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Influenza and colds

Chicken Soup for the Flu Shot Soul

It’s always something. Or when it comes to the flu vaccine it
seems that way. Every year there’s a new wrinkle; a feared
pandemic, a run on doctors’ offices that create shortages, or – as is
the case this year – a vaccine manufacturer is shut down, creating
scarce supplies, thefts of vaccine caches, black market sales, etc.
Always something.

As Moshe ben Maimon might say: It’s meshuggah.

Ben Maimon was a 12th century Jewish philosopher and physician
who recommend this treatment for influenza and colds: chicken
soup. As the story goes, Moshe drew on classical Greek medicine
to support his recommendation, but I’ll bet you a dollar he actually
picked it from his mom.

I was reminded of Moshe’s soup cure when I came across an
Associated Press item about a flu vaccine clinic offered in Fergus
Falls, Minnesota. Because of the nationwide vaccine shortage, the
clinic received no supply of the vaccine at all. So when people
came by to get a flu shot, they were given a can of chicken soup
and a box of tissues instead.

When Kris Ehresmann, the head of Minnesota’s immunization
program, heard about the soup giveaway, with some amusement
she told the AP that it was, “better than nothing.”

Better than nothing, indeed. In fact, according to one study,
chicken soup is full of good nutrition and even has natural anti-
inflammatory properties. That’s much more than I can say for the
flu vaccine.

Grandma’s penicillin

Stephen Rennard, M.D., is a researcher at the University of
Nebraska where he studies the defense mechanisms of the lung.
One day, while enjoying his wife’s homemade chicken soup, he
wondered if something in the soup might have an anti-
inflammatory effect on the respiratory viral infections responsible
for colds and the flu.

From a recipe called “Grandma’s Soup,” Dr. Rennard had his wife
prepare several batches for laboratory tests to examine the soup’s
effect on neutrophils; white blood cells that stimulate mucous
release. As reported in a 2000 issue of the medical journal Chest,
Dr. Rennard and his team found that the ingredients of the soup
clearly inhibited the movement of neutrophils.

In other words, chicken soup may actually trigger a cold and flu-
fighting reaction in the body. But it doesn’t end with neutrophils

Many chicken soup recipes call for exactly what a sick person
needs: ingredients that are nutrient-rich, such as onions, carrots,
celery, parsley, sweet potatoes, parsnips and turnips (all of which
were included in Grandma’s Soup).

In an interview with Reuters, Dr. Rennard also acknowledged that
the steam from the warm soup may help soothe inflamed sinuses.
And when someone lovingly prepares the soup for you – a doting
Grandma, for instance – the care itself may provide a therapeutic
psychological boost that promotes healing.

Spice it up

Dr. Rennard’s Grandma’s Soup recipe calls for salting and
peppering to taste, which is good advice.

Sodium is an essential electrolyte that promotes hydration. That’s
not to say that salt should be shoveled in, but adding some salt is a
plus, unless your doctor has instructed you to avoid it.

And don’t hold back on the pepper either. Natural medical
physician Dr. Joseph Mercola suggests that plenty of pepper will
help thin respiratory mucus when fluids in the mouth and throat are
stimulated. He adds that the main ingredient of chicken soup – that
is, of course, chicken – contains cysteine; an amino acid that also
thins mucus.

So if you drop by a clinic to get a flu shot and receive soup instead,
don’t think you’re getting the lesser of two treatments. With a large
pot of chicken soup simmering on the stove, you just might have
your healthiest flu season ever.


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Here’s the latest outrage from the Vioxx mess.

The Washington Post reports that according to a press release
issued by Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, FDA officials tried to
suppress the conclusions of a review showing that Vioxx was
linked to an increased risk of heart attack.


The Vioxx review was prepared by David Graham, associate
science director of the FDA’s Office of Drug Safety. When
Graham’s team examined the medical records of nearly one and a
half million patients who took either Vioxx or Celebrex, they
concluded that “27,000 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths”
could have been avoided if patients had been using Celebrex
instead of Vioxx.

Grassley told the Post that FDA officials had “ostracized” Graham
and had made “veiled threats” while he was trying to clear his
research for publication. An FDA official is reported to have
suggested “watering down” the conclusions. In an e-mail, Graham
said he would not compromise his “deeply-held conclusions about
this safety question.”

The Post reports that when asked about Graham’s claims, the
acting director of the FDA’s drug center called them “baloney.”

Baloney. That’s one side of the story. On the other side, Senator
Grassley (who has reviewed several contentious FDA decisions)
told the Post that the FDA decided to challenge its own expert,
“instead of acting as a public watchdog.”

As a “watchdog,” we know what kind of bite the FDA has. This
past spring, the agency banned the sale of the herb ephedra, even
though the problems with ephedra were almost entirely associated
with ephedrine; a hyped up synthetic form of the herb. A total of
about 100 deaths have been attributed to complications involving
“ephedra-containing” products.

So let’s look at the box score:

Vioxx: 27,000 heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths. Taken off
the market by its manufacturer (not the FDA) YEARS after the
FDA recognized an elevated risk of cardiac problems.

Ephedra: About 100 deaths attributed to synthetic ephedrine.
Banned by the FDA.

There’s your “watchdog” for you. Not to mention a showing of
true colors.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


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“Chicken Soup Replaces Flu Vaccine” The Associated Press,
“Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro” Chest,
Vol. 118, No. 4, October 2000,
“Chicken Soup is Medicine, U.S. Scientists Confirm” Reuters,
“Chicken Soup Good For Colds and Your Heart” Dr. Joseph
Mercola, 4/4/01,
“FDA Official Alleges Pressure to Suppress Vioxx Findings” Marc
Kaufman, The Washington Post, 10/8/04,