Calcium, omega-3s and more contribute to better health

Five nutrients can help older adults live independently longer and folic acid can reduce birth defects, in a new study by The Lewin Group (an independent healthcare cost-analysis firm in Falls Church, Virginia, serving the U.S. government and industry).

Researchers reviewed the scientific literature on six nutrients—calcium with vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, lutein with zeaxanthin, and folic acid—and concluded that many high-quality studies show clear relationships between the supplements and better health. Study authors stated, “A growing body of scientific research is beginning to provide important clues about how diet choices affect health.”

Doctors cited evidence that 1,200 mg of calcium with vitamin D per day reduced bone loss and hip fractures in the elderly, cut hospital trips to repair the hip and reduced stays at skilled nursing care facilities.

Focusing on heart studies, researchers found that 1,800 mg of omega-3s per day effectively cut the risk of coronary events including heart attack, restricted heart blood flow, fat and calcium deposits on blood-vessel walls, inflammation and blockages.

Lutein and zeaxanthin—the yellow-colored antioxidants that collect in the eye and protect vision—are essential nutrients that must come from the diet. Researchers determined that taking 6-10 mg of lutein with zeaxanthin per day significantly reduced the risk of going blind in the center of the field of vision (age-related macular degeneration or AMD), a major cause of older adults losing the ability to live independently. Doctors believe poor vision causes 18% of all hip fractures.

If one-quarter of the 44 million U.S. women of child-bearing age who do not take folic acid began taking 400 mcg of folic acid per day, 600 babies could be born without neural tube defects, researchers stated.

If those at risk for bone, heart, eye and birth diseases took these supplements during the five years from 2008 to 2012, researchers project $24 billion in health savings to Medicare and other insurers. 

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