Dr. Aparna Mukherjee Mele, fifty was born in Detroit, MI to Indian immigrant parents but raised in St. Petersburg, FL. She is a board-certified gastroenterologist with Digestive Disease Associates in Wyomissing since 2007. She is an avid traveler and came to the field of medicine with extensive experience in international relief work overseas.
Dr. Mele is actively involved in local philanthropic work directed towards patient education and promotion of societal health and founded and runs a nonprofit organization entitled My Gut Instinct, which hosts Berks County's annual Guts and Glory Digestive and Wellness Expo every September to educate the community about self-empowerment towards health and longevity through improved diet and lifestyle choices and to increase awareness of preventable diseases that impact community health.
PM: Why did you choose Digestive Health?
DAM: Everyone always wants to know why someone would willingly sign up to study guts all day long, but the digestive system is the most fascinating system in the body. There is something beautifully simple about the notion that what goes in must come out!! But the digestive system is so much more intricate and complex than that. First, this organ system lies in four body cavities and to have an expertise in the digestive field, a GI doctor must also understand all the organs surrounding our digestive system, starting in the head and neck, extending into the chest, then abdomen, and finally pelvis. No two patients are alike and on a given day, I take care of a plethora of conditions that affect different organs of our GI tracts, from the esophagus to the gallbladder, pancreas to the colon. It creates many mental challenges and diagnostic prowess to solve the mysteries behind a person’s given symptoms. I love using my hands to solve problems, not just my mind, and there is something wonderfully rewarding about manually stopping the bleeding from a patient who is actively hemorrhaging, or preventing colon cancer by plucking out precancerous polyps, or draining the pus from an infected bile duct. This job truly makes me a human plumber and I love it!
Finally, the biggest reason for WHY GUT HEALTH, both for me as a career and for every human out there looking out for their own guts is this: our gut is the foundation of everything, aiding in the digestion of all the foods we eat, absorbing nutrients, and using them to fuel and maintain our bodies. The gut is also one of the human body’s core disease-fighting systems. How our gut acts impact other processes in our bodies. It’s the most central organ that other organs depend on for life-supporting nutrition. The digestive system is also a powerful yet delicate ecosystem and home for the gut microbiome – a community of many different types of bacteria that play a key role in fighting disease and preserving health. We each have our own unique mix of bacteria or a microbiome “fingerprint.” Approximately 80% of our immune system cells are located in the gut, so keeping our digestive system in top condition is key to dealing with a wide range of health problems. The power of our gut bacteria in maintaining good health and affecting many disease conditions has led to the concept that our gut bacteria is the forgotten organ of our body. I love that the study of gastroenterology and focusing on gut health has put these powerful microorganisms on a throne, so we remember their importance and the role they play in our own vitality.
Both the brain and the gut play a key role in regulating our stress levels and our mood or state of mind. The gut can signal the brain about a stressor and the brain will do the same for the gut. Not only is the gut filled with nerve cells that receive and transmit information to the brain, but it also produces more than 90% of the body’s serotonin, the hormone that helps regulate our mood – that is, our feelings. Research shows that the gut is deeply connected to the brain, and one influences the other in positive and negative ways. This is the gut-brain axis, and we are now learning that our GI tract has a brain of its own. In other words, the gut, and the brain “talk” to each other. The trillions of microbes in our gut “talk” to our brain via blood circulation, the gut’s nervous system, and the gut’s immune system. In turn, the brain “talks” to our gut using the same pathways.
Our guts are not a trash can but a major player in the health of our whole body. Everyone must care about digestive wellness!
PM: Tell us a bit about your husband Dr. Carl Mele
DAM: Dr. Carl Mele is a board-certified gastroenterologist who did all his medical training at Thomas Jefferson University Medical College. He has practiced at US Digestive Health (formally known as Digestive Disease Associates) in Wyomissing since 2004.
A first-generation American born to Italian immigrants and the first doctor in his family, he is fluent in Italian and is passionate about wine making, travel, gardening/landscaping, and cooking, plus enjoys woodworking, billiards, and spending time with his wife, two children, and large extended family.
PM: Is it hard being married to another Doctor?
