By prescribing nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3, health authorities could save A$2 through preventative healthcare costs for every $1 they spent, the paper suggested.
Moreover, 50,000 hospitalisations and the distribution of 600,000 Medicare items could also be avoided, leading to an overall saving to the public health system of A$320m (US$233m) over the next decade.
'Ounce of prevention, pound of cure'
“This is perfect support of the well known adage that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’,” said Aiden Essery, economic policy adviser of Complementary Medicines Australia, the natural nutrition industry’s representative body, which compiled the analysis.
The economic modelling was based on a study by Sydney University, published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month that showed how nicotinamide could significantly lower the risk of common, non-melanoma skin cancer in high-risk patients.
The “Oral Nicotinamide To Reduce Actinic Cancer" (Ontrac) study found that the vitamin, when taken as a twice-daily pill for 12 months, reduced the incidence of such cancers by 23% and cut the incidence of pre-cancerous sun spots by around 15%.
“The preference for prevention over cure really needs to be given greater weight in the Australian health system, both in terms of a smarter role for preventive health and in terms of health spend,” said Essery.
“This is not limited to, but certainly includes, the use of complementary medicines for primary and secondary prevention of illness, and encouraging and empowering all Australians to take better care of their health.”
Echoes other studies
The Ontrac study and its associated cost analysis reiterates a link between several of the more well-known complementary medicines with a reduced risk of a secondary disease event among high-risk groups and with major potential healthcare cost savings, Essery added.
A 2014 Frost & Sullivan report, which examined the use of complementary medicines to help prevent cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, age-related macular degeneration and depression, estimated that the use of natural supplements could save average hospitalisation costs of A$922m and lead to productivity gains worth A$900m in Australia.
“Government recognition of the potential contribution of complementary medicines is vital, as is more research to further inform how complementary medicines can contribute to funding choices in the broader context of national health,” Essery added.