5 Old Wives’ Tales About Health (Confirmed by Science)

It might be the oldest wives’ tale in the history of old wives telling tales — what you really need for a case of the sniffles is a nice hot bowl of chicken soup. Sure, it’s not medicine, but it makes you feel better, right? So what’s the deal — is chicken made of magic, or are our mothers falling for the propaganda Big Soup pushes through its willing puppets in the media?

But Science Says …

You’d think the answer to this one would be simple — it’s a hot, salty comfort food that’s easy to swallow with a sore throat. But apparently the healing powers of chicken soup go way beyond that.

In a study published in CHEST Journal (“Official Publication of the American College of Chest Physicians,” in case you forgot to renew your subscription), researchers found that chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis, giving it anti-inflammatory properties that could help relieve the symptoms associated with upper respiratory infections. So in addition to “improving hydration and nutritional status,” chicken soup has the potential of “accelerating mucosal clearance,” which is science’s fancy way of saying that it helps make your sniffles better.

In addition, experts have said that chicken contains the amino acid cysteine, which is released when Mom magically transmogrifies the chicken into tasty, tasty soup. This compound is awfully similar to a drug called acetylcysteine, which doctors prescribe for patients with bronchitis and respiratory infections to help them hork up all that crap in their chest. So yeah, when you look at it that way, chicken soup is actual medicine. Sort of.

Using honey to treat a child’s cough sounds like a brilliant idea that came about one late night when all the drug stores were closed and one mom at the end of her tether stared groggily into the kitchen cabinet. That bear-shaped bottle of goo has the same consistency as cough syrup, and hopefully the placebo effect will be strong enough to let everyone get back to sleep, because goddammit, I have to work in the morning.

But Science Says …

To see whether there’s actually anything to this, researchers decided to compare the effects of honey to those of dextromethorphan on children’s nighttime coughs. (Dextromethorphan is the active ingredient in pretty much all over-the-counter cold and cough medicines, and a favorite among particularly reckless recreational drug users.)

So the researchers gathered up a group of 105 sickly children ranging from 2 to 18 years old and split them into three groups: The parents of the first group would treat their children’s coughs with honey, the second group would get honey-flavored dextromethorphan, and the third group would get no treatment at all, otherwise known as the “harden the hell up” method.

Getty “You can stay in bed
if you’re OK with a charley horse every hour. To keep your immune system on its toes.”

Not surprisingly, the real medicine scored better than nothing at all in treating coughs and sleeping difficulties. What was surprising was that the honey did even better than the drug, coming out head and shoulders above dextromethorphan at relieving cold and cough symptoms.

Researchers think that the stickiness and viscosity of honey is what helps it alleviate coughs, while the natural antioxidants can help in the healing process. Thanks, bees!

But as implausible as honey is as a cure, it still sounds way less stupid than …

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