Calorie Restriction

The Why and How of Scientific Research

Scientific research is a constant and exciting pursuit of answers. Scientists can identify areas in which answers are needed, and then go to work to design experiments to best answer those questions. In many cases, the more answers that are generated, the more questions scientists have, as we realize we oftentimes do not know nearly as much as we once thought. 

Types of Research 

There are many different types of scientific research studies and experiments, but the three umbrella forms include the following: 

  1. In vitro studies: these experiments are done outside of the body—that is, outside of a living organism. This might involve cells that are placed into a petri dish, treated, and studied. This might also include experiments performed inside of a test tube. Such studies are often designed to provide details on mechanisms of action (i.e., how things work), and may not be possible when using a living system (referred to as an in vivo study). Although the results from in vitro experiments do not always translate into finding when applied to a whole body, they do serve a useful purpose and are used regularly as a part of the research process. 
  2. Pre-clinical animal studies: these are preliminary studies conducted using animal models—which can range from the popular mice and rat studies, to evaluation of rabbits, dogs, birds, fish, and other species. Animal studies almost always precede the human clinical studies, as the animal work helps us to better understand how things work, what to expect in terms of side effects and efficacy, dosing to consider, and related issues. Results from the animal work helps scientists gauge whether the hypothesis may be heading in the right direction. 
  3. Human studies: these include a range of study types, all involving human subjects. These might include single lab visits, more advanced laboratory assessments, and the “gold standard” clinical trial—randomized, placebo controlled, double blind design, which may include a variety of outcomes. Ideally, human clinical trials are available to support the recommendations being made for use of a particular product, therapy, program, etc. For example, if someone is recommending the use of a particular food or dietary supplement for purposes of health enhancement, clinical trials should be available to support this recommendation. Without such studies, the person may simply be guessing as to what may work and hoping for the best. 

Timeline for a Research Study 

When people see a scientific manuscript in final form, they may not fully understand the time and effort needed to arrive at this point. The general process includes the following: A review of the scientific literature to determine where holes exist (e.g., which questions remain to be answered); Develop a question; Develop a hypothesis; Develop a research design to test the hypothesis; Secure funding to pay for the study; Develop and coordinate the research team to conduct the study—a variety of people are needed, with different areas of expertise; Receive approval to conduct research from the appropriate governing body (IACUC or IRB); Recruit subjects or purchase animals/cells; Complete data collection; Perform data analysis; Interpret the data—and develop next steps or practical applications (why are these findings important and how can they be applied); and Publish the findings. Depending on the type and extent of research study, the process could take as little as a few months to as long as a few years to complete. There is often a significant monetary cost involved to pay personnel, purchase supplies, compensate research participants, etc. 

The Importance of Research 

While having research data is helpful in guiding decisions in many areas, it’s particular important when it comes to use of agents that humans might consume. This includes dietary supplements. We need to feel confident in product safety, as well as the overall effectiveness. We need to understand how and when products should be taken for optimal results. We also need to better understand the impact of the products for different populations (younger and older, men and women, exercise-trained and sedentary). Finally, we need to understand how the products can be used in conjunction with certain diets and exercise programs, for optimal results. Research provides such answers. 

Thankfully, many reputable dietary supplement companies are now sponsoring research studies at universities and other research entities, in an attempt to verify their products efficacy and safety. If findings are published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, such as noted for a combined cell culture and human study, as well as an animal study, this should be viewed as a step in the right direction. 


In summary, research is an ongoing process that is necessary to answer existing questions. Thankfully, much research is being conducted pertaining to lifestyle approaches to improve health, including a focus on nutritional interventions the use of dietary supplements. An educated consumer should seek to identify the relevant scientific research, understand the research findings, and put these into practice in their own lives and the lives of others.

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