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Dietary Supplements Lower Health Care Costs and Increase Longevity

Dietary Supplements Lower Health Care Costs and Increase Longevity

Article by Arnie Gitomer

Dietary Supplements Lower Health Care Costs and Increase Longevity

A number of studies have shown that taking nutritional supplements is more than marketing hype--that supplements can, in fact, improve health and longevity, and reduce over-all health care costs. The Dietary Supplement Information Burea has done an excellent job of summarizing these studies. We are reprinting some of their summaries here, and urge you to take advantage of the information on their web site,

Health Impact II Study Finds Seniors Who Take Certain Dietary Supplements Live Longer, More Independent Lives by DSEA As the American population ages and U.S. healthcare costs skyrocket, taking certain dietary supplements could help seniors live independently longer, and offset healthcare expenditures by billions of dollars, a new study by The Lewin Group finds. The supplements studied - omega-3 fatty acids and lutein with zeaxanthin - have reported savings of $3.1 billion and $2.5 billion respectively over five years, resulting from reduced hospitalizations, physicians' visits, and avoided transitions to dependency, the report shows.

"With healthcare costs for Americans 65 and older expected to reach $16 trillion by the year 2030, the need for innovative and preventative healthcare solutions is clearer than ever," said Elliott Balbert, DSEA president. "More than 187 million consumers rely on daily use of dietary supplements, and the supplement industry is pleased that this study reinforces the efficacy and health benefits of their usage."

Underscoring the important health and cost benefits of dietary supplements for the U.S. seniors, members of Congress took one step closer to recognizing the role of dietary supplements in the health regimen of Americans, when Congressman Chris Cannon (R-Utah) today announced the creation of a bipartisan caucus on dietary supplements, which he will co-chair with Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). Cannon introduced H.R. 1545 earlier this year, which would allow supplement costs to be paid by Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

"As more and more Americans start taking responsibility for their own health, it's important that government acknowledge the positive impact dietary supplements have on disease prevention, and the substantial cost benefits to the healthcare system that result," said Cannon. "Clearly, there's cause for additional research and sound public policy supporting these products, which greatly benefit American consumers and taxpayers alike."

The study's key findings centered upon how omega-3 fatty acids and lutein with zeaxanthin allow seniors to avoid common conditions such as coronary heart disease (CHD) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), helping them live independently longer and reducing the level of disability associated with these conditions.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a qualified health claim for omega-3 fatty acids and a qualified health claim is currently pending for lutein. The FDA has acknowledged that consumers will benefit from more information on food labels concerning diet and health and this, in turn, has prompted the agency to establish interim procedures whereby "qualified" health claims can be made for dietary supplements. Health claims characterize a relationship between a substance (specific food component or a specific food) and a disease or health-related condition, and are supported by scientific evidence. All health claims must undergo review by FDA through a petition process.

The Lewin Group's analyses of existing research studied the health effects of the two supplements as they relate to reduction in risk of disease progression for adults over age 65. Using Congressional Budget Office cost accounting rules, Lewin calculated a conservative five-year savings estimate. Key findings from the study include:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

In 2002, the American Heart Association, using Federal survey data, estimated that 13 million Americans (or 6.9 percent of the U.S. population) suffer from CHD, which disproportionately affects older Americans. The average age Americans experience a first heart attack is 65.8 for men and 70.4 for women. In 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognized the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids in dietary supplements for preventing CHD by issuing a qualified health claim.

The Lewin Group estimates potential five-year (2006-2010) savings in health care expenditures resulting from a reduction in the occurrence of CHD among the over age-65 population through daily intake of approximately 1800 milligram of omega-3 is $3.1 billion. Approximately 384,303 hospitalizations and physician fees due to CHD could be avoided over the five-year period.

Lutein with Zeaxanthin
Visual impairment is one of the top four reasons for loss of independence. Age-related diseases of the eye are common (e.g., 35 percent of individuals aged 75 and older have AMD) and costly. For example, eighteen percent of all hip fractures among seniors have been attributed to age-related vision loss. The transition to greater dependency, whether through getting more help at home or through moving to a nursing facility, places considerable financial burden on the older person, his or her family, and the health care system.

The Lewin Group estimates five-year (2006-2010) net savings from avoided transitions to dependency associated with a reduction in the relative risk of AMD through daily intake of 6-10 milligrams of lutein with zeaxanthin is $2.5 billion. Across the five year period, approximately 98,219 individuals could avoid the transition to dependence either in the community or a nursing facility that would accompany a loss of central vision resulting from advanced AMD.

