Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boosting Your Immune System with Chicken Noodle Soup

Flu season is upon us--with much more discussion and anxiety than usual thanks to the Swine Flu. Three weeks ago, my Little C was wiped out with a fever for a day, followed by a day of vomiting and several days of runny nose and coughing. Sure enough, my Big C (who may not stay the big one for much longer--kids grow so fast!) followed suit 3 days later. As they were getting better, it was my turn. Does this sound familiar? So many families coming into the office or calling me have told me the same story. We didn't go get tested, but I'm pretty sure we had the Swine Flu and we all got through it just fine! But with winter fast approaching and the regular flu season starting as well, we felt that starting out our blog with an entry about boosting immunity sure made sense--and what better food to discuss than chicken noodle soup?!

There have actually been several research studies conducted on the healing benefits of chicken soup. Eating soup made from actual broth or stock (not bouillon--canned or boxed is okay) helps increase the activity of most types of white blood cells (your immune system's main line of defense), relieves congestion, thins mucus, has antiviral (and antibacterial) effects, is high in antioxidants and Vitamins A, C, and E as well as zinc, iron, and selenium. So, lets look at the ingredients, shall we?

Chicken is especially helpful in convalescence, pregnancy, and can help build up your immune system. It contains easily-absorbed iron (which makes hemoglobin to carry oxygen in your blood and improves the absorption of Vitamin C from foods) and zinc (which boosts immunity). Dark meat contains twice as much of these minerals compared to white meat (though white meat has twice the Vitamin B6 which is helpful in mood elevating and PMS symptoms). A 4 ounce serving of chicken breast contains about 40% of the RDA of selenium (or about 30 micrograms). Selenium is a powerful antioxidant--low levels of selenium are associated with cancer, infertility and miscarriage, and make you more susceptible to virulent viral infections. Chicken also contains high levels of the amino acid cysteine which is chemically similar to the drug acetylcysteine used to treat bronchitis and other respiratory infections.

In medieval times, bunches of onions were hung on door posts to protect against plague and this superfood is helpful in bronchitis, asthma, colds, flus, gout, urinary tract infections, arthritis, heart disease, anemia, cancer prevention, and even topically for insect stings, boils, and other bacterial infections. Onions have diuretic properties as well as powerful antimicrobial action. They are high in quercitin and other flavonoids which are antioxidant. The sulfur compounds in onions (which, when acted upon by allinase enzyme, is what makes you cry when you cut them) inhibit inflammation and allergic symptoms and clear airways. Ideally, you should eat half a cup a day of various types of onions (preferably raw or, if you can't handle raw, then gently cooked). Shallots and red onions are higher in Vitamin A/beta carotene than white onions and scallions (green onions) are higher in Vitamin C and folic acid (which is very important in pregnancy). Other great uses for onions: slice an onion and steep in hot water; let it cool and give 1 tsp to soothe a colicky baby. Slice an onion in half, bake until hot, let cool until it can be handled, wrap in a tea towel and apply to the ear for ear infections. Bake an onion for 40 minutes in a hot oven, crush for juice and mix with equal parts honey; take 2 tsp every 2-3 hours to help lower a fever.

Garlic was the first herb planted by Roman doctors whenever they arrived in a new country. Garlic has an incredibly powerful antimicrobial/anti-fungal effect, is cancer protective, improves circulation and thins the blood, improves blood lipids (cholesterol), lowers blood pressure, and is an antidote to alcohol and heavy metal poisoning. Roman soldiers used slices of raw garlic between their toes on long marches to prevent athlete's foot. Ideally, you should consume an entire bulb of garlic a day (it's a good thing I love garlic!) and raw is best though roasting is okay too (maybe Chef Brett can tell us how to roast garlic...). Otherwise, try to add minced garlic at the end of cooking and rub raw garlic on the inside of salad bowls before tossing. In addition to cooking and eating it liberally, try making a tea of 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 tsp honey, and a squeeze of lemon juice in some hot water to help with colds and flus.

There is enough beta carotene in 1 carrot to be converted by the body to an entire day's requirement of Vitamin A! Beta carotene is a fat-soluble pro-vitamin, antioxidant, and cancer-protective carotenoid found in yellow, orange, red, and dark green fruits and veggies. Vitamin A is made from beta carotene by the body and is important in skin health and increasing the amount of secretory IgA on mucus membranes (our first line of defense against invasion by viruses and bacteria!). The body also converts Vitamin A to rhodopsin in the retina which improves night vision. Carrots are also high in Vitamins C & E. When eating carrots, cooked (or freshly juiced) is best as this breaks down the fiber that holds the beta carotene and carrots should be eaten with a little fat or oil as this improves the absorption of fat-soluble beta carotene. A few other things to be aware of: it is important to use organic carrots if possible because growing in the soil increases the exposure to pesticides--if you absolutely can't get organic, wash and peel carrots well and discard tops and tips. Eating too many carrots (or any foods high in beta carotene) can cause carotenosis, an orange coloring of the skin--babies are particularly susceptible to this but it goes away after a few days of avoiding beta carotene and is not dangerous. Also, do not store carrots with their leafy green tops still attached as they steal water and nutrients from the carrots!

Although celery is always an ingredient when I make chicken noodle soup, it actually has more health benefit when eaten raw--and the seeds are particularly potent! Celery has Vitamin C and fiber and the darker green stalks and leaves have some beta carotene. Essential oils found in the seeds have a calming effect and can lower blood pressure thanks to a compound called phthalide (eating 4 stalks of celery every day for a week each month can significantly lower blood pressure!). Celery is also cancer protective and helps with rheumatism, gout, arthritis, as well as bladder and urinary tract infections thanks to its diuretic and antiseptic effects.

Pasta is one of the first true convenience foods--allegedly brought to Europe from China by Marco Polo in 1295. It is a good source of complex carbohydrates which provide sustained, slow-release energy. For some people, a high carb meal can be mood elevating as well!

Thyme is an herb that has specific affinity for the respiratory tract, acting on the smooth muscles of the trachea as an expectorant. The essential oil thymol is used as a base for antiseptics and mouth washes. Tea made from thyme is an excellent gargle for sore throats, mouth ulcers, and gingivitis. Caution: thyme essential oil is toxic and should not be taken internally (using the whole herb is okay) and thyme oil should not be used topically for massage or in baths for pregnant women!

The symptom relief from chicken noodle soup lasts about 30 minutes so make a big pot and eat it often! And while home made is certainly best, in a pinch, canned will work too. Chicken noodle soup is easily digestible, contains all kinds of immune boosting nutrients, and, well, it reminds you of mom so eat up and stay well!

Yours in health,
Dr. Crystal


  1. Thanks for the info on carrot storage. Each week, I receive carrots in my organic produce delivery. I didn't realize the importance of removing the greens (but my friend with chickens who love the greens will be thrilled).

  2. Great job here. I really enjoyed what you had to say. Keep going because you definitely bring a new voice to this subject. Not many people would say what you’ve said and still make it interesting. Well, at least I’m interested. Cant wait to see more of this from you.

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