Q: I was having some difficulty breathing because of a tight chest, phlegm and coughing. When my doctor checked my blood oxygen level, it was low (93).

My primary care provider wanted to refer me to a pulmonologist. However, recently I had an iron test because I’d switched the type and dosage of an iron supplement I take.

The results showed that my blood iron was elevated: ferritin was 322 ng/ml (standard range being 8-252) and the percent iron saturation was 57 (standard range 15-50).

My doctor told me to take just half the dose of iron I was on. The next day my chest was open again with little phlegm. My breathing was back to normal, and my blood oxygen was 96 and has stayed there ever since.

I am wondering how many medical people are aware of these effects from high levels of iron in the blood. Instead of being terrified at having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, I simply had to reduce my iron dosage.

A: Researchers now recognize that excess iron levels in the body can cause inflammatory reactions in the lungs (European Respiratory Journal, April 23, 2020). That could lead to symptoms of asthma.


Your story illustrates why the dose of over-the-counter supplements can be vitally important. If iron levels get too high, people can experience damage to other organs as well, including liver, heart and brain.

In researching your reaction to iron overload, we stumbled across an interesting option. Researchers report that curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, can partially protect against iron-induced toxicity (Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Sept. 14, 2021). Curcumin does this by chelating (grabbing onto) excess iron (PLoS One, Dec. 1, 2020). Of course, the best strategy is to avoid overdosing on iron!

Q: To prevent prediabetes, I put a hefty spoonful of Saigon cinnamon in the filter with my coffee every day. I think you have written that this method extracts the beneficial compounds while leaving the non-water-soluble coumarin behind. Is this true?

A: You have a good method. Most types of cinnamon reduce insulin resistance. As a result, they could help in preventing prediabetes, so long as the rest of the diet is sensible.

You are correct that Saigon cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi) naturally contains fairly high levels of coumarin, which can be harmful to the liver. Coumarin is not water soluble, so your coffee filter traps it. To reduce any risk, you could consider switching to Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), as it contains little, if any, coumarin.

You can learn more about foods that help control blood sugar, cholesterol and inflammatory conditions like arthritis in our book “Recipes & Remedies From The People’s Pharmacy.” It can be found under the Store tab in the Books section of our website, PeoplesPharmacy.com.


Q: I was experiencing debilitating back spasms. The medication prescribed by my doctor turned me into a zombie.

My chiropractor recommended valerian root, magnesium and passionflower extract. After two weeks, the spasms disappeared without any side effects. This combination was the only change I made. Is such a combination truly effective?

A: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been shown to provide muscle relaxation in mice (Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, April 2018). We couldn’t find human research supporting the addition of magnesium and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) for humans suffering back spasms. We are glad it helped, though back spasms often resolve after about two weeks regardless of treatment.