With all of the discussions about health care costs in the news these days, I often wonder why we don’t pay more attention to disease prevention, especially chronic conditions, like heart disease, cancer, stroke, osteoporosis, and diabetes. These all-too-common disorders cost us dearly, with associated medical claims well into the billions of dollars. That’s not surprising when you consider that roughly 75 percent of total U.S. health care expenditures are used to treat preventable diseases, while a mere 3 percent of our total health care expenditures go toward prevention programs.
Now a new study has found that the nation’s health expenditures would fall by billions of dollars if people with some of the most common, costly conditions used nutritional supplements to prevent or manage these chronic diseases. As the report noted:
“[By] targeting all U.S. adults over the age of 55 with diagnosed CHD [Coronary Heart Disease], the study found […] using omega-3 dietary supplements at preventive intake levels can potentially yield $484.6 million in net cost savings per year from 2013 to 2020. Lutein and zeaxanthin dietary supplement intervention could save $966.6 million per year for ARED related [age-related eye disease] medical costs through 2020 if all U.S. adults used this dietary supplement regimen at preventive intake levels. Moreover, more than $1.52 billion in health care cost savings per year would be achieved from 2013 to 2020 if all women over the age of 55 with osteoporosis were to use calcium and vitamin D at preventive intake levels.”
I recommend all of the supplements mentioned in this study – and quite a few others – regularly in my practice, and I have seen them work wonders. So I’d like to point out something important that’s being overlooked in the discussions about saving money: unlike most medications, supplements improve quality of life.
Take, for example, a patient who has been living with failing eyesight. She may find it too difficult to get around on her own, so instead of going to a community center to visit her friends or taking a walk through the neighborhood, she sits at home. We know that activity and social connections are very important to health, so this woman’s vision problem has left her essentially housebound, while her health deteriorates from being sedentary and isolated.
My point is this – saving money is good, but saving lives and easing suffering is far better. Nutritional supplements are the foundation of good health, in my opinion, and when people are healthy and feel good, they are happier and more productive. Saving money is a nice bonus, but it’s not the whole story, at least as far as I’m concerned.
A Look at What Works
Now let’s take a look at the supplements in the study and what they can do for you. The researchers focused on four chronic conditions:
- Coronary heart disease (CHD)
- Diabetes-related CHD
- Age-related eye disease (cataracts and age-related macular degeneration)
Millions of individuals, most of them over the age of 55, live with these conditions. Many of them are taking one or more daily medications, hoping to prevent a major, life-threatening, and very costly health crisis, such as a heart attack or broken hip. It means accepting the side effects, things like dizziness, muscle aches, indigestion, and memory problems, as something you’ll have to live with forever.
Don’t forget, drugs to treat the symptoms of these ailments can be quite costly. Pharmacists tell me that every day they see people who have to choose between buying medicine or food, because they can’t afford both. Supplements aren’t free, of course, but they do cost a lot less than most prescription medications (unless you are lucky enough to have your prescriptions covered by insurance).
So why don’t more people use supplements instead of medication? My guess is that many doctors are clueless about supplements and nutrition in general; they simply don’t know how powerful and effective natural remedies can be. And unfortunately, supplements aren’t covered by medical insurance. The scientific research has been done and we know that many chronic ailments respond positively to certain supplements. Omega-3 essential fatty acids, for instance, could save us almost $4 billion during the next seven years by reducing complications from heart disease. Meanwhile, we could shave more than $12 billion from the nation’s health care tab if Americans with osteoporosis took therapeutic doses of the bone-building mineral calcium and vitamin D3.
Those are substantial savings! And here again, talking about dollars overlooks the very real suffering, anxiety, and pain endured by every patient with a heart problem or an age-related broken bone. So let’s take a closer look at the supplements selected for the study and how they impact specific health conditions.
For Coronary Heart Disease:
Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFAs): The name here says it all – “ESSENTIAL fatty acids” are just that, absolutely essential to your health. Yet Americans tend to be dangerously low in these vitally important good fats. Thousands of clinical trials and research papers have shown that omega 3 EFAs:
- Help promote healthy levels of cholesterol
- Help reduce triglycerides
- Keep blood vessels relaxed and flexible
- Encourage robust circulation
- Help normalize inflammation
- Support positive mood and brain functions.
No wonder the Harvard School of Public Health found that just by taking omega-3 supplements, 100,000 American lives could be saved each year! Isn’t your life worth the cost of some fish oil soft-gels – even if your insurance won’t pay for it.
For dosage, I tell my patients to take 3 grams (3,000 milligrams) of omega-3 essential fatty acids daily. For best results, I recommend products containing about twice as much DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). This ratio is so important that I formulated my own omega-3 product that I know is free of toxins and heavy metals that contaminate so much seafood these days.
