Multivitamin improves memory in older adults, study

An inexpensive way to help older adults slow down memory decline.

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Maintaining cognitive function is crucial for older persons, yet there are currently few efficient methods to prevent cognitive decline. Supplementing with multivitamins is utilized to improve overall health; however, it is unknown whether this will have a positive impact on cognition as people age.

A new study by Columbia University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard researchers examined the effect of daily multivitamin/multimineral supplementation on memory in older adults. Scientists found that taking a daily multivitamin supplement can slow age-related memory decline.

In this trial, nearly 3,500 persons over 60 (mainly non-Hispanic white) were randomized to receive a daily multivitamin supplement or a placebo for three years. Participants completed a series of online cognitive tests at home at the end of each year to evaluate their memory performance in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain impacted by aging. The COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS), a significant clinical experiment directed by Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard, includes the COSMOS-Web study.

Comparatively, to those taking a placebo, individuals taking a daily multivitamin experienced an improvement in memory by the end of the first year. According to the researchers, the improvement, which persisted throughout the three-year trial period, was equivalent to about three years of age-related memory loss. In patients with underlying cardiovascular disease, the effect was more pronounced.

The current study’s findings align with a recent COSMOS study involving more than 2,200 older persons, which discovered that taking a daily multivitamin enhanced general cognition, memory recall, and attention. These effects were also more pronounced in people with underlying cardiovascular disease.

Adam M. Brickman, Ph.D., professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said, “There is evidence that people with cardiovascular disease may have lower micronutrient levels that multivitamins may correct, but we don’t know right now why the effect is stronger in this group.”

Lok-Kin Yeung, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and first author of the study, said, “Our study shows that the aging brain may be more sensitive to nutrition than we realized, though it may not be so important to find out which specific nutrient helps slow age-related cognitive decline.”

Co-author JoAnn Manson, MD, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said, “The finding that a daily multivitamin improved memory in two separate cognition studies in the COSMOS randomized trial is remarkable, suggesting that multivitamin supplementation holds promise as a safe, accessible, and affordable approach to protecting cognitive health in older adults.”

Brickman said, “Supplementation of any kind shouldn’t replace more holistic ways of getting the same micronutrients. Though multivitamins are generally safe, people should consult a physician before taking them.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Lok-Kin Yeung, Daniel M. Alschuler, Melanie Wall, Heike Luttmann-Gibson, Trisha Copeland, Christiane Hale, Richard P. Sloan, Howard D. Sesso, JoAnn E. Manson, Adam M. Brickman. Multivitamin Supplementation improves memory in older adults: a randomized clinical trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.05.011

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