Physician Profile: Groesbeck Parham, M.D.: Fighting Cancer at Its Source
In his work with the National Cancer Institute and PCRM’s Cancer Project, gynecologic oncologist Groesbeck Parham, M.D., is empowering African-American communities in the Deep South with his message of vegan nutrition.
“Most of the diseases that are killing African Americans are nutritionally related,” says Dr. Parham, an Alabama resident and professor at the University of Alabama School of Medicine. “That’s why the promotion of healthy lifestyle changes, of which vegan nutrition is an extremely important component, is so fundamental.”
After 17 years of practicing medicine as a prominent academic cancer surgeon, Dr. Parham completely changed his focus four years ago. “As I became disenchanted with the limitations of modern medicine in treating various cancers, I started searching for other answers,” explains Dr. Parham.
Research led him to understand the power of good nutrition to modulate the immune system and help prevent cancer and prolong survival. It wasn’t long before he decided to spread that message to a population at special risk of cancer and other diet-related diseases: African Americans.
Now Dr. Parham teaches groups in churches, community centers, and housing projects in Alabama and Mississippi, empowering people to take control of their health. Although he says this can be an uncomfortable message in a community riddled by obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, he uses good food to inspire change. All classes include cooking demonstrations of how to prepare various vegan foods and a tasting of samples to prove that healthful food can be delicious.
Dr. Parham’s wife, Katherine, uses her cooking skills to create plant-based foods such as tofu burgers and mashed cauliflower with mushroom gravy that appeal to people raised on Southern fare. “Everywhere we go, people ask for second servings,” Dr. Parham says proudly. “People can feel and taste the love she put into the food.”
The National Cancer Institute awarded Dr. Parham two grants to discover ways to encourage African Americans in the rural South to eat more fruits and vegetables. He is presently teaching cooking classes in Alabama for PCRM’s Cancer Project with plans to extend them into Mississippi.
The Parhams, a warm and outgoing couple, view their diet-changing mission as an extension of a long history of activism that dates to the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, in the 1960s. “We need to turn the quest for wellness in the African-American community into a social movement,” Dr. Parham says.