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Chicken Soup

Medically reviewed on Aug 1, 2018


Chicken soup has been used to treat respiratory tract disorders, asthma and facial pain among other ailments.


As a food or a remedy, chicken soup is administered by the bowlful.


Contraindications have not yet been identified.


Generally recognized as safe or used as food. Safety and efficacy for dosages above those in foods are unproven and should be avoided.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Adverse events include severe respiratory distress from aspirating chicken bone fragments.


Commercial soup bouillons may contain trace amounts of mutagens. Anaphylaxis to chicken soup has been reported.

Chicken soup is obtained from a hot water infusion of selected parts of the common chicken Gallus domesticus .


Chicken soup has long been recognized as an important part of the physician's armamentarium. Therapeutic observations were recorded as far back as 60 A.D. by Pedacius Dioscorides, an army surgeon under the emperor Nero. He was responsible for the book “De Materia Medica,” which, among other natural science knowledge, discusses chicken soup. Aretaeus the Cappadocian (2nd to 3rd century), an author of causes, symptoms and treatments of diseases, is credited with describing how boiled chicken can treat respiratory tract disorders. 1

As early as the 12th century, the theologian and physician Moses Maimonides wrote “Chicken soup . . . is recommended as an excellent food as well as medication.” 2 He further specified that “One should not use the too large, that is of more than 2 years of age; nor the too small, that is those in whom the mucus still prevails; neither too lean, nor those who through feeding becomes obese; but those that are fat by nature without being stuffed.” 3

Chicken soup was used in Europe for centuries, but disappeared from commercial production after the inquisition. It remained popular in European tradition, and its use has grown steadily over the last 300 years.


While details of the chemistry of chicken soup are poorly understood, it is recognized that the composition of this material can vary considerably, generally being related to the production technique. Some investigators have expressed concern about the cholesterol content of chicken soup, but there appears to be little evidence of a hypercholesterolemic effect when ingested in moderation.

Circa 1990, Dr. Irwin Zimet (University of California, Los Angeles) found that chicken, a protein, contains the amino acid cysteine. This is chemically similar to the drug acetylcysteine, which is prescribed for respiratory infections because it thins the mucus in the lungs. 4

A study has been performed proving increased calcium content with duration of cooking soup with bones. Chicken soup prepared this way may be of use in patients who require calcium, but cannot tolerate dairy products. 5

Uses and Pharmacology

In 1975, the editor of the journal Chest published the scientific spoof on uncontrolled studies entitled “Chicken Soup Rebound and Relapse of Pneumonia: Report of a Case.” The patients suffered severe pneumonia requiring a thoracotomy and treatment with penicillin after he discontinued a course of self-treatment with chicken soup. 2

The result of this report was a flood of correspondence over the next 5 years expounding the virtues of chicken soup. Readers reported the isolation of the “active ingredient” 6 that was claimed to have antibacterial activity 7 and could be useful in the treatment of impotence, 8 frustration, anxiety and backache. 9 It was also suggested that appropriate blends of chicken soup could be used as substitutes for aircraft fuel. 10

Respiratory tract disorders
Animal data

Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of chicken soup for respiratory tract disorders.

Clinical data

Despite these barbs, a serious investigation was conducted comparing the effects of drinking hot water, cold water and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and airflow resistance. Drinking 200 mL of hot water, by sipping, increased nasal mucus velocity, but not when the cup was covered and a straw used for drinking. The latter procedure prevented hot water vapor from penetrating the nares. Drinking chicken soup by sipping and by straw caused a response similar to that of drinking hot water. It is believed that the additional effect seen when drinking chicken soup by straw may be related to an aromatic compound acting on the nasal pharynx or through a mechanism related to taste. The authors recommend hot rather than cold liquids for fluid intake in patients with upper respiratory tract infections. 11

Other uses

While the aroma of this agent precludes double-blind investigations, it is encouraging to know that one of the properties of chicken soup is to hasten the removal of pathogens from the nose. 12 Chicken soup has also been reported as therapy for facial pain 13 and for asthma. 14

