According to a 2022 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 41% of American adults carry medical debt, and collectively, Americans owe over $195 billion in medical debt. (3) Rising medical costs, inequitable access to affordable healthcare services, high insurance deductibles, and inadequate health insurance coverage are a few of the reasons that explain why we’re seeing significant numbers of Americans carrying medical debt. (4)
Did you know? Just like other types of debt, medical debt can worsen various social determinants of health, including increased food insecurity, an inability to rent or mortgage, and eviction or foreclosure. (4)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 90% of the annual healthcare spending in the United States went to cover costs incurred by individuals with mental health conditions and chronic diseases, such as heart disease, dementia, osteoporosis, and age-related eye disease. In many cases, these chronic diseases can potentially be avoided through various types of preventive care and lifestyle modifications. (2)(5)
The U.S. healthcare system remains largely focused on a reactive approach when it comes to treating chronic conditions; however, more healthcare practitioners are shifting their focus to preventive medicine to support general wellness and address risk factors before the patient develops a chronic condition. An added benefit of a preventive medicine approach is the cost savings for the patient. Where do supplements factor in? When combined with diet and lifestyle modifications, dietary supplements may play a role in disease management and prevention and can be an affordable option for many patients.
Can supplements provide healthcare cost savings?
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) completed a scientific literature review investigating the potential relationship between taking dietary supplements and the incidence of various health conditions. After compiling a database of meta-analyses and other studies, CRN evaluated the potential healthcare cost savings of dietary supplements when taken by individuals considered at-risk for certain chronic health conditions.
The report noted that targeted supplementation of certain nutrients and other dietary components for at-risk populations reduced avoidable medical events and produced significant net savings. Let’s dive into some of the health conditions explored in this report.
Coronary artery disease
The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), characterized by plaque buildup in the artery walls. CAD continues to be the leading cause of death among American adults, accounting for about 25% of annual deaths. Treating CAD comes with high medical costs, which may include the costs associated with emergency department visits, hospitalizations, surgeries, medications, and more—not to mention the costs incurred as a consequence of the condition, such as lost wages. (5)
In many cases, CAD can be prevented by addressing lifestyle choices, namely avoiding tobacco and alcohol, following a healthy diet, and engaging in regular physical activity. Research also points to the potential benefits of some key dietary supplements for reducing an individual’s risk of developing CAD. CRN’s report demonstrated that taking four key supplements—omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, dietary fiber, and vitamin K2—helped reduce the relative risk of experiencing a medical event related to CAD by up to 15.7%. It’s also estimated that the U.S. medical system would experience up to $85.3 billion in net medical cost savings by administering these four supplements to at-risk individuals. (5)
Did you know? The average cost of coronary artery disease per affected individual is approximately $35,000. That includes direct and indirect costs such as medical services, medications, and productivity losses due to the condition. (5)
Osteoporosis, which most often affects postmenopausal individuals, is a common bone disease that causes weakened, fragile bones that are prone to fracture. Individuals with osteoporosis typically incur many medical costs associated with the care and treatment of their condition, including hospitalizations, surgeries, medications, and ambulatory services. (5)
Two dietary supplement ingredients have been shown to support bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporotic fracture—vitamin D and calcium. CRN’s report noted that vitamin D and calcium, when administered to at-risk populations, reduced predicted avoidable future medical events by 361,507 between 2022 and 2030, reduced relative risk of a medical event by 14%, and saved over $179 billion dollars in healthcare costs. (5)
Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative eye disease and the leading cause of vision loss in older adults. (1) Medical care required to address AMD can be expensive; however, the majority of expenses related to AMD are attributed to supporting quality of life to those affected by severe visual impairment or blindness. (5)
