warms your nasal passages and allows you to clear out the mucus, helping you feel better. 

And then there is what you put in soup: The ingredients provide important nutrients. Protein and zinc in the chicken and vitamin A in the carrots help strengthen the immune system and repair the body’s tissues. Garlic and onion have antiviral effects, which means they help your body fight viruses. Ginger helps to block RSV, which is a common respiratory virus. 

But as you know, no two chicken soups are the same. And we don’t know yet exactly which ingredients are best and how much of them you need to eat. Studies are looking at the medicinal effects of various natural ingredients. 

In the meantime, once cold and flu season is underway, prevention is key. Get plenty of sleep, stay active, and get the flu shot if you haven’t already. No, it’s not too late! 

If you do come down with a virus, the best way to treat it is to give your body a chance to build up your immune system. Stay warm, get rest, and drink lots of fluids to help moisten the mucus. Check in with your doctor if you’re really not feeling well.

And if you like chicken soup, and you’re not allergic, feel free to have a bowl. Put whatever you like in it. It may help you feel better, and at least you’re getting nutrients and fluids in you. 

Grandma did a good job with this one.