There is much skepticism and a lot of misinformation about dietary supplements (more precisely called nutraceuticals). The medical class certainly did not contribute to spread scientifically valid information on the subject because of a mixture of incompetence, disinterest and bad faith. For this reason, even today, opinions of experts or pseudotals are often heard that they claim that they do not serve anything, which is money thrown away or even that they are harmful.
But the truth is very different. Meanwhile, an immense number of studies demonstrate the preventive and therapeutic utility of nutritional and phytotherapeutic substances. It is also estimated that more than 90% of people present one or more nutritional deficiencies, not so severe that acute, but sufficient to counteract metabolism and increase the risk of chronic diseases.
Often miss, it is true, large randomized trials, similar to those used to evaluate drugs. But this type of study is designed to evaluate the effect of a drug on a single pathology and fails to understand the multiple effects of nutrients on health. In addition, randomized trials usually do not have sufficient time to evaluate the effects of naturally occurring drugs that act much longer than drugs.
An analysis of the literature a few years ago (The Lewin Group 2006. The Evidence-based Study of the role of dietary supplements in helping seniors maintain their independence.) The Dietary Supplement Education Alliance has highlighted how few Key integrators could prevent many chronic illnesses and save billions of dollars in a few years. The study only considered basic supplements used for traditional purposes …
- Calcium and vitamin D to counteract osteoporosis
- Folic acid to prevent neural tube defects
- Omega-3 to reduce cardiovascular risk
- Lutein and zeaxanthin to prevent macular degeneration
The researchers were very selective and only considered studies that respected the following criteria …
- The supplements must produce a measurable physiological effect
- The physiological effect must correspond to a change in the health condition
- Health changes must be accompanied by reduced health care costs
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The data is really interesting. We start from calcium and vitamin D where the Lewin Group study estimates that using these 2 supplements could prevent more than 776,000 hip fractures in 5 years with a $16.1 billion savings.
Instead the use of omega-3 to prevent heart arrhythmias, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and pressure could prevent 374,000 hospitalizations by reducing the cost of $ 3.2 billion over 5 years. The use of lutein and zeaxanthin may, however, help 190,000 people avoid the assistance for blindness and cost $ 3.6 billion.
Finally, 44 million women in the US do not take folic acid during pregnancy. If only 11.3 million of them had folic acid, there would be 600 newborn babies with neural tube defects with a savings of 1.4 billion dollars. If you add up these data you come to the conclusion that spending some extra money a day, in five years you would get 24 billion less health costs.
These data do not take into account either people under the age of 65 or the many benefits that individual supplements produce. Suffice it to think of preventative action on vitamin D tumors that in this analysis has not been taken into account.
So those who persist in arguing that supplements do not serve should perhaps further study scientific literature. As a study of a few years ago on the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded, doctors should make greater efforts to understand if patients take the necessary vitamins.