Lutein and zeaxanthin are two antioxidants found in the diet that are best known for protecting the eyes and supporting eyesight. When given to individuals with low vision and blindness as a result of AMD, lutein and zeaxanthin may enhance visual acuity and reduce the risk of age-related eye disorders, thus potentially contributing to lower medical costs. It’s estimated that simply supplementing with a daily dose of lutein and zeaxanthin in high-risk populations may result in more than $959 million in avoided costs. (5)
Cognitive decline, whether the result of normal aging or caused by neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia, requires expensive specialized medical services and long-term care. It’s estimated that as of 2021, over 21 million Americans over the age of 50 suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and today, an additional 6.78 million Americans have a diagnosed dementia disorder such as Alzheimer’s disease. (5) The majority of costs associated with the care and management of cognitive decline are attributed to hired caregivers, specialized homes, and home modifications. (5)
For at-risk individuals, supplementing with vitamins B6, B9, and B12 may prove to be beneficial for reducing the signs and symptoms of cognitive impairment and may prevent mild cognitive impairment from progressing into a more advanced stage of the disease. Daily use of B vitamin supplements may prevent over 270,000 medical events and save $109.93 billion in costs, according to CRN. (5)
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder affecting the gastrointestinal tract that is characterized by debilitating gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, abdominal distension, gas, and pain. The goal in treating IBS is to improve quality of life so that the symptoms of the condition don’t disrupt the patient’s life. IBS can be costly, primarily because individuals with IBS often have to miss work due to their symptoms, resulting in lost productivity and wages. (5)
For individuals suffering from IBS, a probiotic supplement may provide some symptom relief. Research demonstrates that daily use of a probiotic supplement containing at least ten billion colony-forming units (CFUs) may improve symptoms and quality of life among IBS sufferers. If all wage earners with IBS took a daily probiotic supplement, it’s estimated that each person would avoid 50.2 absentee hours per year, amounting to 650.6 million hours valued at nearly $13 billion. (5)
Childhood cognitive development disorders
Adequate prenatal nutrition is essential for child cognitive development and the prevention of childhood cognitive development disorders. Choline, a nutrient necessary for a healthy brain and nervous system, is especially critical during pregnancy. It’s estimated that 90% of expectant mothers do not get enough choline through diet alone; yet, choline supplements are only used by about 1% of American female supplement users over the age of 18. (5)
When administered to expectant mothers, supplemental choline can help support child cognitive development and prevent cognitive development disorders, thus reducing healthcare-attributed costs by an estimated $113 million in 2022. (5)
Did you know? No matter your or your patient’s health goals, Fullscript offers thousands of high-quality supplements with practitioner-driven pricing that ensures you’re getting MSRP or less on all products.
The bottom line
Rising medical costs, limited healthcare insurance coverage, and high deductibles are among the many reasons for why more and more Americans are burdened with medical debt. That’s not all—the U.S. medical system is strained by the costs involved in delivering care to increasing numbers of Americans suffering from one or more chronic health conditions, many of which may be preventable. Targeted supplements can be an affordable and impactful component of a treatment plan.
If you’re a patient, always speak to your integrative healthcare practitioner before making changes to your treatment plan or taking new supplements. If you’re a practitioner, click here to learn more about Fullscript and sign-up for a free account.
To learn more about the benefits of using dietary supplements, visit the Fullscript blog.
- National Eye Institute. (2015). Age-Related macular degeneration (AMD). https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/age-related-macular-degeneration
- Health and Economic Costs of Chronic Diseases | CDC. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm
- KFF. (2022). Health Care Debt In The U.S.: The Broad Consequences Of Medical And Dental Bills – Main Findings. https://www.kff.org/report-section/kff-health-care-debt-survey-main-findings/
- Himmelstein, D. U., Dickman, S. L., McCormick, D., Bor, D. H., Gaffney, A., & Woolhandler, S. (2022, September 16). Prevalence and Risk Factors for Medical Debt and Subsequent Changes in Social Determinants of Health in the US. JAMA Network Open, 5(9), e2231898. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.31898
- Supplements to Savings: U.S. Health Care Cost Savings from the Targeted Use of Dietary Supplements, 2022–2030, Frost & Sullivan/CRN Foundation, www.SupplementstoSavings.org