Question: Just for fun, could you speculate on what health problems Santa Claus might have?

Answer: Since I'm not the personal physician for the "jolly big guy," this is all conjecture. Given his advanced age, occupational hazards and obvious obesity, he might be dealing with several chronic medical conditions.

Starting at the head, he's probably already dealt with cataracts and has some degree of hearing loss given his advanced age. He probably also has a bit of age-related atrophy of the brain (which explains his need for numerous personal assistants at the North Pole). Given his obesity, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if his personal physician has him on medication for hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. He also has probably dealt with benign prostate enlargement, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he's had a surgical procedure for that at some point. After all, it's a long trip around the world. Osteoarthritis of his knees, hips and lower back are probably likely given the weight of Santa's sack of toys and climbing from chimney to chimney all over the world. The extreme cold, dry air of the North Pole may cause a bit of asthma as well as a case of eczema.

But chronic health problems aside, he's a seemingly jolly old soul who never seems to fail to deliver on his promise of toys to children throughout the world. I expect him to be medically fit to conduct his Santa duties for as long as there are children who believe in the magic of Christmas.

nolead begins

You really don't need a Vitamin E supplement

Q: What is your opinion on taking Vitamin E as a supplement? What is the best dose and form of it to take?

A: I don't recommend it. Not only does the research show that Vitamin E fails to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, but there are now studies showing a possible increased risk of prostate and lung cancer with Vitamin E supplementation.

Despite the theoretical belief that the antioxidant Vitamin E might reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, the compelling results of the 10-year government-funded Women's Health Study of Vitamin E and low-dose aspirin on cancer and heart disease prevention found no statistical risk reduction in overall cancer incidence, or breast, lung and colon cancer individually. This study involved nearly 40,000 healthy women aged 45 years and older who were randomly assigned to receive 600 IU of Vitamin E or placebo and 100mg of aspirin or placebo every other day for an average of 10 years.

While their findings certainly are powerful, it left the question of whether Vitamin E might still have some benefit in men. Well, the recent Select trial, involving 35,000 participants, found a 17 percent increase in prostate cancer in men who took Vitamin E supplements over the 10-year study.

The VITAL study involving 77,126 men and women found that Vitamin E supplementation was associated with a slightly increased risk of lung cancer.

It appears that at best, Vitamin E does not protect against cancer; at worst, it may increase one's risk. Other than natural food sources of Vitamin E and that present in a daily multivitamin, I'd stay clear of taking extra Vitamin E.

Mitchell Hecht specializes in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H.," Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076. Due to the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.