The results of a new study indicate that the daily use of a multivitamin by older adults could lead to more than $1.6 billion in Medicare savings over the next five years. The study, which was funded by Wyeth Consumer Healthcare and conducted by a northern Virginia health care consulting firm, The Lewin Group, found that daily use of a multivitamin byolder adults is a "relatively inexpensive yet potentially powerful way" to improve America's health. The study found that the health effects were particularly important for cardiovascular health and improved immune functioning.

"From the perspective of a payer," the report concluded, "the encouragement of the daily use of a multivitamin could be cost beneficial.

The study was a review of clinical studies on the effects of multivitamin use on adults over 65, and analyses of medicare claims files for 2001. Using Congressional Budget Office cost accounting rules, gross and net costs to a payer were determined for a five-year period (2004 - 2008). Potential savings would be achieved through a reduction in hospitalizations for infection and heart attacks, a reduction in Medicare nursing home stays for infection, and a reduction in home health care associated with infection (pneumonia).

"The five-year estimate of potential savings (or cost offsets) resulting from improved immune functioning and a reduction in the relative risk of coronary artery disease through providing older adults with a daily multivitamin is approximately $1.6 billion," the report states.

"The five-year estimated cost offset associated with avoidable hospitalization for heart attacks is approximately $2.4 billion," it adds.

Over five years, the report concludes, it would cost $2.3 billion to provide daily multivitamins to every senior in the United States, for a net savings of $1.6 billion.

The Lewin study refered to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which last year reversed its policy of 20 years and encouraged all adults to take a multivitamin every day. Two Harvard Researchers, Robert H. Fletcher, MD, M.Sc., and Kathleen M. Fairfield, M.D., Dr.P.H., of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed more than 30 years of English-language articles about vitamins in relation to chronic diseases and published their findings in June, 2002 in two companion articles.

In the scientific review article, the two physicians consider the evidence that suboptimal intakes of a number of vitamins are associated with increased risk of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. In a clinical commentary, they note that "a large proportion of the general population" has less-than-optimal intakes of a number of vitamins, exposing them to increased disease risk.

The researchers stated in the issue of JAMA that "we recommend that all adults take one multivitamin daily."

When reporting on the Lewin study earlier today Reuters said the study was also sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) at the Health and Human Services Department, and that CMS Commissioner Tom Scully was scheduled to comment on the report later today. Later Reuters updated the story to show that CMS did not sponsor the study and that "CMS denies that Scully was ever scheduled to appear and comment on the study."


Comment from ANH

News and reports of this typeare most certainly a step in the right direction, but does the best science really advocate that a typical multivitamin tablet will lead to optimal health?

These multivitamins, as typically sold in supermarkets and pharmacies, generally contain vitamin levels close to or at 100% RDA which are well below those doses considered optimal by many leading clinical nutritionists, particularly if cardiovascular disease, cancer and other degenerative diseases are to be combatted via nutrition.

These sorts of multivitamins tend to be manufactured by pharmaceutical companies and they generally contain synthetic rather than natural forms of vitamins. Where the products include minerals, the mineral forms tend not to be organically bound and are therefore not as bioavailable.

It is interesting to note that these sorts of products will not be impacted significantly by the Food Supplements Directive.

If multivitamins could save Medicare $1.6 billion, how much could leading-edge innovative nutrients save? We will never know unless we prevent the EU Food Supplements Directive from taking out innovative manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, retailers and practitioners who are reliant on such products.