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Featured Profile: Elizabeth Parks

Elizabeth Parks

Everyone has heard the phrase, “we’re not all alike.” University of Missouri researcher Dr. Elizabeth Parks is taking this popular expression to a whole new level.

Parks studies the relationship between genetic background and body weight. She believes each person has certain traits that are passed down from his or her ancestry. While people can monitor their eating and exercise habits, they cannot change their genetic makeup—and Parks says they don’t need to. “All of us have individual strengths. It’s about identifying what your special skills are, and putting those in an environment that will optimize your fitness and your health.”

In addition to research on hereditary disease risk, Parks and her colleagues also made a remarkable discovery regarding fatty liver disease. When some patients begin to gain weight, they store fat in their liver. This is usually a result of eating processed carbohydrates such as cookies, cakes and sugary drinks. When the liver becomes fatty, it doesn’t function correctly and becomes scarred and fibrotic.

During a six-month period of time, a group of patients was restricted in their intake of sugars. The team found that liver fat completely returned to normal and both scarring and fibrosis disappeared. “Many believe that once the liver is scarred and fibrotic, it can’t return to health,” Parks says. “We’ve now shown this is possible with weight loss.”

Dr. Elizabeth Parks is a Mizzou Advantage faculty hire and professor for the interdisciplinary Department of Nutrition & Exercise Physiology which spans the School of Medicine and the Colleges of Human Environmental Sciences and Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri. She is also an associate director for the Clinical Research Center at the University of Missouri.

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Related Initiative(s):
One Health/One Medicine