Growing up in Connecticut, Robert Krochmal got the standard parent advice: “Eat your fruits and vegetables.” Now as a scientist and physician, he knows his parents were right. So right, in fact, that he’s made room alongside his medical practice to conduct research as a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.
Krochmal became interested in studying nutrition—and its role in preventing and treating disease—after he spent a year between Brown and medical school teaching in Peru. Fluent in Spanish, he later chose to do his residency in the underserved, predominantly Latino community of East Los Angeles, where fast-food outlets—and obesity—abound. It was an eye-opening experience. “I was seeing firsthand that obesity-related diseases, like adult-onset diabetes, were happening more and more in kids,” he says. “I saw [these diseases] as more than just medical problems. They were expanding into the field of nutrition and socioeconomics.”
As a UCLA postdoc, Krochmal hopes his research into the connections between obesity and disease will provide him with ways of educating his patients in his medical practice as a family physician in East L.A. “We’re developing ways to educate and change lifestyle,” he says. As an example, he points to the community garden he helped start, where area residents grow fruits and vegetables and learn about nutrition.
Krochmal also works at the nutrition center’s cutting-edge Center for Dietary Supplements Research. He and his colleagues there study such supplements as Cordyceps sinensis, a Chinese caterpillar fungus that seems to boost energy and stamina. He’s also studying the cholesterol-maintenance benefits of Chinese red-yeast rice, as well as the medicinal qualities of green teas, which contain polyphenols, a substance also found in fruits and vegetables that may offer some protection against cancer. “We believe these herbs have health effects,” he says. “We’re trying to uncover those health effects and create a scientific, evidence base for [them].”Krochmal traces his research interests partly back to his alma mater’s educational philosophy. “My education at Brown,” he says, “prepared me to be able to address this issue from a more open-minded perspective, which I think ultimately is the one that will create the solutions.”