Be aware that omega-3 EFAs thin the blood. So if you take prescription blood thinners, such as Plavix, Coumadin, or warfarin, talk with your physician or pharmacist about adding omega-3 EFAs to your daily regimen.
B Vitamins: The family of nutrients known as B complex, or simply B vitamins, helps support a healthy heart by eliminating homocysteine, a damaging by-product created during the process of protein digestion. Homocysteine is considered a risk factor for heart disease, and has been shown to contribute to plaque buildup, which narrows the arteries. When B vitamins are present in the body, they help convert homocysteine to a harmless amino acid. B vitamins also:
- Play a role in boosting energy levels
- Serve as co-enzymes in chemical processes within the body
- Assist in neurological processes
- Support healthy cell division.
B vitamins need to be taken together so they can interact in the body. There are three B vitamins that are especially important for heart health – folic acid, B6, and B12 – and these should be in any B complex product you purchase. Remember, B vitamins are water-soluble, so your body does not store them and supplies need to be replenished every day.
Phytosterols: These organic compounds are extracted from plants, which is why they are sometimes called plant sterols or beta sitosterol. Phytosterols block cholesterol absorption and have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. They are considered to be extremely safe, with no reported side effects or known drug interactions.
A number of foods (certain types of margarine, orange juice, dairy products, and bread) are now fortified with phytosterols. You can also buy supplements. I tell my patients to take 1000 mg twice daily just before eating. As an added bonus for men, studies have shown that 20 mg of phytosterols taken three times per day can reduce symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the medical term for enlarged prostate.
Psyllium Fiber: Psyllium has a well-earned reputation as an intestinal cleanser that also softens the stool. But don’t overlook psyllium’s benefits when it comes to heart health and blood sugar management. Psyllium lowers both total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, while improving blood glucose control, making it a worthwhile supplement for anyone with heart disease and/or diabetes.
Psyllium is available in capsules and as a powder to mix in juice or water. A typical dosage for cholesterol reduction is 5 to 10 grams daily, while 5 grams is often enough to control blood sugar. Be sure to drink lots of water when taking fiber supplements, because fiber needs moisture to expand and function properly.
For Diabetes-attributed Coronary Heart Disease:
Chromium Picolinate: The trace mineral chromium plays an important role in glucose and energy management, as well as the production of protein, fats, and cholesterol. It’s especially helpful for keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Research indicates that low levels of chromium are common among patients with hardening of the arteries.
The typical American diet provides very little chromium, so supplements, in the form of chromium picolinate, are recommended. Take 200 mcg. (micrograms) daily; doses up to 1 mg. are considered safe for individuals with Type 2 diabetes. My own product, Complete Glucose Support, uses a groundbreaking new chromium complex formulation known as Zychrome, which preliminary research has shown to help maintain insulin function and healthy insulin levels moving toward the normal range.
For Age-Related Eye Disease (especially age-related macular degeneration and cataracts):
Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Both of these compounds are classified as carotenoids, which means they are fat-soluble pigments found in plants. In the body, both lutein and zeaxanthin operate as antioxidants, preventing damage to cells in the retina caused by sunlight exposure and the chemical process of photosynthesis. So these two substances can help protect your eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration.
Eating lots of greens or using a greens supplement each day can provide some protection. If you prefer supplements, I recommend taking 6 to 12 mg of lutein once each day, and 6 to 25 mg of zeaxanthin daily.
Calcium and Vitamin D: These two nutrients are essential for healthy bone building and preventing osteoporosis, the disease that leads to weak and broken bones, usually in the elderly. Yet a sampling of Americans showed that only 2 percent of the adults over the age of 50 took calcium supplements and other research has shown that most people in this country are seriously low in vitamin D. This is a disastrous combination when it comes to your health, especially for your bones.
While there are plenty of calcium supplements available, I recommend calcium citrate or a food-based calcium, such as one derived from algae, for best absorption. Dosage depends on your age. The current recommendations are:
- Adult men and women up to age 50 should take 1,000 mg of calcium daily;
- After age 50, women need 1,200 mg daily, while men remain at 1,000 mg;
- After age 71, both men and women should get 1,200 mg daily.
For vitamin D3, I suggest 1,500 IU daily.
Magnesium: With its role in more than 300 chemical processes in the body, you might think magnesium would be a nutrient super star. Yet somehow this mighty mineral is one too many people are missing out on, and that’s really a shame. Some health authorities believe that magnesium deficiency is behind the high numbers of heart disease patients in the U.S.
With little magnesium available in our food supply these days, I recommend taking 300 to 500 mg daily.
We all know that the current rate of health care cost increases is unsustainable. Now we have a study showing that it’s possible to save lives and money, reduce hospitalizations, and maintain better overall health simply by taking a few appropriate supplements. That’s a major step in the right direction, and I hope you’ll take advantage of this knowledge as soon as possible. It just might save your life.