Are Supplements Worth It?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Healthy Living, Supplements and Health

A Cost, Benefit Analysis of Supplementation

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

are supplements worth itAre supplements worth it?  There is no question that supplements add to the family budget. As families juggle their budgets it is natural to wonder whether the supplements they are buying are worth the cost.

It is only natural to ask questions like: “What is the cost, benefit ratio of supplementation?” “Is there any evidence that supplementation today will save us money in health care costs down the road?”

If a recent study is accurate, the answer to that last question may be a resounding yes!

How the Study Was Designed

A number of studies in the past have suggested that supplementation reduces health care costs, but they have suffered from a variety of methodological pitfalls so their conclusions could not be considered definitive.

In a time of skyrocketing health care costs coupled with governments tightening their budgets worldwide, it has become increasingly important for those governments to determine what the most cost effective public health interventions are. Thus, the question of whether supplementation can decrease health care costs has become paramount.

Therefore, an international group of scientists decided to do a systematic review and meta-analysis of the cost effectiveness of supplementation (Elia et al, Clinical Nutrition, doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2015.07.012). They included only the highest quality previous studies in their analysis. After screening 16,598 published studies they excluded all but 19 in their final evaluation. The studies that they included had the following characteristics.

  • The subjects were supplementing with a commercially available multi-nutrient supplement that also contained protein and calories (i.e. a meal replacement supplement). Subjects consuming disease-specific supplements or immune-enhancing supplements were excluded from the study.
  • Subjects were studied in a wide variety of settings, including both free living individuals in the community and those in care homes
  • In some cases the supplementation was begun while they were in the hospital and continued when they went home. In other cases supplementation was begun while they were at home and continued after admission to the hospital.
  • Subjects were of all ages.

Are Supplements Worth It — The Money?

are supplements worth the moneyFrom a public health perspective the conclusion from this study was clear. Supplementation with a basic meal replacement supplement saves money. It is an effective public health intervention.

  • Overall, supplementation decreased health care costs by 8.1%.
  • For studies lasting less than 3 months, supplementation reduced health care costs by 9.2%. These were most often short-term pre- and/or post-operative supplementation studies. The cost savings ranged from $300-$530 per patient.
  • For studies lasting more than 3 months, supplementation reduced health care costs by 5%. These were mostly long-term community studies.
  • Overall, the costs savings attributable to supplementation were most apparent in short term studies involving a hospital component and in those studies involving younger patients.

The first observation was expected, but the second was a bit of a surprise. The general assumption is that elderly patients are more likely to suffer from malnutrition and benefit from supplementation. These data suggest that suboptimal nutrition may be more prevalent in younger adults than generally anticipated.

The reduction in health care costs was primarily due to:

  • Significant (16.5%) reduction in hospital admissions.
  • Decreased length of stay in the hospital.
  • Decreased infections.
  • Reduced post-operative complications.
  • Reduced falls and functional limitations in the elderly.

Although, it did not factor into the cost analysis, those subjects using the meal replacement supplement reported greater quality of life as well.  Are supplements worth it?  For some, a greater quality of life would help answer that question.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Study

This was an excellent study, but it does have some important limitations.

  • While the systematic review and meta-analysis was very well done, it is limited by the quality of the studies that were included in the analysis, and most of those studies had one or more limitations. The authors acknowledged the need for future large scale, prospective studies, that are designed specifically to measure the cost effectiveness of supplementation.
  • The authors focused almost entirely on the cost benefit analysis. No information was provided on:
  • The health of these subjects
  • Why they were using a meal replacement supplement
  • Whether they decided to use the meal replacement supplement on their own or whether it was recommended by their doctor.

Thus, it is a bit difficult to extrapolate these data from a public health perspective to an individual perspective – the question of whether supplementation reduces health care costs sufficiently to be cost effective for you and me.

  • This study showed that even a basic meal replacement supplement has a significant effect on reducing health care costs in a variety of settings. However, it provides no information on whether individuals would obtain even greater benefit if they included other supplements in their program.

