Healthcare spending in the United States is out of control.
We spend twice as much on healthcare as other wealthy countries—nearly 20% of our nation’s gross domestic product (GDP)—and it’s only getting worse. Annual increases of more than 5% are predicted over the next few years, with total expenditures ballooning from $4.1 trillion in 2020 to more than $6.2 trillion in 2028.
Sure, we need to tackle price transparency and bloated administrative costs. We need to curb unnecessary and low-value tests and treatments, which experts estimate make up a quarter of all healthcare spending.
We also need to prioritize prevention.
The CDC reports that 75% of US healthcare expenditures are for the treatment of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, digestive disorders, age-related vision problems, osteoporosis, and dementia.
Thousands of studies provide solid scientific evidence that, in most cases, these degenerative diseases can be prevented. Yet only 2.9% of healthcare spending goes toward preventive services.
Diet, exercise, and avoidance of smoking and excess alcohol are effective preventive strategies, but only a minority of Americans embrace all of them.
The targeted use of nutritional supplements by those who are at high risk of chronic diseases is another proven but underutilized intervention—one that could save our nation billions of dollars and dramatically improve quality of life and longevity for millions of Americans.
Healthcare Spending Data Reveals Big Savings
This was the conclusion of a comprehensive, meticulously researched economic analysis released by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) in 2022.
The report, entitled Supplements to Savings: U.S. Health Care Cost Savings from the Targeted Use of Dietary Supplements, 2022–2030, used a research methodology that established risk reductions based on meta-analyses of clinical studies of targeted supplements for specific chronic diseases.
Cost savings were based on the number of people at high risk of each chronic condition, the predicted reductions in adverse events with the use of targeted supplements, and the costs of medical interventions as well as supplements.
Here are some of the highlights.
Vitamin D & Calcium Protect Against Fractures
Osteoporosis is increasingly common with age. More than 9 million older adults, most of them postmenopausal women, have osteoporosis, and millions more have low bone density. Every year, 2.4 million of them experience a bone fracture, often accompanied by pain, disability, and loss of mobility and independence.
Two well-studied supplements help increase bone mineral density and reduce fracture risk:
- Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your bones, giving them strength and hardness. Adequate calcium is essential for the prevention of osteoporosis.
- Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium and the mineralization of bones. This vitamin also protects against fractures by enhancing muscle function and reducing the risk of falls.
If the target population took calcium and vitamin D at preventive doses, the researchers determined that during the 2022–2030 study period, 3.25 million fractures could be prevented for a net savings of $179.32 billion.
Probiotics Improve Digestive Problems
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects 13 million people of all ages. Marked by abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and other digestive symptoms, IBS seriously impacts quality of life and contributes to absenteeism at work and school.
Because disruptions in the gut microbiome—the microorganisms that live in the intestinal tract—are an underlying cause of IBS, targeted supplements can help:
- Probiotics replenish and rebalance beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, often providing significant relief from IBS symptoms.
If the men and women who have IBS took supplemental probiotics, a savings of $110.22 billion over the nine-year period could be expected. Most of these savings are related to reductions in lost productivity due to missed work—a total of more than 3.7 billion hours.
Lutein & Zeaxanthin Help Stave Off Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in older people. Marked by gradual deterioration of the macula, an area in the center of the retina, AMD can cause significant central vision impairment. Although AMD-related vision loss cannot be reversed, it can be prevented or delayed.
The National Eye Institute-funded AREDS2 study found that two supplements slowed progression and preserved vision in patients with AMD:
- Lutein & zeaxanthin are carotenoids concentrated in the macula that increase the density of the macular pigment, which filters out damaging blue wavelengths of light and protects against oxidative damage.
If older people, who are at increased risk of developing AMD, took lutein and zeaxanthin supplements,195,485 million cases of advanced AMD could be prevented over the study period, for savings of nearly $959.2 million.
Omega-3s, Vitamin K2, Magnesium & Fiber Reduce Heart Risk
Coronary artery disease, our number one cause of death, is especially prevalent in people aged 55 and older, affecting 13.4 million or 13% of that age group. Heart attacks, heart failure, and other adverse events related to coronary artery disease impose a heavy financial burden, including emergency room visits, hospitalizations, surgeries, medications, cardiac rehab, and follow-up treatment.
More than a dozen vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients have been shown in clinical trials to improve various risk factors for coronary artery disease and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events. They include:
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids reduce systemic inflammation, a key contributor to cardiovascular disease. These supplements also help keep levels of triglycerides in the normal range.
- Vitamin K2 moves calcium out of the arteries and into the bones, reducing arterial stiffness, plaque buildup, and valve calcification.
- Magnesium relaxes the arteries for better blood flow and blood pressure. This mineral also helps prevent cardiac arrhythmias and coronary artery spasms.
- Soluble fiber reduces the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream, which helps keep levels of LDL cholesterol in check.
If individuals at risk of coronary artery disease took just one of these supplements, there would be significant reductions in heart attacks, heart failure, etc., plus their associated costs over nine years. Depending on the nutrient, these supplements could prevent 731,125 to 2.71 million adverse cardiovascular events, reducing healthcare spending by $13.3–$85.3 billion.
B Vitamins Slow Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Cognitive decline is on the rise as our population ages. Nearly 6.8 million men and women in this country have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia. Another 21.5 million have mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—serious enough to be noticed by family and friends but not enough to interfere with normal activities. Unfortunately, every year 10%–15% of people with MCI progress to dementia.
Halting or slowing progression of MCI with targeted supplements could put a dent in our rising rates of dementia:
- B-complex vitamins (B6, B12, and folate/folic acid) are required for optimal brain function. These vitamins also help prevent elevated levels of homocysteine, an amino acid linked with an increased risk of cognitive decline.
If everyone with MCI took B6, B12, and folate, an estimated 2.44 million men and women could avoid progressing from mild cognitive impairment to dementia from 2022 through 2030. Predicted savings are $109.93 billion, most of it attributed to reduced costs of caregivers and assisted living facilities required by patients with dementia.
Cognitive decline, heart disease, macular degeneration, IBS, and osteoporosis are not the only chronic conditions that can be prevented or their progression slowed by targeted supplements. Nor are the nutrients included in the study the only effective supplements.
Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, digestive disorders, depression, allergies, and other chronic diseases also respond to the use of preventive doses of targeted nutritional supplements.
We as a nation need to get serious about emphasizing preventive strategies—not only supplements but also weight loss, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. It’s the only way to slow the tide of chronic diseases that are engulfing our healthcare resources and damaging our health, quality of life and longevity.
Benjamin Franklin said nearly 300 years ago, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s time to prioritize prevention.