Chicken Soup for Aching Hearts

Thai Chicken Laksa CurryNo, this isn’t an excerpt from Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul.  It’s about chicken soup for the immune system. It’s great to have the support of emotionally sustaining stories,  but don’t forget to also nourish the white cells that help keep you physically well during difficult times.

Severe emotional stress can definitely lead to a sudden cardiovascular event or death by “broken heart”.  However the stress of bereavement also lowers the immune system so that within a fairly short time grieving relatives can become vulnerable to all manner of infections.  A bout of pneumonia in an older person is much harder to fight after the recent loss of a loved one.  Speaking on behalf of the research team of immunologists from the University of Birmingham who have been examining the link between grief-induced stress and susceptibility to disease, Dr Janet Lord discussed the biological basis behind spouses passing away within a very short time of each other.

It comes down to the sensitivity of our white blood cells to stress. The ageing process is accompanied by lower immune function as well as high levels of inflammation, and decreased levels of DHEA, a combination which leads to age-related loss of neutrophil function.
Neutrophils are the mature white blod cells which play a primary role in fighting bacterial infection.

So why chicken soup?   Besides being a great comfort food, benefits include:

  •  it has a positive effect on production and behaviour of neutrophils
  •  it has mucus thinning properties
  •  it’s antiinflammatory
  •  it is usually prepared with medicinal culinary herbs which add their own positive effect and are more nourishing with a little fat from the soup.
  •  it contains a natural bronchial tonic (the acetylated amino acid, acetylcysteine)
  •  it provides steam and fluid
  •  it’s affordable
  •  it’s easy to digest
  •  it’s a very simple one pot/stockpot food that anyone can prepare
  •  it can be stored and reheated for a few days, as well as frozen…..but please, NO MICROWAVES.

There are dozens of books and blogs discussing the origins and attesting to the value of chicken soup.  Use grandma’s favourite recipe or try this one:

We also suggest you consider trying recipes from non-western traditions such as Chinese short and long soups, steamboats, Thai Tom Yum, Malaysian laksa and Indonesian Soto Ayam, which includes such medicinal herbs as ginger, turmeric, cumin, cardamon, cloves, coriander, lemongrass, pepper and cinnamon sticks.  This is really medicinal food!

Chicken Soup is a worldwide favourite for managing colds and flu.  You may think of using it in other conditions linked to low neutrophil levels including:

  • Hip replacement
  • Cardiopulmonary bypass
  • Dialysis
  • Leukaemia
  • Prescription of certain medications including phenothiazines (for psychosis) and phenylbutazone (used for inflammation, arthritis)
  • Chemotherapy
  • Low levels of B12 and folate

Read the research on neutrophils here.

Find books on grief and loss here.


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