Interview with Dr. Sarah Park – Osher Center’s First Naturopathic Research Fellow

Posted On: May 16th, 2024

Interview with Dr. Sarah Park – Osher Center’s First Naturopathic Research Fellow

Interview with Dr. Sarah Park – Osher Center’s First Naturopathic Research Fellow

Question: What is your research area of focus?

Dr. Park: My research focuses on evaluating the role of nutrition and dietary supplements in the prevention of aging-related chronic diseases, including major risk factors such as hypertension. Currently, I am working on developing a community-based multilevel intervention called Teaching kitchens for HYpertension with Mindful Exercise (THYME) that aims to improve self-management of blood pressure in an underserved and diverse community in the Greater Boston Area. I am also working on a number of other projects that utilize existing large-scale trial data to examine the associations between specific foods, nutrients, and aging-related health outcomes including Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and venous thromboembolism.

Question: What led you to your interest in integrative medicine?

Dr. Park: I was raised by the sweetest and most precious grandma who very much believed and practiced food as medicine, so I think the seed was planted in me from a young age. But it took years and years to materialize into a career decision, which was ultimately influenced by 1) the loss of my grandma which to me felt could have been prevented if my family had had better health literacy and access to healthcare, and 2) later seeing a naturopathic doctor who helped me to understand the root-cause and interconnectedness of my own health issues. Integrative medicine really resonated with me because of its emphasis on chronic disease prevention, whole-person health, and honoring the roles of both conventional medicine and evidence-based CAM therapies.

Question: What currently motivates your work?

Dr. Park: Health equity has been and continues to be the compass that has directed my career path, particularly health equity in integrative medicine. For instance, although there is an abundance of supportive evidence that the DASH dietary pattern reduces the risk of hypertension, not everyone benefits from this knowledge equally. On an individual level, improving diet quality can already be difficult, but that challenge becomes even greater when living in a food desert. Multilevel interventions are suggested to be more effective for reducing health disparities among more vulnerable populations than single-level interventions because they target two or more levels of influence at or around the same time. My long-term goal is to understand if and how community-based multilevel interventions (e.g., Teaching Kitchens) can enhance the uptake of evidence-based diet and lifestyle strategies that will improve clinical outcomes in underserved and diverse communities.

Question: Have you encountered any surprising results or challenges while pursuing your research?

Dr. Park: Despite our best intentions as researchers to recruit a racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse study population, it is generally much easier said than done. Recruitment in and of itself can be a challenge, but there are so many more barriers that disproportionately impact historically marginalized communities from participating in research. This makes designing and implementing any dietary intervention in these communities more challenging as well because there are many important considerations (e.g., how can diet quality be improved with a limited food budget, how can recipes be culturally adapted for a diverse population, etc.?). So our first step is to conduct focus groups with our target population to gain an in-depth understanding of their specific needs, challenges, and preferences.

Question: What impact do you hope to see from your work over the next 3-5 years?

Dr. Park: In the next 3-5 years, I hope to develop, test, and optimize the THYME intervention in an underserved community in the Greater Boston Area, informed by direct feedback from its members. I hope that this research will lead to greater insights on Teaching Kitchens as a vehicle to enhance the uptake of evidence-based diet and lifestyle strategies in underserved and diverse populations.

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