Nutritional Supplements Congressional Hearing

Congressional Hearing Examines
Nutritional Supplements' Impact on Health Care

A recent study commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA) has discovered that the use of nutritional supplements such as calcium and folic acid could very likely save over $15 billion in health care costs over the next five years. The study was made public at a Sept. 22 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness entitled Dietary Supplements: Nature's Answer to Cost Preventive Medicine. The hearing was called by Representative Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Human Rights & Wellness. Testimony focused on the ability dietary supplements' to serve a preventive role in individual health care, as well as the possible cost savings to the U.S. health care system from such use.

Burton said, I, along with millions of Americans, firmly believe that dietary supplements have been shown through credible scientific research and historical use to be of immeasurable benefit to human health, Burton went on to add, I believe when used responsibly, and in consultation with a primary care physician, these products can greatly enhance an individual's overall personal health.

Additional testimony was provided by Paul Coates, Ph.D., director of the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who provided an overview of research and education initiatives underway at NIH; Jeff Blumberg, Ph.D., associate director of the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and Barbara Levine, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of nutrition in medicine and director of the Nutrition Information Center at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, explaining the scientific research behind dietary supplement use; and Elliott Balbert, president of Natrol and DSEA chairman, who addressed the necessity of educating Americans about dietary and nutritional supplements and the need for fully implementing the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).

Testimony at the hearing concluded with actress, author and health advocate Marilu Henner. Henner expressed that she strong believes that consumers should have access to more reliable information about nutritional supplements and why the supplements should be made more accessible through private health plans and government sponsored initiatives. I believe it is important for consumers to have information about dietary supplements and to have access to supplements through their government and private health plans, Henner said. I believe dietary supplements should be part of a campaign to improve our nation's health.

Study Results

The results of the study unveiled at the hearing show calcium supplements could prevent over 734,000 hip fractures in the over-65 population, producing net savings of $13.9 billion over the next five years alone. Use of folic acid supplements for preventable neural tube birth defects (NTDs) could save an additional $1.3 billion in lifetime costs by preventing an estimated 3,000 birth defects over the same time period.

Elliott Balbert, chief executive officer (CEO) of Natrol and DSEA president stated, We are very pleased to have a solid study prepared by well-respected researchers that documents the importance of supplements to health care cost management. This clearly demonstrates to legislators and other decision-makers that supplements have the potential to save health care dollars.

Specific findings of the study include the following:

  • Calcium: Using a Congressional Budget Office (CBO-type) cost accounting methodology, estimated net savings over the next five years in nursing facility, hospital and physician expenditures as a direct result in a reduction of hip fractures among those over 65 years of age, through daily intake of 1,200 mg of calcium with vitamin D, is nearly $14 billion.

  • Folic Acid: The total lifetime cost of a baby with a neural tube birth defect in 2004 is roughly $532,000. Of the approximately 65 million American women who are of childbearing age, if only 10.5 million additional women began taking 400 mcg/d of folic acid before conception, approximately 600 babies would be born without neural tube defects per year. Over five years, $1.3 billion in lifetime costs could be saved.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Recent studies have suggested omega-3 fatty acids have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD accounted for nearly 39 percent of all deaths in the United States in 2001, including the deaths of approximately 150,000 people under the age of 65. The total cost of CVD in 2004 is estimated at $368.4 billion. Although the research literature is not yet fully developed to the point that it supports the development of cost savings estimates. It does however contain many promising studies concerning the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for a wide number of chronic conditions. The DSEA review found consistent and compelling evidence that omega-3 fatty acids help reduce death rate from CVD. In addition, there are studies demonstrating that omega-3s may help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of re-blockage after an angioplasty, increase exercise capacity in people with coronary atherosclerosis, and decrease risk associated with irregular heartbeats.

  • Glucosamine: Studies have shown that this specialty nutrient and dietary supplement exhibits anti-inflammatory effects and is believed to help repair damaged cartilage and maintain healthy cartilage. In order to further advance the science, the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), is now supporting a number of randomized, double blind studies of glucosamine.

  • Saw Palmetto: Preliminary analysis of a review of randomized clinical trials of the health effects of saw palmetto for alleviating the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) indicate that supplementing with the herb yields a slight to moderate improvement in symptoms for men with this chronic urinary syndrome. A more recent review of clinical trials of the Saw Palmetto also found that saw palmetto increases urinary flow, reduces the symptoms of BPH, improves the quality of life of BPH sufferers and is well tolerated, and may be considered a good first-line therapy for treating lower urinary tract symptoms associated with BPH.
David Seckman, CEO of the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) and a member of the DSEA board said, Many industry experts have long believed access to supplements provides consumers with long-term health benefits by reducing the incidence of debilitating health problems. This study provides evidence to support both the health promotion and disease prevention benefits of selected supplements, as well as potential cost savings.