Prepared Foods September 27, 2004 enewsletter

A study shows that daily use of calcium would prevent 734,000 hip fractures and save $13.9 billion in health care costs over the next five years. Daily use of folic acid by women would prevent 600 cases of neural tube birth defects yearly, saving $1.3 billion in lifetime medical costs over five years. Omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and saw palmetto supplements showed substantial promise for improving health and quality of life and potentially reducing health care costs.

The study, commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance and conducted by The Lewin Group, included a systematic literature review of the most rigorous scientific research available.

Key study findings include:

* Calcium: The estimate of the five-year (2005-2009) net savings in hospital, nursing facility, and physician expenditures resulting from a reduction in the occurrence of hip fractures among those over age 65, through daily intake of 1200mg of calcium with vitamin D is $13.9 billion. Approximately 734,000 hip fractures could be avoided over the five year period.

* Folic Acid: If just 10.5 million women of childbearing age began taking 400mcg of folic acid daily, approximately 600 fewer babies would be born with neural tube defects per year, saving as much as $321,853,000 as a result. Taking into account the very low cost of the supplement, $1.3 billion in lifetime medical costs could potentially be saved over the next five years.

* Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Recent studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can have beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD), and Lewin's review found consistent evidence that omega-3 fatty acids help reduce deaths from CVD. The research literature contains many promising studies concerning the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for a wide number of chronic conditions (e.g., depression, renal disease, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma). Additional research is warranted to verify these preliminary suggestions.

* Glucosamine: Glucosamine has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and is believed to repair and maintain cartilage. Recently, the use of complementary and alternative therapies in the treatment of osteoarthritis has become more widespread, and particular interest has focused on glucosamine.

* Saw Palmetto: Preliminary findings on the effectiveness of saw palmetto for alleviating the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) indicate that use of the herb yields slight to moderate improvement in symptoms for men with this chronic urinary syndrome.

"Many studies over the years have demonstrated the positive effects of calcium and folic acid. This report reinforces those findings by demonstrating the cost savings that could be achieved by taking these two supplements," said Allen Dobson, Ph.D., senior vice president at The Lewin Group. "The results on omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and saw palmetto were also extremely encouraging in their ability to offset health problems and costs associated with chronic conditions."