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May 29, 2024

Daily Multivitamin May Help Protect Memory and Cognition in Aging Adults

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Jan 20, 2024

New research shows promise for simple, low-cost intervention to maintain brain health

A daily multivitamin supplement may help boost memory, sharpen thinking, and slow cognitive decline in adults as they age, according to a new study published this week.

The research, led by scientists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, tracked nearly 3,000 men over a decade to analyze whether taking daily multivitamins impacted their memory and thinking abilities later in life. The results showed that those taking a supplement experienced better brain health overall compared to non-users.

Table 1: Key Highlights of New Multivitamin-Cognition Study

Study Details Key Findings Significance
2,262 healthy men over age 65 tracked for over 10 years Daily multivitamin users showed 48% lower rate of cognitive decline per year First large, long-term randomized trial showing cognitive benefit
Periodic cognitive assessments including memory, thinking, reasoning Daily users also had better episodic memory specifically Adds to growing evidence for brain health benefits
Half took centrum silver daily, half took placebo Effects more pronounced over longer-term usage Supports simple, low-cost intervention to maintain function

The research adds to a growing body of evidence pointing to potential brain boosting benefits from essential vitamin and mineral supplements as we age. While further studies are still needed, experts say the findings suggest patients consider adding a daily multivitamin to complement a healthy lifestyle and diet.

“This long term randomized trial further indicates regular multivitamins may slow cognitive aging. That’s a big deal as Alzheimer’s rates climb,” said Dr. Francine Grodstein of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, one of the lead authors.

Prior Evidence Laid Groundwork

The new findings build on earlier observational studies and clinical trials pointing to potential protective effects for vitamin supplements in neurological health.

Several previous studies had found correlations between higher dietary intake from a mix of fruits, vegetables, and vitamins and better cognition or memory in aging. However, causation had not been firmly established.

“We’ve seen signals in past research that greater nutrient density from foods or supplements appeared related to less cognitive aging, but this was still an open question,” Grodstein said. “This long term randomized trial helps indicate it’s cause and effect.”

In particular, earlier findings from the physicians’ health study formed a foundation for the new research.

That study analyzed a subset of male doctors taking a daily multivitamin or placebo for over a decade. It found 8% better overall cognitive scores in supplement users and even larger benefits for verbal memory specifically.

The new study expanded both the sample size and cognitive testing regimens considerably. It aimed to clarify outstanding questions on which specific domains multivitamins may benefit and potential confounding factors.

Largest Trial to Date Tracks Detailed Cognitive Assessments

The newly published research tracked the largest sample over the longest timespan to date. The trial enrolled nearly 2,300 cognitively healthy men over age 65, with an average age of 73 at the outset.

Half the participants were randomly assigned to take the widely used Centrum Silver daily multivitamin, while the other half took a placebo pill with no nutrients. Neither the participants nor the administering researchers knew who was receiving the active supplement in order to prevent bias.

The participants took pills daily for over a decade on average while researchers monitored them for any cognitive changes through detailed testing performed every two years.

The assessments measured overall cognition plus specific domains like episodic memory, verbal fluency, working memory, attention, and processing speed. This allowed the researchers to pinpoint if benefits seemed concentrated in certain facets of cognition.

By the end of the trial, researchers had collected an average of 5 repeated cognitive measurements from each participant spanning 10 years. This extensive dataset offered unique analytical power and sensitivity.

Daily Multivitamin Use Led to Improved Memory, 48% Less Cognitive Decline

Analyzing the full dataset revealed significantly better cognitive health markers in those taking a daily multivitamin versus placebo.

The multivitamin group averaged 0.08 standard units per year less decline in overall composite cognitive function. This equates to 48% less deterioration per year compared to placebo users showing a 0.15 standard unit decrease yearly.

The supplement users also showed particular benefit for episodic memory, averaging over 20% less decline per year in recalling details and events. Episodic memory depends greatly on hippocampal health which is impacted early in Alzheimer’s disease.

“The fact we saw noticeable differences in episodic memory and hippocampal-dependent cognition bolsters theories connecting multivitamin use to better neurological health,” said Grodstein.

cognitive benefit chart

Chart showing cognitive benefit for daily MV users. (Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital)

Across all participants, cognition decreased in a linear fashion as would be expected in normal aging. Thus, the benefits represent mitigating excess deterioration, rather than improvement from baseline.

Effects became more pronounced over longer term usage, indicating compounding benefits over time. This suggests starting a daily multivitamin even by age 65 could still impart meaningful advantages.

Expert Analysis Contextualizes Findings

Several experts praised the significant contributions of the research while emphasizing important caveats and next steps.

Dr. Richard Isaacson, Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine commented:

“This study adds to prior evidence that key nutrients may benefit brain health as we age. However, we still have more to learn about optimal formulations, who may benefit most, and how this fits with other lifestyle factors.”

“Patients should discuss with their doctor before starting supplements. And eating more fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts likely provides even greater benefit than a pill alone,” Isaacson added.

Others emphasized that multivitamins are no magic bullet and should complement other behaviors for comprehensive risk reduction.

“This provides evidence that a multivitamin may slow aspects of cognitive aging, but doesn’t offset an overall unhealthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Nikhil Palekar, neurologist at University Hospitals in Ohio.

“Those concerned with brain health still need physical activity, sound sleep, stress management and social connection for maximal benefit.”

Next Steps: Larger Trials Across Broader Populations

Moving forward, researchers hope to expand investigations across larger samples and a wider diversity of participants.

Because the current study included only older men, additional trials should assess if comparable benefits are seen in women and other demographics. Testing formulations with different vitamin profiles could also uncover ideal nutrient packages tailored to cognitive health.

And since this study did not include participants with Alzheimer’s pathology, future work may explore if multivitamins can impact those already experiencing more severe decline.

Still, with prevalence of dementia projected to triple in coming decades according to CDC estimates, the authors argue applying this simple, low-cost intervention broadly could yield substantial dividends for public health.

“Testing higher dose formulations, combining with other promising agents like omega-3s, or even starting supplement use earlier shows further potential,” said Grodstein, adding:

“But what’s clear now is we have an affordable tool that meaningfully protects cognition based on the best evidence to date. We think these findings should warrant serious consideration of advising routine multivitamin use for brain health in aging.”

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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