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How Dietary Supplements Can Save You Thousands

Apr 18, 2008
It's cheap, painless--and can reduce this country's healthcare spending by $24 billion over five years.

What am I talking about?

It's not the latest medical invention or drug.

Nope, it's supplements.

According to exciting research from the Lewin Group, spending just a few cents a day on some key nutritional supplements can significantly decrease chronic illness--as well as healthcare costs.

Using strict criteria, the Lewin Group analyzed scientific studies on nutritional supplements, then used our government's own accounting techniques to determine their economic impact.

They looked only at Medicare recipients and women of childbearing age, and only at supplements that have been proven to help beyond any scientific doubt:

1. Calcium and vitamin D for osteoporosis
2. Folic acid for prevention of birth defects
3. Omega-3 fatty acids for heart disease
4. Lutein and zeaxanthin for prevention of major age-related blindness, or macular degeneration

Let's start with calcium and vitamin D.

First, the Lewin Group study used older research. Newer studies suggest that higher doses of vitamin D3 (1,000 to 2,000 IU daily), may be even more helpful.

But even with that older data, the researchers found that giving older people 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D a day would decrease bone loss and hip fractures. They estimated these supplements could prevent more than 776,000 hospitalizations for hip fractures over five years, saving $16.1 billion.

Next let's look at omega-3 fats.

Among other benefits, omega-3 fatty acids help prevent cardiac arrhythmias, improve cell membrane function, reduce inflammation, and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

According to the Lewin Group, giving about 1,800 mg of omega-3 fats a day to Medicare-age people could prevent 374,000 hospitalizations from heart disease over five years and save $3.2 billion.

They also estimated the economic effects of lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids found in yellow and orange vegetables. Taken as supplements, these have been shown to treat macular degeneration, which is the loss of central vision, a major reason people over age 65 require nursing home care.

They found that taking 6 to 10 mg of supplemental lutein and zeaxanthin daily would help 190,000 individuals avoid dependent care as a result of macular degeneration. The savings? $3.6 billion over five years.

Finally, the Lewin Group looked at folic acid. If 11.3 million women began taking just 400 mcg daily of this vitamin before getting pregnant, we could prevent birth defects in 600 babies, saving $1.4 billion over five years.

These four supplements could create a combined savings of $24 billion over five years.

Yet the typical American diet often doesn't contain the necessary amount of these nutrients, putting us at higher risk for the problems mentioned above.

In fact, the majority of us are deficient in one or more nutrients at the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) level, which is the minimum amount necessary to prevent deficiency diseases. That's not even the amount often needed for optimal health and to prevent conditions like blindness, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and dementia.

That's why I firmly believe we should all take certain nutritional supplements. These recommendations are supported by mainstream medical journals (1, 2).

Here is the regimen I recommend for everyone:

1. A high-quality multivitamin and mineral that contains mixed carotenoids (including lutein and zeaxanthin), at least 400 mcg of folate, and a mixed B-complex vitamin

2. Calcium-magnesium with at least 600 mg of calcium and 400 mg of magnesium. Choose calcium citrate or chelated versions of minerals, not calcium carbonate or magnesium oxide, which are poorly absorbed

3. Vitamin D3, 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day (people who are deficient in vitamin D will need more)

4. Omega-3 fatty acids that contain the fats EPA and DHA, 1,000 to 2,000 mg a day.

This regimen is relatively inexpensive, risk free--and the benefits are enormous. You'll have better immune function, brain function, and higher energy and will also prevent many future health problems.

I think that's worth it.

REFERENCES:

(1) Fairfield KM, Fletcher RH. Vitamins for Chronic Disease Prevention in Adults: Scientific Review. JAMA 287: 3116-3126.

(2) Willett WC, Stampfer MJ. What Vitamins Should I Be Taking, Doctor? N Engl J Med 345:1819.
About the Author
Mark Hyman, MD is a pioneer in functional medicine, practicing physician and best-selling author. A sneak preview of his book "The UltraSimple Diet" is available. See The UltraWellness Blog for more on Nutritional Supplements
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