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Does Chicken Soup Help a Cold?

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There may be no cure for the common cold, but if our parents taught us anything, it’s that a steaming bowl of chicken soup is the next best thing—and there's science to back that up: Studies have shown that chicken soup does indeed hold some medicinal properties.

One paper published by the medical journal Chest in 1978 suggests that the healing powers of chicken soup can partly be attributed to thermodynamics. When Mount Sinai Medical Center researchers in Miami Beach fed chicken soup to 15 healthy participants, the hot broth was shown to be successful in loosening mucus and clearing nasal passageways. The heat coming off the soup may seem like a simple explanation for the phenomenon, but the rest of the study paints a more complicated picture. When pitted against plain hot water, chicken soup was proven to be the better decongestant. A 1998 report published in Coping With Allergies and Asthma would later say that chicken soup also improves the performance of cilia, the tiny, hairlike structures that prevent contagions from infiltrating our bodies.

In addition to directly treating our respiratory systems, there’s data that shows chicken soup has an impact on our white blood cells as well. For his 2000 study (also published in Chest [PDF]), Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha conducted laboratory tests using his wife’s homemade soup, a recipe that had been passed down by her Lithuanian grandmother. When he studied blood samples from volunteers, Rennard found that the presence of chicken soup slowed the movement of neutrophils, a common white blood cell that fights against infection. Cold symptoms are caused by our immune system's reaction to viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. The white blood cells that flood the area can often do little to kill the virus, and we’re left to cope with the consequences of their efforts: an overproduction of mucus. By inhibiting these cells, chicken soup actually helps ease our symptoms.

Rennard’s grandmother-in-law’s recipe contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery, parsley, salt, and pepper—but exactly which of these ingredients contributed to the results remains a mystery. According to Rennard, it’s likely a combination of the vegetables and chicken in the soup rather than a singular ingredient that’s responsible for its soothing properties. Organosulfide, a chemical that’s found in onions, consumed along with Vitamin D has been shown to stimulate the production of the immune cell macrophage, while Vitamin A and carotenoids found in carrots boost antibody production. A study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics in 2012 suggests that carnosine, a chemical compound found in the soup, could help combat the early stages of the flu. And while you can get these nutrients from sources other than chicken soup, they’re easier for your body to absorb in liquid form.

If you’re feeling a bit under the weather, Rennard’s scientifically backed chicken soup recipe is available to view online. But don’t sweat it if you don’t have the energy to whip up a home cooked meal—his study showed that canned stuff like Campbell’s, Lipton, and Progresso is just as effective.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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