Research on Supplements and Cardiovascular Health (Excerpt From Thorne)

Critics of the dietary supplement industry are quick to point out studies that suggest supplements don’t work and are a waste of consumers’ money. But if health-care policymakers become aware of a study published last year in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, such criticism could finally be relegated to the dustbin. According to Drs. Christopher Shanahan and Robert de Lorimier, who collaborated with Frost & Sullivan’s Health Care and Life Sciences Team to gather data for the study, the routine use of omega-3 supplements and B vitamins by individuals who have coronary heart disease could save billions of dollars in health care costs. Those are the kinds of numbers that change the way doctors practice medicine.

Coronary heart disease (CHD), a condition that affects 16 percent of Americans over the age of 55, causes 385,000 deaths and accounts for one of every six fatalities in the United States each year. The hospital-related costs for treating CHD patients now surpasses $100 billion per year, with costs for individuals over age 55 accounting for 60 percent of that figure. In order to determine whether the daily use of supplements at preventive intake levels could impact the financial burden of CHD-related events, Shanahan and de Lorimier analyzed 17 peer-reviewed, published studies evaluating the relationship between omega-3 or B vitamin supplementation and CHD-associated hospital utilization costs.

According to these researchers, if all Americans over the age of 55 with CHD took an omega-3 supplement every day, the average savings in avoided hospitalization costs would be over $2 billion annually. For users of B vitamins (specifically B6, B12 and folic acid), the savings for CHD-related hospitalizations would average $1.52 billion per year. Over the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020, after accounting for the cost of the supplements, the country would realize a net savings of more than $9 billion if everyone in this high-risk group used both omega-3s and B vitamins – that’s money America’s health insurance companies (not to mention its citizens) would like to keep in their pockets.

Drs. Shanahan and de Lorimier designed their study to examine the societal impacts associated with targeted supplementation in an at-risk population. What they couldn’t fully explore were the benefits individual CHD patients might reap from consuming a few dollars’ worth of supplements every month. Despite the lack of this additional information, it seems reasonable to assume that, in addition to saving money by staying out of the hospital, people with CHD stand to gain something even more valuable from supplementation: improved quality of life.