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Chicken Soup for the Scientist's Soul

Photo of Dr. Stephen Rennard
Dr. Stephen Rennard found chicken soup could in fact reduce inflammation in vitro.

So, what is the modern scientific method? Aristotle might be glad to know the process still begins with observation. Humans are naturally observant creatures and we often notice a correlation between events, as in "I ate chicken soup and now my cold feels better." The scientific method allows us to determine whether correlated events have a causal relationship, as in "chicken soup alleviates cold symptoms"

In 2000, Dr. Stephen Rennard of the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, NE actually applied the scientific method to the ages-old observation that chicken soup makes people with colds feel better.


Rennard wondered if something in chicken soup might reduce the upper-respiratory inflammation that causes such cold-related misery.

The first step in the process is to ask the right question. There are lots of ways chicken soup could potentially ease discomfort. It could simply help keep you hydrated, it could provide some vital nutrient, or it could contain a specific curative compound. But scientists can't test for all of that at once. Rennard, a professor of medicine and pulmonary specialist, wondered if something in chicken soup might reduce the upper-respiratory inflammation that causes such cold-related misery. This narrow question, a specific angle from which to look at the question of whether soup cures colds, is called a hypothesis.

Rennard could then go about testing his hypothesis through experimentation. Rennard prepared a number of samples of chicken soup, then measured the samples' affect on white blood cells called neutrophils, immune cells that cause congestion. By carefully recording these observations, Rennard gathered data, numbers he could then subject to rigorous statistical analysis. This analysis reveals how persuasive the results of the experiment are. As Rennard suspected, the soup inhibited the neutrophils' ability to cause inflammation. Rennard had gathered evidence that supported his hypothesis.

When scientists perform experiments with interesting results, they write up exactly what they did and what they found in a formal report. They then submit this report to their peers, who review and often double-check the results to make sure they all agree that the experiment is solid science. Once everyone agrees the study has scientific merit, the report may be published in a scientific journal. Rennard's chicken soup study, formally titled "Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro," was published in the scientific journal Chest, in 2000, volume 118, pages 1150-1157.
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Images: www.usaweekend.com; Institute for Science and Health

 

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