The Economics of Probiotic Use

We often think of probiotics in the context of their benefits to human health. But are they beneficial to your bottom line as well? An insightful investigator, Dr. Irene Lenoir-Wijnkoop from Utrecht University, the Netherlands, has been dedicated much of the past 8 years or so to apply economic modeling to gain insight into monetary benefits that probiotics may impart.

I was privileged to be part of a team led by Dr. Lenoir-Wijnkoop to look at economic impact of probiotics in the USA. The paper describing the analysis was recently published. The study used prevention of respiratory tract infections (RTIs)/flu-like symptoms as the model health endpoint. Estimates of the effect of probiotics were obtained from 2 meta-analyses (here and here) that pulled data from human trials that reported effects of probiotics for reducing the incidence or duration of what essentially is the common cold. Probiotics have been shown to work. King et al found probiotics significantly shortened duration of RTIs by 0.77 days. Hao et al found probiotics significantly reduced RTI duration by 1.89 days s and RTI incidence by 0.70.

If you prevent or decrease duration of the common cold, there are many avenues to save money, including reducing expenses for doctor visits, medications, and productivity loss. The one cost is to the individual is the cost of the probiotic. This specifically was not included in the analysis since a reliable estimate of probiotic cost was not available. Further, probiotics purchased in the form of yogurt or other fermented dairy foods provide the food value along with the probiotic, and the cost of the added probiotic above the value of the food may not be so significant.

The analysis found that when considering illness-associated costs to the health care payer and cost of missed work, a conservative estimate of total yearly savings in the United States was between $784 million and $1.4 billion.

A similar analysis was conducted using the populations and costs for France and in Canada.

Probiotics may play a role in promoting health in other ways, too. I discuss probiotics for healthy people in a previous blog. Although we lack estimates of all potential cost savings, if probiotics were widely consumed and if evidence from robust clinical trials  extrapolated to the population as a whole, society could save health care resources for use elsewhere, individuals might have a bit more money in their pockets, and everyone would be a bit healthier.

See related press release