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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
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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
Who Was Chuck Taylor?
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From Betty Crocker to Tommy Bahama, plenty of popular labels are "named" after fake people. But one product with a bona fide backstory to its moniker is Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers. The durable gym shoes are beloved by everyone from jocks to hipsters. But who's the man behind the cursive signature on the trademark circular ankle patch?

As journalist Abraham Aamidor recounted in his 2006 book Chuck Taylor, All Star: The True Story of the Man behind the Most Famous Athletic Shoe in History, Chuck Taylor was a former pro basketball player-turned-Converse salesman whose personal brand and tireless salesmanship were instrumental to the shoes' success.

Charles Hollis Taylor was born on July 24, 1901, and raised in southern Indiana. Basketball—the brand-new sport invented by James Naismith in 1891—was beginning to take the Hoosier State by storm. Taylor joined his high school team, the Columbus High School Bull Dogs, and was named captain.

After graduation, instead of heading off to college, Taylor launched his semi-pro career playing basketball with the Columbus Commercials. He’d go on to play for a handful of other teams across the Midwest, including the the Akron Firestone Non-Skids in Ohio, before finally moving to Chicago in 1922 to work as a sales representative for the Converse Rubber Shoe Co. (The company's name was eventually shortened to Converse, Inc.)

Founded in Malden, Massachusetts, in 1908 as a rubber shoe manufacturer, Converse first began producing canvas shoes in 1915, since there wasn't a year-round market for galoshes. They introduced their All-Star canvas sports shoes two years later, in 1917. It’s unclear whether Chuck was initially recruited to also play ball for Converse (by 1926, the brand was sponsoring a traveling team) or if he was simply employed to work in sales. However, we do know that he quickly proved himself to be indispensable to the company.

Taylor listened carefully to customer feedback, and passed on suggestions for shoe improvements—including more padding under the ball of the foot, a different rubber compound in the sole to avoid scuffs, and a patch to protect the ankle—to his regional office. He also relied on his basketball skills to impress prospective clients, hosting free Chuck Taylor basketball clinics around the country to teach high school and college players his signature moves on the court.

In addition to his myriad other job duties, Taylor played for and managed the All-Stars, a traveling team sponsored by Converse to promote their new All Star shoes, and launched and helped publish the Converse Basketball Yearbook, which covered the game of basketball on an annual basis.

After leaving the All-Stars, Taylor continued to publicize his shoe—and own personal brand—by hobnobbing with customers at small-town sporting goods stores and making “special appearances” at local basketball games. There, he’d be included in the starting lineup of a local team during a pivotal game.

Taylor’s star grew so bright that in 1932, Converse added his signature to the ankle patch of the All Star shoes. From that point on, they were known as Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Still, Taylor—who reportedly took shameless advantage of his expense account and earned a good salary—is believed to have never received royalties for the use of his name.

In 1969, Taylor was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The same year, he died from a heart attack on June 23, at the age of 67. Around this time, athletic shoes manufactured by companies like Adidas and Nike began replacing Converse on the court, and soon both Taylor and his namesake kicks were beloved by a different sort of customer.

Still, even though Taylor's star has faded over the decades, fans of his shoe continue to carry on his legacy: Today, Converse sells more than 270,000 pairs of Chuck Taylors a day, 365 days a year, to retro-loving customers who can't get enough of the athlete's looping cursive signature.

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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