Supplements use would save $15 billion in costs

A new study showing regular intake of calcium and folic acid could save more than $15 billion in health care costs during the next five years has been presented to Congress.

The study, commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA) and conducted by The Lewin Group, a Vancouver-based health care consulting firm, was presented in September to the House Committee on Government Reform?s Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness.

The study critically reviewed research on the health care benefits and cost savings of regular intake of calcium, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and saw palmetto. It aimed to demonstrate ?how supplements are safe and beneficial to health care,? said National Nutritional Foods Association executive director David Seckman.

The researchers cited ?considerable evidence? of calcium and vitamin D?s role in reducing hip fractures. Of approximately 320,000 hip fractures that occur each year in the US, they found 138,000 could be avoided through daily use of calcium with vitamin D — with a potential five-year health care saving of about $14 billion.

Researchers also found evidence that if an additional 10.5 million American women of childbearing age began taking 400mcg of folic acid daily, approximately 600 babies would be born each year without neural tube defects — saving as much as $1.3 billion in five years.

While The Lewin Group found there is not yet enough research to analyse health care cost savings associated with omega-3s, glucosamine or saw palmetto, The Lewin Group vice president Joan DaVanzo called the literature ?very promising? on all three.

?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.?

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