Improving Public Health, Reducing Health Care Costs:
An Evidence-Based Study
of Five Dietary Supplements



Joan DaVanzo, Ph.D., Allen Dobson, Ph.D.,
K. Jeannine Dollard, MPA., Myra Tanamor, MHSA, Heather Mc Pheron


Summary Report

Surveys of dietary intake and physical and laboratory data reveal that the typical American diet does not always provide a sufficient level of nutrients to support optimal health. Many clinicians also acknowledge that some Americans may need a vitamin and/or mineral or other supplement to meet specific nutrient needs.

Recent studies have also found health benefits associated with dietary supplements. For example, a Johns Hopkins study noted trauma patients who received vitamins E and C spent less time in Intensive Care Units and were “less likely to experience organ failure.” Progression of Alzheimer’s disease may be slowed by high doses of vitamins according to a Georgetown University pilot study with additional therapeutic trials underway. In a longitudinal study, high doses of vitamin supplements were beneficial to individuals with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). A recent, limited Carolinas Medical Center study noted that adults with type-2 diabetes who take supplements reported fewer infections than those who did not take supplements.

The Lewin Group, Inc. was commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA) to conduct an evidence-based study of five dietary supplements that could potentially improve users’ health. The purpose of this study is threefold: (1) to critically review the research evidence for each supplement, (2) to develop estimates of the potential health care expenditure savings that could result from daily use of two of the supplements, and (3) for supplements where there is emerging evidence, to suggest areas of future research that would fill existing knowledge gaps. Supplements covered in this study include (1) calcium (with Vitamin D), (2) folic acid, (3) omega-3 fatty acids, (4) glucosamine, and (5) saw palmetto.

Lewin was asked to develop estimates of potential cost savings that could result from daily use of only those supplements for which the highest standard of evidence exists at this time, and for which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved health claims. Cost estimates were developed for calcium (with Vitamin D) and folic acid, for which there is significant scientific agreement as to the improvement in health status and subsequent health expenditure reduction. Conservative estimates of savings were developed for specific relevant outcomes: for calcium, estimates of savings for avoided hip fractures among over age-65 were developed. For folic acid, estimates of savings from avoided incidences of babies being born with neural tube defects (NTD) were developed, keeping in mind that not all NTDs are nutritionally related.


Next — Key Study Findings


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