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Hot & Sour Soup for Colds

author image Michelle Kerns
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.
Hot & Sour Soup for Colds
A woman drinks warm soup for her cold. Photo Credit: Franck Camhi/Hemera/Getty Images

No medication can cure a cold, but some foods have properties that may help alleviate some people's symptoms. Chinese hot and sour soup could be one of these, says "Daily Herald" writer M. Eileen Brown, though there isn't any solid scientific evidence directly identifying it as a cold treatment or as a consistently effective method for reducing cold symptoms. The soup traditionally contains pork loin, mushrooms and tofu in chicken broth that's seasoned with chili peppers, garlic, ginger, onions and vinegar, then thickened with beaten eggs and cornstarch.

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May Decrease Inflammatory Response

A typical hot and sour soup recipe that serves between four to eight people contains around 4 cups of chicken broth or stock. A study published in 2000 in the medical journal "Chest" demonstrated that, in the laboratory, chicken soup consisting of chicken, vegetables, seasonings and a broth similar to that used in hot and sour soup inhibits the movement of the white blood cells, or neutrophils, that are responsible for inflammation. Inflammation causes many of the symptoms associated with colds, such as mucus buildup and coughing. The researchers hypothesized that chicken soup and other similar soups may lower the severity of cold symptoms, though studies in humans are needed. Additionally, it's not known if hot and sour soup would affect neutrophils in the exact same way.

Might Help Clear Sinuses

Sinus congestion, accompanied by sinus headaches and a stuffy nose, is a common cold symptom. According to Harvard Health Publications, two ways to ease sinus stuffiness include consuming plenty of fluid and inhaling steam several times a day from over the top of a hot liquid. Both help loosen accumulated mucus, allowing you to expel it more easily, and both can be supplied by a bowl of hot and sour soup. Along with the soup, drink water and other clear liquids.

Include Peppers as an Alternative to Decongestants

While commercially available cold medications containing decongestants such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine may be effective, they can also increase your heart rate, elevate your blood pressure and cause you to feel anxious and on edge. To avoid these side effects, try hot and sour soup prepared with hot peppers or a hot pepper sauce. Peppers contain capsaicin, a compound that binds to heat-sensitive pain receptors in your skin, nose and mouth. When you consume capsaicin, your body produces more mucus, thinning out the existing mucus and making it all easier to eliminate. While this natural decongestant effect won't cure your cold, it may help you breathe easier, reduce sinus pressure and pain and lower the risk of infections developing in excess mucus.

Preparing Hot and Sour Soup for a Cold

You probably won't be up to making a batch of hot and sour soup when you come down with a cold. Ordering in is an option, but to best control the ingredients and nutritional content of your soup, make it ahead of time. Prepare the soup with low-sodium broth and your choice of add-ins, cool thoroughly and freeze serving size portions in labeled air-tight containers or plastic resealable freezer bags. It can stay in the freezer for two to three months. When you feel a cold developing, defrost the soup in the refrigerator overnight, in the microwave or by placing the container or bag in cool water, changing the water every 30 minutes until thawed. Cook and eat the soup immediately.

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