Natural vitamin E supplements could save millions in U.S. health care costs

Researchers have found yet another benefit of taking natural vitamin E supplements: it could save millions of dollars in health care costs each year.

provided by Blitz & Associates

Numerous studies have suggested that natural vitamin E may help reduce the risk of heart disease. This latest study, published in the August 15, 1998 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, examines vitamin E supplementation with a new twist: how it translates into cost savings. It is the second study in the past two years showing significant cost savings of taking various antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin E.

In the study, researchers at Medical Technology Assessment Group (M-TAG) and the University of Sydney, in Sydney, Australia, calculated the financial savings from taking natural vitamin E supplements, using published data from the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study (CHAOS). In the CHAOS trial (Lancet 1996;347:781-786) a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 2,002 patients vitamin E reduced nonfatal heart attack risk by 77 percent.

The Australian researchers compared cost-effectiveness of vitamin E supplementation with coronary artery disease in Australian and U.S. health care settings, focusing on nonfatal heart attacks. They determined cost savings based on the cost of heart attacks that were avoided by administering natural vitamin E supplements to patients with atherosclerosis, based on CHAOS findings.

In patients taking vitamin E supplements, researchers found a cost savings of $578 per patient in the United States, and a cost savings of $181 per patient in Australia, compared with patients receiving a placebo. The majority of these savings were due to a reduction in hospital admissions for nonfatal heart attacks. Costs saved included bed stays, procedures, and medication.

Multiplying the U.S. savings of $578 by 1 million the number of nonfatal heart attacks estimated each year by the American Heart Association translates into a potential savings of $578 million.

"Whereas clinical trials seek to answer the question of whether a therapy is safe and effective, economic evaluation seeks to answer the broader question of whether it also represents value for money," the authors state. "This evaluation has explored the outcomes of the CHAOS trial in terms of value for money and has therefore enhanced the usefulness of the trial for health care decision makers."

The authors continue, "Our economic evaluation indicates that vitamin E therapy in patients with angiographically proven atherosclerosis is cost-effective in the Australian and U.S. settings."

Last year, in a study published in the Western Journal of Medicine (1997 May; 166:306-312), researchers calculated cost savings from taking folic acid (a B vitamin) to reduce the risk of certain birth defects, multivitamins and minerals to reduce the risk of low birth-weight infants, and vitamin E to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. According to the researchers, hospital charges related to coronary heart disease could be reduced by as much as $5.6 billion annually for men and women over 50 if large numbers of Americans had consumed at least 100 IU of vitamin E daily.

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