DAM: Both of my parents are retired doctors, and I grew up listening to them talk medical jargon to each other, share medical experiences, and seek one another’s advice about running their individual practices; my mom a successful gynecologist, and my father a successful cardiologist. While I didn’t necessarily seek to marry a fellow doctor, having my husband not only in medicine with me but also in the same field of medicine and in the same practice has been enriching and invaluable. No one understands the stressors and lifestyle of being a physician better than another one, especially when you are in the same field. We learn a lot from each other, seek each other’s advice, and even cover each other’s pagers when needed. In this way, we are both life and medical partners and I feel very lucky to call one of the best gastroenterologists I have ever known, my husband!
PM: Why Berks County Pa?
DAM: I never could have imagined landing here in Berks County after growing up on a beach in Florida. But I did most of my training in Pennsylvania, including the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and Penn State Hershey Medical, and then married a Philadelphian who happens to also be a fellow gastroenterologist and my partner at the same practice so it was probably in the cards that I would end up practicing in PA. When I first came to Berks County in 2008, it was a jolt, living in the woods by an alpaca farm, and serving a stoic and tight-lipped community that didn’t necessarily embrace preventative health care and only sought doctors when having a life-threatening emergency. But 15 years later, I learned that the universe put me exactly where I needed to be and where I could make the most impact. This very same community has embraced me as a doctor and a community member, actively sought me for my medical advice and hands of help and supported me in my practice and my nonprofit endeavors to create Guts and Glory. I have been taking care of generations of the same families, I run a successful local nonprofit and well-read wellness blog, I have a huge garden and eat from the ground, and I have friends and supporters here of all ages and all walks of life who uplift me and make me proud to be here amongst them. I am eternally grateful to be in Berks County and have a wonderful life here, so Berks County is exactly where I want to be!!
PM: Tell us about your Guts & Glory Digestive and Wellness Expo.
DAM: As a gastroenterologist, I take care of all kinds of patients with varying degrees of health. I spent each day educating them on the critical importance of diet and nutrition on digestive health and the ability to prevent disease just by what one does and does not put into one’s mouth. The phrase “You are what you eat” is a gastroenterologist’s mantra! However, studies have shown that patients recall and retain about 50% of what a healthcare provider tells them, and I have found that lecturing patients is only so effective. I wanted to find a creative and memorable way to get the message across to the community that a healthy diet facilitates digestion and helps maintain ideal body weight, and in turn, taking control of digestive health prevents disease and can improve overall health, well-being, and happiness. Rather than a health lecture or a scolding, I wanted instead to create a way to collectively celebrate the beauty of wellness overall and inspire people to eat and live better and motivate them to make positive and healthy behavioral and lifestyle changes and understand the wealth of resources in our community to help them on their journey, not just in digestive health but in global wellness. The body is a fine-tuned machine that works in harmony. All organs are affected by healthy eating and living, and a healthy working machine leads to longevity and a productive and full life. This is how Guts and Glory Digestive AND Wellness Expo was born!
It’s a community-wide celebration of health for all ages! We create a block party with an open design and use all the senses to inspire and motivate! See the colorful fruits and vegetables, listen to the festive music, smell the aromatic essential oils, feel the tactile satisfaction of a back massage, move your body on a spin bike or flow with yoga, and taste delicious, sweet, and savory but guilt-free healthy food. You cannot attend and not be struck by an intense desire to live better when you experience how beautiful healthy looks, sounds, smells, feels, and tastes! It is also a wonderful networking event between vendors, community visitors, and volunteers. Everyone there wants to be there to learn, celebrate, and smile. It’s a PEOPLE expo and an experience expo that allows all of us to come together and celebrate life and health! Plus, this nonprofit endeavor has allowed me to meet some of the BEST citizens of our community, and the wealth of friendships I have made and partnerships I have created through Guts and Glory just makes my heart smile, as does the joy of seeing people turn their lives around after learning a thing or two at our humble expo. God bless our wonderful community and may we all live and thrive!
I am incredibly touched by the love and support of my community to support my endeavor and join me in this grassroots health revolution I started 10 years ago. And when I did create this event, I had no idea it would become a decade-long annual event that grows bigger and bigger every year! I am forever surrounded by a massive hive of loyal supporters, followers, team members, volunteers, and community friends who are solely responsible for G&G’s longevity and success. We have name recognition and people of all ages and from all walks of life mark their calendars to be there! Year after year, our humble event has expanded the minds, and hopefully improved the lives of many, and we will continue our work to inspire our community members to not succumb to illness but rather embrace their control over their wellness!
I hope that our gut health fair will capture interest, educate the health-conscious and health-curious, and improve the health of our community by promoting healthy behavioral changes.