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Daily multivitamin improves memory in older adults, study shows

Senior woman takes a multivitamin during a telehealth call on her laptop with her doctorShare on Pinterest
A daily multivitamin may offer a modest benefit to cognitive function among older adults, according to a new study. Kemal Yildrim/Getty Images
  • A daily multivitamin may offer a modest benefit to cognitive function, according to new research.
  • The three-year study showed improved memory among subjects taking a daily multivitamin.
  • Study subjects with cardiovascular disease who took a daily multivitamin saw the greatest improvement in cognition.
  • More rigorous research is needed to determine the long-term brain-boosting benefits of multivitamins.

A daily multivitamin or multimineral supplement improved memory in older adults over a three-year period, a new study shows.

If supported by future research, the findings could provide a simple and cost-effective way to slow age-related memory decline, according to the researchers.

In the study, which involved more than 3,500 adults over the age of 60, researchers randomly assigned participants to take a daily multivitamin supplement or an inactive placebo for three years.

At the beginning of the study and at the end of each year, participants took an online cognitive test at home to assess their short-term memory.

By the end of the first year, both groups saw improvements in memory, but the group taking a daily multivitamin saw more improvement.

The researchers estimate that the changes in the multivitamin group sustained over the three years of the study were equivalent to about three years of age-related memory decline. However, that improvement has been modest, and the data doesn’t account for the long term.

You basically had memory stabilization, where you kept cognitive decline at bay over that three-year period, Dr. Thomas Holland, a medical scientist in the Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition at RUSH University in Chicago, who was not involved in the study, he told Healthline.

The new study is part of a large clinical trial called the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS).

The results were published on May 24 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Taking a daily multivitamin doesn’t appear to improve other types of brain function such as memory retention, new object recognition, and executive function—the ability to plan, focus, and juggle multiple tasks.

One limitation of the study is that most of the participants were white and better educated. So the findings may not apply to other groups.

I would feel more comfortable if these findings were replicated in a more generalizable cohort, Mark A. Espeland, PhD, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC, told Healthline. North.

The study authors point out that the memory improvements experienced by the multivitamin group are small, so they may not be noticed by people.

However, even small effect sizes can result in large population-level health benefits, they wrote. Additionally, a daily multivitamin is relatively inexpensive, they added, and could be taken by most people.

Espeland said the results are consistent with results from a separate COSMOS studypublished in 2022, of which he was involved.

In that study, involving more than 2,200 seniors, he and his colleagues found that people who took a daily multivitamin saw improvements in their overall cognition, memory and executive function.

As with the new study, the effect was strongest in people with cardiovascular disease, which is a risk factor for dementia.

In a separate paper From the COSMOS study, released earlier this year, Espeland and his colleagues also found that a daily multivitamin appeared to help people who developed dementia during the study.

Among those people who went from mild cognitive impairment to dementia, if they were using multivitamins, the decline [in overall cognition and executive function] it appeared to be less, he told Healthline.

This potentially indicates that these multivitamins could also provide benefits to people with [cognitive] disease, he added.

Espeland cautions that more studies are needed before a daily multivitamin is widely recommended for older adults, especially since others research found no benefit of a daily multivitamin on cognitive outcomes.

Many factors affect memory and other cognitive abilities. One key is diet.

In the new study, the researchers assessed the dietary patterns of people at the start where both groups were similar average american diet. Consequently, they do not believe that diet influenced the mean memory changes observed in both groups.

Some clinical studies have shown that dietary interventions can improve memory. For example, the MIND diet, developed by RUSH University researchers, has been linked to better cognitive performance in older adults.

This diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.

Holland said he expected dietary interventions like the MIND diet to have a greater impact on cognition than multivitamins. However, there may still be a role for taking a pill every day, she added, especially given the high cost of fresh fish, berries and other nutrient-dense foods.

In a multivitamin, you won’t get the same amount and quality of vitamins and minerals as you would in a large, nutritious diet, he said, but you’re filling the gap with some of those potential [micronutrient] deficiencies.

Also, if you’re not planning on changing your diet, bridging with a supplement isn’t a bad idea, she said.

She also pointed out that a healthy diet is just one way to reduce the risk of age-related cognitive problems. It’s also important to have physical activity, socialization, cognitive activities, and the amount and quality of sleep, she said.

The effect of a daily multivitamin on memory in the study appeared strongest in people with cardiovascular disease, the researchers found.

These people started the study with worse memory performance, but after a year of taking the multivitamin, their memory was similar to those without heart disease.

This suggests that the multivitamin is filling nutritional gaps in a person’s diet, say the authors. Other research found that some people with cardiovascular disease may be deficient in certain micronutrients.

The results show average changes, so some people taking a daily multivitamin saw greater improvements in memory and others less.

New research shows a modest short-term cognitive benefit of taking a daily multivitamin, and subjects with heart disease who took a daily vitamin saw the greatest improvements in memory.

More rigorous studies are needed to determine whether multivitamin use impacts long-term cognitive function.

Multivitamins can offer overall health benefits when taken alongside a healthy, balanced diet.

When considering multivitamins, remember that dietary supplements are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety or efficacy. Ask your healthcare team about adding a daily multivitamin to your health regimen to determine if it’s right for you.

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