A new study showing that regular intake of calcium and folic acid could save more than $15 billion in health care costs during the next five years will be presented to Congress in an attempt to increase funding for more research into dietary supplements.
?Improving Public Health, Reducing Health Care Costs: An Evidence-Based Study of Five Dietary Supplements? was scheduled to be presented Sept. 22 to the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform?s Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness. The goal, said National Nutritional Foods Association Executive Director David Seckman, is to show the government an ?example of how supplements are safe and beneficial to health care.?
The study, commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance and conducted by The Lewin Group, a Falls Church, Va.-based health care consulting firm, critically reviewed research on the health care benefits and cost savings of calcium, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and saw palmetto.
The researchers cited ?considerable evidence? of calcium and vitamin D?s role in reducing hip fractures and found that of approximately 320,000 hip fractures each year in the United States, 138,000 could be avoided through daily use of calcium with vitamin D.
Using a Congressional Budget Office cost-accounting approach, researchers calculated gross and net costs to a Medicare-like payer for treatment of a hip fracture. They concluded that over a five-year period, supplementation would result in $13.9 billion in savings for hip fracture treatment, including surgeon?s fees, hospitalization and rehabilitation.
Researchers also found evidence that if an additional 10.5 million American women of childbearing age began taking 400 mcg of folic acid daily, approximately 600 fewer babies would be born each year with neural tube defects, saving as much as $321.9 million. Over five years, $1.3 billion could be saved in direct medical costs, therapies and equipment, and special education.
The Lewin Group found there is not yet enough research to analyze health care cost savings associated with omega-3s, glucosamine and saw palmetto.
?In certain instances, supplements are an inexpensive and safe way to improve health status and reduce health care expenditures. In these cases, the role of public policy to support their use is unambiguous,? the researchers concluded. ?In other instances, although the available evidence is less definitive, it warrants attention from health care providers and their patients, as well as continued investment of public financing for additional research.?
Vicky Uhland is a Denver-based free-lance writer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 10/p. 15