Why an important New Year’s resolution is to take care of your GI health

Why an important New Year’s resolution is to take care of your GI health

Dr. Heather Klavan

Dr. Heather Klavan, gastroenterologist at Bergen Medical Associates,

Explains why minding your gut should be a top health priority.

Roughly 20% of the U.S. population — an estimated 60-70 million Americans — suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) conditions that can disrupt daily life, according to recent studies by the American Gastroenterological Association. A healthy GI tract can improve the immune system, augment heart health, help with weight management and support other organ and system functionality, according to experts.

Longtime gastroenterologist Heather Klavan, MD — triple Board-Certified in Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine and who is the newest addition to the team at Bergen Medical Associates, with six offices throughout Bergen County — can attest to GI health’s relationship to overall health.

“If your gut isn’t working well, it can affect everything, from energy level and the ability to perform to cognition and mental health,” Dr. Klavan said. “Because our GI system fuels the entire body, it’s very interconnected with other parts of medicine and is critical to our overall health.”

Dr. Klavan discusses some of the most frequent GI disorders she treats, top tips for improving GI health in the new year, and why she finds a career in gastroenterology so rewarding.

What are the most frequent GI disorders you see?

Dr. Klavan: Some of the most common GI conditions we treat include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, or acid reflux); inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and colitis; and celiac disease. We also see a lot of patients for screening colonoscopies, which comprise a large part of our activity.

Please describe typical treatments for the conditions you mentioned.

Dr. Klavan: IBS can present with diarrhea or constipation. In terms of treatment, we may start with over-the-counter medications, depending on the type of IBS the patient has. For constipation, treatment might involve laxatives, while for diarrhea, we might recommend fiber supplements or anti-diarrheals. We’d also suggest an elimination diet to identify and remove the food(s) that might be triggering individuals’ issues and we would additionally encourage patients to reduce their stress level, as studies show a link between GI issues and comorbidities of depression and anxiety. GERD is typically treated with an anti-acid diet and anti-acid medication, from over-the-counter to prescription options. For IBD, we might prescribe anti-inflammatory medications like steroids as well as biologics, which work by blocking chemical messages from the immune system that trigger inflammatory events in the GI tract. Celiac disease can manifest itself in everything from the most benign of symptoms (such as mild anemia or bloating) to severe diarrhea and weight loss, and individuals might still have a gluten sensitivity even if they don’t have full-blown celiac. We’d work to determine this and then recommend a diet free of their specific triggers or go gluten-free altogether.

What advice can you share for improving GI health in the new year?

Dr. Klavan: Being proactive about getting a colon cancer screening is a great first step in the new year. Based on a recent rise in the number of younger people being diagnosed with colon cancer, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the baseline age to begin getting colonoscopies from 50 to 45. This screening can eradicate any polyps that might be found and prevent them from developing into cancer altogether. This would make colon cancer one of the only cancers for which there’s a specific preventative treatment. For that reason, it’s important for people to stay up to date on their colonoscopies.

In terms of diet, the World Health Organization recently classified red meat (especially processed red meat) as a carcinogen because it’s high in fat, low in fiber, and harder for the body to digest relative to other choices. For this reason, we recommend that people limit their intake of red meat for optimal GI health.

Fiber helps to cleanse the colon and prevent diverticulitis (inflammation in one or more of the pouches lining the digestive system), so fiber is very important for colon health and can also help prevent constipation. Foods rich in fiber include chia and flax seeds, whole wheat bread, and a range of fruits and vegetables, especially berries, apples and pears. Certain cereals also are high in fiber, including Fiber One and Cracklin’ Oat Bran, but it’s best to stick with whole foods for the most natural source of fiber. In addition, whole grains are a good source of fiber and although some have gluten, they aren’t an issue if you don’t have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.

Finally, regular exercise is great for overall health and for maintaining an ideal weight and avoiding obesity. This is especially important, as obesity can increase one’s risk of heart disease and a variety of cancers (including colon cancer) as well as joint stress, and many other serious conditions. Exercise supports both digestive and cardiovascular health, often improves high blood pressure and cholesterol, and can also help people move their bowels, especially if they lead a more sedentary lifestyle.

Please tells us about your background, why you were attracted to the field of gastroenterology, and what you enjoy most about joining Bergen Medical Associates.

Dr. Klavan: I’m originally from Denver, but I did my medical training at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan, and Yale New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. I then practiced gastroenterology in Manhattan and Westchester County, N.Y. before joining Bergen Medical Associates, so I’ve been located in the metro New York area for years and feel very comfortable here. From a medical perspective, gastroenterology is very tied to overall health, and I enjoy the opportunity to meet patients of all ages and backgrounds. I also enjoy the cadence of this specialty, which involves a good mix of procedures and office visits and preventative care and acute treatment.

I’m excited to join Bergen Medical Associates because I live in this community and it’s nice to be able to take care of your neighbors and local residents. BMA [-p ccccccccccccccccccfeatures an outstanding, well-trained and professional group of doctors and I love the multi-specialty aspect of the practice — we have so many specialties under one roof, which enables us to refer patients more easily and provide them with a more holistic, collaborative and comprehensive treatment plan.

What final words of advice can you share regarding GI health?

Dr. Klavan: It’s about doing everything in moderation; it’s OK to have a treat once in a while, but avoid going overboard and giving up. If you indulge, follow it up by eating light or doing an intermittent fast, drinking more water and exercising. This will help with digestion and get you back on track and in the right mental state. Then set New Year’s goals and get into a good routine by engaging in meal planning, showing up to the gym and making that effort.

For More Information

With offices in Emerson, Paramus (two), Ridgewood, Northvale and Montvale, Bergen Medical Associates offers primary care and 12 areas of specialized care. Patients enjoy the “one-stop shopping” approach where so many medical services are provided under one umbrella. The multi-specialty group fosters an environment of collaboration among the physicians, which results in a seamless continuum of care for patients. For more information, contact us today or call 201-967-8221.


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