With all the conflicting reports about the benefits of vitamin and supplements it’s no wonder people are confused. Do supplements really help? What’s the real deal?
Well, not too long ago, a respected think tank called The Lewin Group was commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance to do an objective, scientific evaluation of the research. Their findings are instructive, to say the least.
The Lewin Group was specifically charged with looking at the possible role of dietary supplements in helping an aging population maintain their independence and quality of life. They chose two specific age-related conditions that contribute significantly to whether an older person can maintain his or her independence: Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), osteoporosis and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of irreversible blindness in people over 65. (Visual impairment is one of the top four reasons for the loss of independence.)
The Lewin Group researchers took a hard, cold look at the evidence concerning specific dietary supplements with an eye to estimating their usefulness. They specifically looked at omega-3 fatty acids for their potential impact on heart disese, lutein and zeaxanthin for their potential impact on macular degeneration, and vitamin D as it relates to the prevention of osteoporosis. They were also asked to estimate any potential health care savings from the regular use of these supplements.
The findings were stunning. Here are some of the highlights from the report:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Using a Congressional Budget Office cost accounting methodology, the estimate of the five-year net savings in hospital expenditures and physician charges resulting from a reduction in the occurrence of coronary heart disease (CHD) among those over the age of 65 through daily intake of approximately 1800 mg of omega-3 fatty acids is $3.1 billion. Approximately 384,303 thousand hospitalizations due to CHD could be avoided just in the course of five years.
The Lewin Report also referenced an important Italian study that found that patients who took omega3 fatty acid supplements had a risk of sudden death from heart failure that was 45 percent lower than those who did not. Furthermore, patients who took the supplements had a 20 percent lower risk of death from all-cause mortality.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
These two superstar members of the carotenoid family are usually found together in foods (like kale, spinach and Swiss chard), and are now part of the best multiple vitamin formulas. The Lewin Group estimates that daily intake of 610 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin would result in a significant reduction in the risk of macular degeneration and further estimated a potential cost savings of a breathtaking 2.5 billion dollars if approximately 98,219 individuals avoided the increased dependency resulting from AMD and approximately 32,740 people were able to avoid admission to a nursing facility that would be necessitated by their loss of sight in a five year period.
The researchers determined that older citizens with 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D would result in reduced bone loss and fewer hip fractures. They estimated these supplements could prevent more than 776,000 hospitalizations for hip fractures over five years at a savings of an incredible $16.1 billion. They also noted that studies have shown a substantial number of women aged 65 and older are deficient in vitamin D, and that’s not counting the enormous number of people who aren’t technically “deficient” but who are getting far from the optimal amount, a subject I’ve written about extensively on this blog and elsewhere.
These are hardly the only supplements that make a difference, but they’re the ones the Lewin Group specifically studied.
According to my friend Mark Hyman, MD, a whopping 92% of us are deficient in one or more nutrients at the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) level. But the RDA is pathetically low to begin with, and doesn’t come close to recommending the optimal levels for nutrients, just the amount needed to prevent deficiency diseases!
I’ve put together a webinar on the seven supplements I recommend for everyone, and I’ve also put together a basic package that contains the very basic vitamin supplements I think you should take every day, as well as an “advanced” package that includes everything I personally take. (There’s also an advanced package for women and an advanced package for men.)
The evidence continues to mount that taking vitamin supplements in a sensible and targeted way not only makes good sense, but may save you a lot of money in the long run.