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“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.”

- Benjamin Franklin

The start of a New Year signifies new beginnings, a clean slate and, of course, New Year’s resolutions. recently posted a list of the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2015:

Not surprisingly, more than half pertain to health. People want to feel well; that's a no brainer. But in case you need an extra push to start the New Year on a healthier note, here are a few examples of how a healthy lifestyle can also improve your gastrointestinal (GI) health.

Lose weight, Get fit, Eat healthy food

Obesity is truly an epidemic and a killer. Managing your weight has innumerable health benefits for your heart, joints, blood sugar and, yes, even your GI tract. Obesity has been strongly correlated with heart burn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In particular, as abdominal fat increases so does bothersome reflux. Even modest weight loss can help improve GERD symptoms. So, this year if you lose a few pounds you may also lose that queasy feeling you get every time you eat a slice of pizza.

A healthy lifestyle may also have long-term GI health benefits. Colorectal cancer is very common and leads to roughly 50,000 deaths annually in the United States. The good news is that diets high in fruits and vegetables and increased physical activity have been correlated with a decreased risk of colon cancer. So this year, put down that burger, eat a salad and go for a run!      

Manage stress

It turns out that there may be some science behind the proverbial butterflies in your stomach during times of stress. The GI tract contains a nervous system all its own called the enteric nervous system. This system communicates closely with the central nervous system (which includes the brain). When the brain perceives stress or anxiety the signals can easily be transmitted to your GI tract causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhea. In fact, people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have been found to have higher stress levels than healthy individuals. While managing stress is easier said than done, think of it as killing two birds with one stone: peace of mind and peace of stomach.  

Quit smoking

In case you needed more reasons to quit smoking here they are. Several GI cancers including esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer and colon cancer have been linked to smoking. In addition, cigarette smoking has been implicated in promoting inflammation of the pancreas, know as pancreatitis, which can be a very serious disease. So, while the main reason to quit smoking is to help your heart and lungs, there is the added bonus of improved GI health.

Drink less alcohol

Medical research suggests that moderate alcohol intake has a protective effect on the heart. The key word in the previous sentence is moderate. Excessive alcohol use, or abuse, can have disastrous consequences. With respect to the GI tract, it can promote GERD and increase the risk of esophageal cancer. Alcohol, like tobacco, can also cause inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis. Finally, and most widely know, is the effect of excessive alcohol intake on the liver. Alcohol abuse can cause liver cirrhosis and liver failure. So this New Year’s eve, raise a glass and celebrate. But maybe keep it to just that one glass.

Have a happy and healthy New Year! See you in 2015.  

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