Vitamins and supplements

Do natural sleep aids work?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm 71 years old and have trouble sleeping. I don't want to take sleep drugs, but I'm interested in supplements and natural treatments. Do they work?

DEAR READER: I understand your concern about conventional sleep medicines. Several widely used medicines have been discovered to have important side effects years after they were first approved for use.

Do I need to take a multivitamin supplement?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a healthy 50-year-old woman. Do I need to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement?

DEAR READER: Following the news on supplements is like watching a pingpong match. One study finds supplements improve health, then another study questions their benefit. Back and forth they go. One recommendation about vitamin supplements is not in dispute: Women of childbearing age should take folic acid supplements.

What could cause iron deficiency anemia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have iron deficiency anemia. What could have caused it? Also, my doctor wants me to take a daily 325 mg iron sulfate supplement. Is that dangerous? The recommended daily dose of iron is much lower.

DEAR READER: Most iron in the body is stored in red blood cells. If you don't have enough iron, it can lead to a low red blood cell count. Doctors call this iron-deficiency anemia, and it's more common in women.

Can coenzyme Q10 help with side effects from statins?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a 61-year-old man. My doctor wants me to take a statin to lower my cholesterol, but I'm worried about muscle damage. I found a website that claimed coenzyme Q10 would help. Is that right?

DEAR READER: It might be, but coenzyme Q10 has not been well studied. It surely should be: Tens of millions of people take statins in the United States alone. They powerfully lower total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels in the blood. More important, they reduce the risk of heart attacks.