By Gerard L Guillory, MD

I have helped a number of employer groups educate employees on 10 simple but often-overlooked steps toward better health. Here’s a brief overview:


Add probiotics to your diet. If you find your digestive tract grumbling more than you think it should, you might want to replenish your gut’s probiotics. Probiotics are living, beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in the human intestinal tract and are essential to healthy digestion. A growing body of evidence suggests that probiotics help treat and prevent various forms of diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, small-bowel bacterial overgrowth, and lactose intolerance. Probiotics also may help prevent colon cancer.


Beware MSG and aspartame. If you regularly experience severe headaches, dizziness, muscle aches and digestive discomfort, the cause may lie in your diet. Monosodium glutamate and aspartame are common food additives that are culprits in many common medical complaints. MSG contains glutamic acid, and aspartame contains aspartic acid. These substances, both of which are neuroexcitatory amino acids, have been associated with headache, nausea, impaired ability to concentrate, attention deficit disorder, dizziness, flushing, muscle aches, digestive complaints and more.


Avoid trans fats. Trans fats were engineered by food scientists who wanted to boost the shelf life of processed foods by reducing rancidity. This is achieved by adding hydrogen atoms to vegetable oils, rendering the fat more rigid and stable. When you ingest trans fats, your body tries to incorporate the rigid fats into its cell walls, causing damage in the process. The damage occurs because trans fats aren’t pliable like normal fats. Metabolizing them is like forcing the square peg into the round hole.


Take appropriate supplements. Americans spend more than $17 billion a year on nutritional supplements, but few of us know what we are getting for our money. Quality standards tend to be hit-or-miss among supplements manufacturers, and individual consumers don’t always know what kinds and amounts of supplements they need. The kinds and amounts of supplements you take should be based on your individual health status, which your physician or nutritionist can help you gauge, and on your budgetary requirements.


Take Omega-3 fatty acids. Some fats are essential to good health; for example, the Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, cod-liver oil and flaxseed oil. According to some experts, the most serious problem with the American diet today is the scarcity of Omega-3 fatty acids in our foods. Omega-3 deficiency has been associated with anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, cardiovascular problems and arthritis.


Take supplemental vitamin D. Another common deficiency involves vitamin D; in fact, some medical experts are referring to this as an epidemic. Recent studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to a range of medical problems such as diabetes, chronic fatigue, osteoporosis, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, at least 16 types of cancer, and other diseases, including influenza. Vitamin D is unlike other vitamins in that our bodies manufacture it when touched by sunlight. Yet many of us spend little time in the sunlight, especially in the winter and early spring. When warmer weather arrives, we apply sunscreen in order to prevent skin cancer. Without supplemental vitamin D, few of us are likely to get as much as we need.


Get your blood tested. If you suspect that you have vitamin D deficiency, ask your physician to perform a simple blood test and, based on the results, to help you determine how much vitamin D your body needs for optimal health. You also might want to undergo a blood test to determine whether your hormones are balanced. This is crucial for patients who are taking statins (medications that reduce cholesterol) as both vitamin D and the sex hormones are synthesized from cholesterol. One other test you might consider: Researchers are finding that gluten sensitivity is more common than previously thought. A blood test can determine whether you are gluten sensitive. Symptoms may include autoimmune disorders and diabetes.


Reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a natural and vital part of the body’s response to injury, helping fight infections and ward off cancer, but it can go awry. Poor diet, lack of exercise and ineffective responses to stress contribute to the problem. Reducing chronic inflammation can help delay or, in some cases, reverse the aging process. Changing your diet, engaging in regular exercise and managing stress more effectively are critical parts of any plan to achieve these goals.


Listen to your physician. Don’t overlook the value of all the usual advice that physicians and other health-care professionals offer: stop smoking; work out regularly and appropriately; learn to manage stress more effectively; keep your weight within recommended limits; and get a good night’s sleep.