The Cost Benefits of Preventative Health: What Vitamins Do for Your Wallet
Working on staying healthy is one of the best things you can do to put cash directly in your wallet. With healthcare costs increasing, staying out of the hospital or doctor’s office can save you thousands over a lifetime. Preventative health includes several things like adequate sleep, good food, exercise, and stress management. But did you know that vitamins are also a vital part of staying healthy and can actually save you money in the long run?
Our healthcare system might be more aptly described as a “sick care” system, since it mostly works to treat people after they get sick instead of preventing them from getting sick in the first place. Approximately 25% of deaths in the United States are due to lifestyle factors and could be preventable. The Preventive Medicine Research Group is dedicated to conducting research that proves prevention works to lower healthcare costs and keep people healthier overall. The Preventive Medicine Group has shown the importance of lifestyle factors in several diseases from cardiovascular disease to diabetes. Vitamins, espcially antioxidants, have been shown to play a key role in the prevention of illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
A recent study by the Lewin Group showed that spending money on vitamins and supplements can significantly reduce future illness and reduce healthcare costs, saving you money in the long run. The study focused on a few main vitamins that had substantial research to back up their efficacy: calcium, folic acid, omega 3, lutein and zeaxanthin. These supplements were found to cause a measureable change in health status when taken regularly and the change was significant enough to result in a substantial decrease in healthcare costs. The Lewin group found that all of these supplements if taken regularly would result in a $24 billion savings over 5 years, a significant impact on preventative health.
- Calcium: providing older adults with 1,200 mg of calcium (plus 400 IU vitamin D) results in fewer hip fractures and less bone loss. This could save $16.1 billion dollars in hospitalization costs over a 5 year period.
- Omega 3: reduce inflammation and lower risk of cardiovascular problems. The recommended amount used for the study was 1,800 mg per day and could reduce healthcare costs by $3.2 billion.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: both found in orange/yellow vegetables and were shown to help with macular degeneration, resulting in $3.6 billion in savings.
- Folic acid: if all women of childbearing age regularly took folic acid, it would save $1.4 billion and prevent neural tube birth defects in thousands of children.
How do you know that your supplement really is giving you the health benefits you expect? If you are looking for a basic multivitamin to stay healthy, try to keep it simple. A vitamin with a ton of additives or herbs is probably not necessary, may be harmful, or may interact with medications. In general, it is wise to avoid supplements that contain greater than 100% of the daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals that, when taken in excess, can lead to vitamin poisoning, which can lead to toxic symptoms. Examples of nutrients that when taken in excess can be toxic are iron, vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and Vitamin D.
Another factor to consider is the bioavailability of the supplement, meaning how well it is absorbed and used by your body. A few things that can influence bioavailability is exposure to heat/light, interactions with other supplements or medications, the form of the nutrient, or what time of day the supplement is taken. One way to know if the supplement is of high quality and contains the ingredients it says it does, is to look for the label to say that it is approved by the US Pharmacopeia (USP) which measures quality of nutritional supplements. The USP sets standards for several aspects of supplements such as how quickly they dissolve. The form of the nutrients in the supplement is very important, for example D3 is the active and most beneficial form of vitamin D, so a supplement with D2 will not be as effective.
Overall, spending a few extra dollars on preventative care – on those hiking boots, on that gym membership, on those organic vegetables rather than the usual packaged pseudo-foods - will help keep you healthy year-round and may be one of the best things you can do to lower healthcare costs. A balanced diet, a high quality multivitamin, regular excercise, and plenty of sleep will set you on the right track to avoiding poor health and put some extra cash in your pocket. Prevention is definitely key.
Just remember to check with your healthcare professional before adding any supplements to your diet, particularly if you have health concerns.