"American consumers rely on dietary supplements to improve their overall health and well being, and this study represents a compelling body of evidence that supports what millions of Americans already know," said John Benninger, president-elect of DSEA. "We hope that The Lewin Group's most recent study will help further educate the public and policymakers that supplements are good for health, and good for health policy."

In another report, the benefits of supplementation to seniors, specifically, is supported.

Dietary Supplements Essential to Health of Seniors
As the American population ages, a rapidly growing body of evidence shows that dietary supplements significantly improve the health of senior citizens. And diverse leaders - from the scientific community to the U.S. government - are recognizing the important contributions dietary supplements make to seniors' health.

The latest Census data reports that 35 million persons in the United States are over the age of 65 and that number is expected to grow to one in five persons over 65 by 2010. According to recent surveys, as many as 40 percent of the nation's elderly are afflicted with nutritional deficiencies. Conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, declines in memory, decreased immunity to illness and other maladies once viewed as normal signs of aging have now been linked to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.

Three recent clinical studies find that dietary supplements can treat nutritional deficiencies in the elderly and boost their immune systems, combat short-term memory loss, reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and improve seniors' overall health.

Ranjit Kumar Chandra, M.D. of Memorial University of Newfoundland conducted a year-long study of 86 persons over the age of 65. His findings, as published in the September 2001 issue of Nutrition, show that a supplement with moderate amounts of 18 vitamins, minerals and trace elements improves the short-term memory and overall cognitive abilities of seniors, and greatly strengthens their immune systems. Dr. Chandra also suggests that supplements may prevent serious neurological damage and disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

A separate study led by Hui-Zin Wang, M.D at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and published in the May 2001 issue of Neurology also links poor nutrition to Alzheimer's disease. This study followed 370 elderly adults aged 75 and over for three years, and found that seniors with low blood levels of folate and vitamin B12 have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

A study published in the August 2001 issue of Nutrition by Teresa A. Marshall, M.D. and colleagues at the University of Iowa found that nutritional deficiencies greatly increase with age, and that supplement use would eliminate these deficiencies in the elderly. Dr. Marshall studied 420 persons over the age of 78 and found 80 percent of those seniors consumed inadequate amounts of four or more nutrients. Eighty-three percent consumed too little vitamin D and 63 percent did not consume enough calcium, both necessary for preventing osteoporosis and fractures and preserving bone mass. Seventy-five percent reported not getting enough folate, important for heart disease and stroke prevention.

Despite this mounting evidence, many seniors are not seeking medical advice about supplementation. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive found that those over 65 are the age group that is least likely to discuss dietary supplements with their doctors. "Older adults need to learn about the contribution that dietary supplements can make to promoting health and reducing the risk for chronic diseases," said Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D. Blumberg is a Professor of Nutrition and Chief of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University as well as a scientific advisory board member of the Dietary Supplement Information Bureau™. "These recent studies add to the growing body of evidence that demonstrates a beneficial role for dietary supplementation in the elderly."

At the same time, the federal government is also recognizing the importance of dietary supplements in senior's health. On August 2, 2001, U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the "Dietary Supplement Tax Fairness Act of 2001" (Bill S.1330) which calls for dietary supplements to be tax deductible for employers and excluded from taxable income for employees covered by health insurance plans. Senator Harkin asserts that dietary supplements help to improve Americans' health and should be given parity with prescription drugs.

In addition to this pending legislation, the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), is also conducting research on dietary supplements' effects upon the elderly. Some of these studies are examining the role of antioxidants in preventing cataracts in people with diabetes, and the effects of melatonin and coenzyme Q10 in retarding the aging process.

"It is exciting to see the NIH and university scientists working together to define the role of dietary supplements in public health and substantiate the value of this approach to obtaining good nutrition," said Blumberg. "Research studies show that dietary supplements can help fight heart disease, enhance immune function, delay impaired vision and maintain bone density with age. The more older Americans know about these scientific discoveries, the better choices they can make to achieve optimum health."

The Dietary Supplement Information Bureau™ is a project of the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance™, an industry coalition created to promote the health benefits and responsible use of vitamins, minerals, herbs and specialty supplements.

For more information about dietary supplements, visit the Dietary Supplement Information Bureau™ web site at