The Ask Doctor K Column Has Ended

The Ask Doctor K column was published 6 days per week from September 2011 until November 30, 2016, distributed by United Features Syndicate to over 400 newspapers in North America. The column’s author, Dr. Anthony Komaroff, has retired from medical practice, and from writing the column. His last column, a note of goodbye, is shown just below. For more about the column, go to About Doctor K.

What could cause male infertility?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My wife and I have tried to get pregnant for over a year. We're going to be tested soon to see if anything is wrong. I'm worried that the problem lies with me. What are some reasons for a man to be infertile?

DEAR READER: About one in seven couples in the United States are unable to conceive a child after trying for one year. The infertility is caused either by the man alone (about 40 percent of the time), by the woman alone (about 40 percent of the time) or by both partners (about 20 percent of the time). So it is possible that something about you is responsible for your wife's difficulty with becoming pregnant.

Can artificial sweeteners help me to avoid weight gain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: For 20 years, I've substituted artificial sweeteners for sugar in my coffee, and switched to diet soft drinks to avoid obesity and the diseases that overweight people are prone to, like Type 2 diabetes. Now I hear that new research says that's a bad idea. What is going on?

DEAR READER: Here's what's not confusing: More than a modest amount of sugar each day is not good for you. Nothing's changed there. The sweet tooth that many of us have (I plead guilty) leads us to eat too much sugar.

What are phytonutrients?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've mentioned phytonutrients in a few recent columns. What are they? And what can they do for our health?

DEAR READER: Let's begin by breaking "phytonutrients" into its two parts. First, "nutrients." These are chemicals in our environment that we need to get inside our body, usually through eating foods that contain them. Nutrients are a necessary part of our body chemistry. Indeed, many are necessary for the life of most living things.

How can I help my daughter as she goes through puberty?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What should I expect when my daughter goes through puberty? How can I help her as she goes through these changes?

DEAR READER: Full disclosure: I don't have any personal or parental experience to tap into for this question. Experienced colleagues and friends always emphasize how important it is to discuss puberty with your daughter before these changes begin. She needs to know what to expect and also that these changes are perfectly normal. Otherwise, she might be frightened by the first signs of change, such as her first menstrual bleeding.

Will fiber or probiotics help with my irritable bowel syndrome?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have irritable bowel syndrome with alternating constipation and diarrhea. Will eating more fiber help? What about probiotics or other non-medical treatments?

DEAR READER: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder with many unpleasant symptoms. Many people with IBS go back and forth between diarrhea and constipation, with pain and bloating in between. Others always have diarrhea or constipation.

How can I make sure to travel safely while pregnant?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My job requires a lot of travel, and I recently became pregnant with my first child. What do I need to know about traveling safely during pregnancy?

DEAR READER: Being pregnant doesn't mean you have to stay at home for nine months. There are exceptions; particularly in the last three months, some women develop complications of pregnancy that require them to be resting. But for most women, travel poses no threat to the mother or child.

What is the connection between snoring, sleep apnea, and heart disease?

DEAR DOCTOR K: At my last checkup, my doctor asked if I snore. When I told the doctor that my husband says I snore a lot, the doctor said snoring can be a sign of heart disease, particularly in postmenopausal women. What does snoring have to do with heart disease?

DEAR READER: Snoring is not a sign of heart disease, but it can be a sign of sleep apnea. And people with sleep apnea are at greater risk for heart disease.

Can anything be done to prevent my mother from experiencing delirium while hospitalized?

DEAR DOCTOR K: The last time my mother was in the hospital, she experienced delirium. Given her age and state of health, it's likely she will be hospitalized again. Is there anything I can do to prevent her from becoming delirious the next time?

DEAR READER: About half of people over 65 experience delirium -- a sudden change in mental status -- during a hospital stay. This troubling experience increases their risk for cognitive impairment and dementia after their release.

What is single-payer healthcare?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard the term "single-payer health care" a lot in recent years. What does it mean?

DEAR READER: Single-payer health care is a term used to describe a single, unified health care insurance system. It means that all of your medical and health care expenses are covered by one organization -- the government.

Do I really need an annual checkup?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 73 and in great health. Do I really need to have an annual physical?

DEAR READER: Let's start by defining "great health." I would define it as having no known chronic (ongoing) illnesses. However, most people your age