A new study indicates that age-related memory loss can be improved, at least in the short term, by taking a daily multivitamin.
The researchers found that one year of multivitamins produced an effect similar to turning the cognitive aging clock back more than three years and that this effect persisted for the duration of the study.
Subjects with cardiovascular disease who took multivitamins experienced the greatest improvement in memory. It’s still unclear which vitamins in multivitamins have helped boost memory, suggesting the need for more research. Multivitamins are a safe and popular choice to help people meet their nutritional needs.
For older adults, taking a multivitamin daily may improve memory and help slow age-related cognitive decline, according to a new study from Columbia University in New York and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard in Boston (Massachusetts). The study, which lasted three years, found that the improvements in cognitive functions were maintained throughout the duration of the study. The study was published May 24 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
A daily multivitamin improves cognition
The new study is a second parallel trial that accompanies the recently completed COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study Web, or COSMOS-Web. Its main objective was to study the beneficial effects of multivitamins and cocoa flavanols on memory. The current study, however, only looks at the effects of taking multivitamins.
As part of the study, 3,562 elderly people were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first took a daily multivitamin for the three years of the study. The second group took a placebo. Each year, participants’ memory was assessed using online neuropsychological tests. The researchers primarily wanted to measure the strength of episodic memory, that is, immediate recall.
After a year of taking the multivitamin, study participants experienced an improvement in their memory, equivalent to a flashback of about 3.1 years compared to a control group.
The study authors found that the most significant memory improvement occurred in people with underlying cardiovascular disease. The reason for this phenomenon is unclear, but researchers believe it may be related to a pre-existing nutritional deficit. As a secondary objective, the researchers also looked for changes in episodic memory over the study period, as well as in participants’ performance in recognizing novel objects and executive functions. They found, however, that multivitamins had no effect on these particular neuropsychological tasks.
Longer term research is needed
The results of the study are particularly compelling in that they represent the simultaneous findings of two separate trials. Both trials showed that multivitamins slowed cognitive decline in the short term (three years).
This research is complicated by a number of factors that can affect cognitive performance, including:
coexisting vascular risk factors
social determinants of health
unhealthy behaviors (sedentary lifestyle, alcohol consumption and smoking).
How do multivitamins improve memory?
The study does not examine exactly which vitamins in multivitamins played a role in memory support. Multivitamins contain over 20 essential vitamins and minerals, and it is not possible to determine the specific micronutrient that confers cognitive benefits when a combination tablet is administered. If one person is lacking in one vitamin and another person is lacking in another vitamin, a multivitamin might help both of them. In addition, deficiency in several vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc and iron, has been associated with cognitive decline, and vitamin E may have neuroprotective properties.
Take multivitamins to maintain brain health
Taking a daily multivitamin might be a good idea based on the COSMOS-Web studies. These results suggest that multivitamin supplementation holds promise as a safe, accessible, and affordable approach to protecting cognitive health in older adults. A standard daily multivitamin for adults, providing daily allowance values for essential vitamins and minerals, should provide similar results.
But multivitamins (and other dietary supplements) should not be seen as a substitute for a healthy diet or lifestyle, even if used as a complementary approach.