MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Many experts are critical about the current craze for dietary supplements. Now a publication suggests that it is something that can save millions.

This article examines evidence suggesting that the use of selected dietary supplements can reduce overall disease treatment-related hospital utilization costs associated with coronary heart disease (CHD) in the United States among those at a high risk of experiencing a costly, disease-related event.

Results show that:

  • the potential avoided hospital utilization costs related to the use of omega-3 supplements at preventive intake levels among the target population can be as much as $2.06 billion on average per year from 2013 to 2020. The potential net savings in avoided CHD-related hospital utilization costs after accounting for the cost of omega-3 dietary supplements at preventive daily intake levels would be more than $3.88 billion in cumulative health care cost savings from 2013 to 2020.
  • the use of folic acid, B6, and B12 among the target population at preventive intake levels could yield avoided CHD-related hospital utilization costs savings of an average savings of $1.52 billion per year from 2013 to 2020. The potential net savings in avoided CHD-related health care costs after accounting for the cost of folic acid, B6, and B12 utilization at preventive daily intake levels would be more than $5.23 billion in cumulative health care cost net savings during the same period.

The authors conclude that targeted dietary supplement regimens are recommended as a means to help control rising societal health care costs, and as a means for high-risk individuals to minimize the chance of having to deal with potentially costly events and to invest in increased quality of life.

These conclusions read like a ‘carte blanche’ for marketing all sorts of useless supplements to gullible consumers. I think we should take them with more than a pinch of salt.

To generate results of this nature, it is necessary to make a number of assumptions. If the assumptions are wrong, so will be the results. Furthermore, we should consider that the choice of supplements included was extremely limited and highly selected. Finally, we need to stress that the analysis related to a very specific patient group and not to the population at large. In view of these facts, caution might be advised in taking this analysis as being generalizable.

Because of these caveats, my conclusion would have been quite different: provided that the assumptions underlying these analyses are correct, the use of a small selection of dietary supplements by patients at risk of CHD might reduce health care cost.

7 Responses to Can dietary supplements save health care cost?

  • I can’t help but think that this stinks to high heavens.

  • Isn’t the whole problem that discussions lump all manner of stuff under that one heading “Dietary Supplements”? Surely that’s only a small step from talking about the benefits of “All drugs” or even “All food”? Was it not always likely, given some decent research, that it would be found that SOME things are worth taking, for SOME benefits to specific diseases and conditions and/or risks of developing same? I wonder how the general debate can be pulled away from lumping everything together and made more useful, as in this case addressing supplements and specific conditions.

    • I could hardly agree more

    • I agree wholeheartedly. Claiming that dietary supplements will save the budget is just as silly as claiming that GMO’s cause cancer. This is alternological/quack thinking. The numbers of people taking dietary supplements because the least trustworthy clowns in the land tell them to is staggering, and the annual turnover is mind boggling.

      I submit that if the alternologists are right, Americans should be the healthiest and longest-lived people on earth by now, since they have been consuming dietary supplements in insane amounts for decades. We also know how beneficial it all is, since doctors are now increasingly being confronted with disorders caused by overconsumption of these things, something they are not necessarily well-prepared for. Obesity is bad enough, but diseases caused by overconsumption of useless products because they are claimed to be Good For Us, is beyond insane.

      If anything, I can’t help but think that the best course of action would be to reduce, not increase, consumption of most dietary supplements, except for cases where there is indeed reasonable evidence that supports their use, which is exactly what medicine has been trying to do for a century by now, and we have the results to show for it.

      So, what is these author’s agenda, except for another push to sell even more useless and increasingly dangerous junk? What do they want? Sell Omega 3 by the litre and have people drink oil in industrial amounts as many are now doing with water out of overpriced bottles with labels that claim they are green?

  • Agreed it is silly to generalize about all dietary supplements. Some are worthless, some have supporting evidence. In this case, specific supplements may help to reduce healthcare costs in specific populations.

  • I’m highly skeptical because:
    “The actions of the ω-3 (omega-3) and ω-6 (omega-6) essential fatty acids (EFAs) are best characterized by their interactions; they cannot be understood separately.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essential_fatty_acid_interactions

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