Q. Should I take minerals?

It's important to talk with your doctor before you take mineral pills, especially if you take prescription medicines, have any health problems or are elderly. Taking too much of a mineral can cause problems with some medical tests or interfere with drugs you're taking.

Minerals are "micronutrients" your body needs in small but steady amounts. Your body can't make most micronutrients, so you must get them elsewhere.

Minerals come from the earth or from water. Plants and animals absorb them to get nutrients. The "major minerals" are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur and chloride. They are considered major minerals because adults need them in large amounts.

The "trace minerals" are chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc. Your body needs them in smaller amounts.

Whole foods are your best sources of minerals. It would be hard to "overdose" on minerals that you get from the foods you eat. But if you take supplements, you can easily take too much.

Q. Aren't some people making a bit too much out of second-hand smoke?

Secondhand smoke also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is made up of the "sidestream" smoke from the end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the "mainstream" smoke that is exhaled.

Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke absorb the same 4,000 chemical compounds that smokers do. More than 60 of these compounds are known or suspected to cause cancer.

Each year, in the United States alone, secondhand smoke is responsible for about 40,000 deaths from heart disease, and about 3,000 lung-cancer deaths.

Secondhand smoke causes increased cardiovascular risks by damaging blood vessels, decreasing the ability to exercise and altering blood cholesterol levels.

Some research indicates that people exposed to a spouse's cigarette smoke for several decades are about 20 percent more likely to have lung cancer. Those who are exposed long-term to secondhand smoke in the workplace or social settings may increase their risk of lung cancer by about 25 percent.

Q. You never hear about lumbago anymore. Has it been cured?

Lumbago is lower back pain. The song is just about ended, but the malady lingers on.

Back pain affects about 8 out of 10 people. Back pain is more common among people who are not physically fit. Weak back and abdominal muscles may not properly support the spine. If you're sedentary most of the time and then exert yourself on rare occasions, you are more likely to injure your back than someone who exercises daily.

If you're carrying a big belly, you put added stress on the muscles in your low back and are a candidate for agony.

Some back pain, including disc disease, may spring from your genes. Race can have an influence, too. African-American women, for example, are two to three times more likely than white women to develop spondylolisthesis, a condition in which a bone vertebra of the lower spine slips out of place.

Your job can be a major influence on back health. If your work requires heavy lifting or sitting all day, you risk hurting your back. Many sanitationmen and writers suffer from back troubles.

Mechanical problems can cause back pain. Perhaps the most common mechanical cause of back pain is disc degeneration. The cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spine break down with age.

If there is stress on these compromised discs, they press against spinal nerves and you may experience what feels like a toothache in a buttock. At almost any age, an injury can force these discs to bulge or rupture causing the same kind of pain.

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at www.healthygeezer.com.

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (TIMES NEWS) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the author do not necessarily state or reflect those of the TIMES NEWS. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.