Several experts in complementary and alternative medicine have pointed out the potential for berberine to lower cholesterol in conjunction with red yeast rice.

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Q: I have looked into berberine and think it may be a winner. I am taking it for pre-diabetes, and my wife is considering it for lowering cholesterol. Some studies I found equate berberine with metformin for effectiveness.

A: Berberine is a natural compound found in many medicinal plants such as Oregon grape or goldenseal. Long ago it was identified as having antimicrobial activity.

Berberine also is a component of several plants used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat high blood sugar. Research indicates that it may reduce insulin resistance and promote insulin secretion as well as lower blood lipids (International Journal of Endocrinology online, March 11, 2015).

Several experts in complementary and alternative medicine have pointed out the potential for it to lower cholesterol in conjunction with red yeast rice (Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Suppl. 2, 2015). Its action on blood sugar appears to be quite similar to that of metformin, a staple of diabetes treatment.

Q: I want to thank you. A couple of months ago, you wrote about taking turmeric for knee pain. I immediately went out and bought some.

I have had constant knee pain for many years. After taking turmeric once a day for about two months, I can honestly say it has helped immensely. I tell everyone about the results and advise them to try it.

A: The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Research has shown that it has powerful anti-inflammatory activity (Food and Chemical Toxicology, September 2015).

The medicinal use of curcumin has been limited because it is not absorbed efficiently from the digestive tract. Japanese researchers reported last year on a more bioavailable formulation called Theracurmin. In a placebo-controlled trial, they found it significantly reduced knee pain due to osteoarthritis (Journal of Orthopaedic Science online, Oct. 13, 2014).

A couple of cautions: Some people develop allergic reactions to natural products such as turmeric. In addition, people taking warfarin (Coumadin) should not start using turmeric or curcumin. We have received a number of reports indicating the interaction interferes with appropriate blood-clotting time.

Q: My cousin has been prescribed 50,000 units of vitamin D once weekly. She also takes 2,000 units daily as her doctor recommended.

Even with this big dose, her vitamin D levels are not coming up. What prevents absorption of vitamin D?

A: It is not entirely clear why some people achieve normal levels of vitamin D after taking supplements while others, like your cousin, are unsuccessful. One potential factor may be when the pill is taken. If vitamin D is swallowed right after a fatty meal, absorption is enhanced by nearly one-third (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, February 2015).

To help you and your cousin better understand the critical importance of this nutrient, we are sending you our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency. It will help you interpret lab results and learn about the dangers of low levels of vitamin D.