The Bottom Line

  1. A recent study has shown that even a simple meal replacement supplement can be an effective public health intervention because it significantly reduces health care costs and improves quality of life.
  2. The most significant reductions in health care costs came from:
    • A significant (16.5%) reduction in hospital admissions.
    • Decreased length of stay in the hospital.
    • Decreased infections.
    • Reduced post-operative complications.
    • Reduced falls and functional limitations in the elderly.
  3. The cost savings were most significant when the meal replacement supplement was used just prior to or following hospital admission for a surgical procedure. This argues strongly for a basic program of nutrition supplementation whenever you are preparing for surgery.However, as the saying goes “Stuff happens”. We don’t always know the precise date and time of our next hospital admission. This may be one case where an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure.
  4. The study did include some long term studies of free living individuals in the community, but it is difficult to directly extrapolate from this study to the question of how much a basic meal replacement supplement might reduce health care costs for healthy individuals like you and me.However, many of the things we do to improve our health – buy organic, go on a diet program, purchase a gym membership, or go on a supplement program, for example – cost us money. It is studies like this that suggest at least a portion of those costs may be offset by reduced health care costs down the road.
  5. Finally, this study only looked at the cost effectiveness of a basic meal replacement supplement. It does not provide any information on whether addition of other supplements might provide even greater health care savings.There are studies suggesting that a holistic approach to supplementation may reduce disease burden long term (for example; Nutr J. 2007 Oct 24; 6:30). A detailed cost effectiveness analysis has not been performed on those studies, so we cannot say how much money they might save in reduced health care costs over the long term. However, if a holistic program of diet, exercise and supplementation keeps me out of the doctor’s office and out of the hospital, I’m happy.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

How to Choose the Right Pillow

Posted April 17, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Wake Up Each Morning Pain Free

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

how to choose the right pillow without headachesThe way you sleep is often a key to discovering the cause of headaches and more. If you wake up with neck pain, a headache, or you suffer from ringing in your ears, dizziness, or ear pain, there is a good possibility that it may be caused by the way you are sleeping. Your pillow may be the culprit.  But if you need to know how to choose the right pillow for you, it’s easy.   It just takes a little “investigation.”

 

How to Choose the Right Pillow if You Sleep On Your Side

Your head, neck, and spine need to always stay in a nice straight line, just as it is when you are standing up, but that takes a little thought and understanding of the way you sleep.  So, get comfy in your bed and then notice how your head is resting.

how to choose the right pillow to sleep painfreeIf you sleep on your side, your pillow needs to be just the right size, so your head doesn’t point down toward the mattress (your pillow is too soft) or up to the ceiling (your pillow is too thick). Either of these positions will make the muscles on the side of your neck stay in the contracted position for hours and pull your vertebrae in that direction, especially when you try to turn over to your other side.

Your SCM Muscle May Cause Serious Problems

You also need to notice if you turn your head a bit, especially if you are turning into your pillow or turning your head up toward away from your pillow. In either of these two cases you will be causing your sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) to be held shortened for hours.

Your SCM originates on your collarbone and inserts into the bone behind your ear.  When it contracts you turn your head to the opposite side. However, if the muscle is tight (for example, when you’ve held your head turned toward one side for an extended period of time) and then you bring your head back so you are facing forward, the tight muscle will pull on the bone behind your ear and cause havoc.

The symptoms for a tight SCM are tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, loss of equilibrium, ear pain, headaches, pain in the eye and around the skull, pain at the top of the head, and even pain in the throat. Amazing! What’s even more amazing is that it’s rare that this muscle is considered when a medical professional is searching for the cause of your symptoms.

These are the things to know when considering how to choose the right pillow if you sleep on your side.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Back

how to choose the right pillow for sleeping on your backIf you sleep on your back, your head should be on the mattress (not propped up with a pillow) and you should have a tiny support (like a folded washcloth) under your neck.  Or, you can have a wedge pillow that starts at your mid-back and gently raises your entire trunk and head up while still allowing your head and back to be in a straight line.

It’s always a challenge for people who toss and turn during the night, sometimes on their side and sometimes on their back.  The best thing I’ve found for this situation is to have the pillow below shoulder level so when you turn on your side your shoulder will automatically slide to the edge of the pillow while still supporting your head properly, and when you turn onto your back, the pillow will start at shoulder level so your head and neck are supported, but your head is being pushed in a way that causes your chin to move down to your chest.

hip pain causes and treatment pain freeIt’s tricky, but I can personally attest to the fact that it will work.  I can always tell when I’ve had my head tilted (I toss and turn during the night) because I will wake with a headache. When that happens I’m grateful that I know how to self-treat the muscles of my neck and shoulders so the headache is eliminated quickly.  If you already have Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living,  you can self-treat all your neck and shoulder muscles to release the tension.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Stomach

If you sleep on your stomach, this is the one position that is so bad that it behooves you to force yourself to change your position. Your head is turned to the side and held still for hours, putting a severe strain on all your cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae. Not only will this cause headaches, tinnitus, and a list of other pains, but it can cause problems down your entire spine. It can also impinge on the nerves that pass through the vertebrae on their way to your organs.

If you do sleep that way, let me know and I’ll give you some suggestions that work to change your habit of sleeping. It takes time and energy, but the results are worth the effort.

In every case, the way you sleep may cause neck pain that won’t go away until the pillow situation is resolved.

Now you should know how to choose the right pillow for the way you sleep.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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