A detailed letter discussed the therapeutic efficacy of chicken and other fowl. Conditions in areas such as neurological, respiratory, urinary tract, antibacterial and gastrointestinal are relieved by chicken parts, soup or other fowl (eg, leprosy, sexual potential, snake bite antidote and memory enhancement). 15 The use of prednisone vs chicken soup for treatment of lymphocytic thyroiditis with spontaneously resolving hyperthyroidism has also been reported. 16

The ability of chicken soup to inhibit neutrophil chemotaxis (and therefore reduce inflammation) has been presented at the 1993 International Conference of the American Lung Association and the American Thoracic Society. It was proven that chemotaxis was markedly reduced, even when the soup was diluted 200 times. The soup included onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips, all of which may have contributed to the beneficial effects. 4

A Japanese trial demonstrated chicken cartilage soup to have therapeutic efficacy in 38 rheumatoid arthritis patients. 17


As a food or a remedy, chicken soup is administered by the bowlful.


Generally recognized as safe or used as food. Safety and efficacy for dosages above those in foods are unproven and should be avoided.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

The ingestion of chicken soup is not without danger. One case of pneumonia secondary to the aspiration of a bone from a dose of chicken soup has been reported. The authors concluded that “only bone-free chicken soup” should be used. 18 Another report describes severe respiratory distress in a 6-month-old infant from a hollow chicken bone in the left main bronchus after the child was spoon-fed chicken soup. 19 Information on the dangers of chicken soup in pediatrics is available. 20

Hypernatremia was reported in a 75-year-old Chinese woman who ingested one or two bowls of three different kinds of high-salt soups to correct hydrochlorothiazide-induced hyponatremia. She became delirious but was treated uneventfully with hypotonic solutions. 21 Similarly, a 17-month-old child, who was given six packets of HERB-OX chicken broth (prepared as directed in 6 oz of water), was hospitalized due to hypernatremic dehydration. She recovered uneventfully with rehydration. 20 Hypernatremia following high-salt supplements is a complication sometimes seen in children, in particular those with acute diarrheal disease. Large amounts of hypertonic solutions, such as chicken soup, should not be given to young children. In addition, commercial soup bouillons may contain trace amounts of mutagens. 22


Commercial soup bouillons may contain trace amounts of mutagens. There is at least one case report of anaphylaxis to chicken soup. 23 Also of concern may be migration of mineral hydrocarbons from polystyrene containers from which hot beverages, including chicken soup, are served. 24


1. Cohen S. Allergy Proc . 1991;(12):47–59.
2. Caroline NL, et al. Chest . 1975;67:215.
3. Rosner F, et al. The Medical Writings of Moses Maimonides . Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969.
4. Winter R. A Consumer's Guide to Medicines in Food . New York, NY: Crown Trade Paperbacks 1995;167-68.
5. Rosen H. Calcif Tissue Int . 1994;54(6):486-88.
6. Levin S. J Irreproducible Results . 1968;17:42.
7. Dorna RJ, et al. Chest . 1975;68:604.
8. Greene LF. Chest . 1975;68:605.
9. Lindsey O. Chest . 1976;70:2.
10. Lawrence DS. Chest . 1975;68:606.
11. Saketkhoo K, et al. Chest . 1978;74(4):408-10.
12. Weiss WM. Chest . 1978;74:487.
13. Marbach J. NY State Dent J . 1979;45(5):232-33.
14. Rosner F. Lancet . 1979;2(8151):1079.
15. Rosner F. Chest . 1980;78(4):672-74.
16. Dorfman S, et al. Arch Intern Med . 1982;142(13):2261.
17. Toda Y, et al. Nihon Rinsho Meneki Gakkai Kaishi . 1997;20(1):44-51.
18. Leiberman A, et al. Chest . 1980;77:1.
19. Avital A, et al. Respiration . 1992;59(1):62-63.
20. Chu E. Pediatrics . 1986;77(5):785-86.
21. Fujiwara P, et al. N Engl J Med . 1985;313(18):1161-62.
22. Stavric B, et al. Food Chem Toxicol . 1993;31(12):981-87.
23. Saff R, et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol . 1992;89(5):1061-62.
24. Castle L, et al. Food Addit Contam . 1991;8(6):693-99.

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