Traditional Soup Broths Found With Healing Powers That Can Fight Off Malaria

Soups have long been heralded for their healing properties. Claus Ableiter [CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wiki Commons

What's the universal remedy for the common cold? Chicken soup, of course. But there might be even more truth to this old adage than personal experience might have you believe.

New research recently published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood looked at traditional soup broths from around the world to see if any others might have sickness-fighting properties, and in the process a new treatment for one of the world's most devastating diseases, malaria, might have been inadvertently discovered, reports Medical News Today.

The team, led by professor Jake Baum from the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, asked pupils from various ethnic backgrounds in a primary school in London to bring them samples of homemade traditional soups. In total, 60 soups with attested fever-reducing properties were brought in for analysis. The recipes were derived from regions as far-ranging as Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Baum was especially interested in testing these soups against infection with malaria because the newest antimalarial drug, called artemisinin, was originally derived from a traditional Chinese herb, qinghao. Soups with qinghao have been used for more than 2,000 years in China to treat malaria-related fevers. So, the professor was hoping that perhaps there might be other important soup ingredients from around the world that science has overlooked in its search for remedies to this deadly disease.

Filtered extracts from the soups were incubated with different cultures of malaria-causing parasites to see if the soups would stop their growth. After just 72 hours, Baum and colleagues found with amazement that five of the 60 soups had stopped the in vitro growth of P. falciparum, the world's deadliest malarial parasite, by more than 50%. A couple of these soups showed results comparable to dihydroartemisinin, a leading antimalarial drug already on the market.

Four other broths were found to show 50% transmission blocking activity, preventing male parasite sexual stage development.

These results were far beyond what was expected. These are just soups from a few handful of households around London; imagine if researchers had pooled from an even more extensive sample size worldwide.

The team was quick to note that they don't know exactly what the key malaria-fighting ingredients were within these soups; they were all complex soups with many ingredients. Isolating the ingredients one-by-one will be the next step in their study. It was mentioned, however, that a variety of broth bases were used among the most effective soups, ranging from vegetable based, to beef or chicken based. (Of course some of them were chicken based, right?)

"At a time when there is a resurgent voice against evidence-based medicine, such exercises have great importance for educating the next generation about how new drugs are discovered, how they might work, and how untapped resources still exist in the fight against global diseases of significance," the authors concluded.

While we await further results from follow-up studies, and as we approach that annual flu season, don't scoff at your family's traditional remedies. There might be more medical magic hidden within Grandma's chicken soup than you ever thought possible.