By Sandy Almendarez, Natural Products Insider, October 31, 2011. Posted April 9, 2012.
SCHAUMBURG, Ill.—Congress could help solve the national budget crisis by encouraging Americans to take supplements, which have been shown to reduce health care costs, according to Allen Dobson, Ph.D., cofounder and president of Dobson, Davanzo and Association LLC. At the Natural Health Research Institute’s (NHRI) 7th Scientific Symposium, on Oct. 28, 2011, he said the Lewin studies reported calcium and vitamin D supplements could save $16.1 billion over five years, which is more than 20 percent of what a Congressional subcommittee is asking Medicare to give up.
Dobson also reported the other findings of the Lewin Studies, which conducted a cost analysis of four supplements: calcium plus vitamin D, folic acid, lutein plus zeaxanthin, and omega-3s.
The researchers said calcium plus vitamin D was associated with reduced bone loss and reduced fractures, with the best evidence supporting a reduction in hip fractures. After conducting a meta analysis on available evidence, they found a reduction not only in the cost of the hospitalization to repair the hip, but also the post-acute stay a some portion of patients (about 25 percent) in a skilled nursing facility. This supplement combo could cut approximately 776,000 hospitalizations for hip fractures over five years, as well as reduced skilled nursing facility stays. The five-year estimated net cost effect associated with avoiding hip fracture was approximately $16.1 billion savings to Medicare.
Of the approximately 44 million American women who are of childbearing age and not taking folic acid, the Lewin studies reported if just 11.3 million began taking 400 mcg/d of folic acid, 600 babies would be born without neural tube defects, saving as much as $344,700,000 per year. Over five years, taking into account the cost of the supplement, $1.4 billion could potentially be saved, Dobson said.
The carotenoid combination of lutein with zeaxanthin could help reduce the costs that come from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The Lewin Studies found 6 mg/d to 10 mg/d of each could save $3.6 billion over five years, and approximately 190,927 individuals could avoid the transition to dependence in a nursing facility that would accompany a loss of central vision.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) could reduce the occurrence of coronary heart disease (CHD) among the over age-65 population, saving an estimated $3.2 billion over five years, according to the Lewin studies. Further, Dobson noted approximately 374,301 hospitalizations and associated physician fees due to CHD could also be avoided.
Dobson said having a healthy population is key to economic success, as those who are not sick are more productive and more able to create opportunities to gradually break the cycles of both poverty and hunger. Better nutrition is a prime entry point to ending poverty and a milestone to achieving better quality of life, he said.
However, he noted convincing people to supplement is still an uphill battle. He said behavior change is not easy, and mainstream press, with their negative reports, do not help. He pointed to two recent news stories—one covering a multivitamin study and the other covering a vitamin E study—that have shed a negative light on the supplement industry.
Dobson said the authors of the vitamin E study in particular reported they did not know why the supplement was linked to higher incidences of prostate cancer; they did not have a biomarker or blood test to show any correlation. However, the news reports did not cover this uncertainty.
“You may have study like this and then a counter study in three years, but press won’t cover it,” Dobson said.
Despite the setbacks, Dobson said a growing body of research is beginning to provide clues about how diet choices affect health. In some areas, the relationship between specific foods/supplements and particular health effect is fairly clear. With the information we have, it’s becoming more evident that supplements can and do reduce health care costs.