A major new study published this week in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association has found evidence that taking a daily multivitamin may help slow memory loss and cognitive decline associated with aging.
Key findings show reduced risk of memory and thinking problems
The study, known as COGMOS (COgnitive health and multivitamin in older adults study), analyzed over 2,200 participants aged 65 and older who took either a multivitamin or a placebo daily for 3 years. The multivitamin contained vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B12, folic acid and other B vitamins.
The researchers, led by experts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found that compared to the placebo group the participants who took the multivitamin supplement showed:
- A 26% lower risk of experiencing mild cognitive impairment (problems with memory and thinking skills)
- 28% reduced decline in global cognition based on a composite score assessing memory, executive function skills like planning and judgement, and other measures.
As we age, many people experience some mild decline in memory and thinking skills. But this new research indicates taking a daily multivitamin may keep these faculties sharp for longer and reduce risk of impairment down the road.
Why B vitamins and antioxidants benefit the aging brain
Previous studies have linked low levels of certain vitamins and nutrients with increased dementia risk. This new clinical trial provides high quality evidence that getting adequate amounts of these dietary components may be neuroprotective.
Both B vitamins like folate and B12, as well as antioxidants like vitamins C and E, are involved in important processes in the brain:
- B vitamins help metabolize homocysteine, high levels of which can damage blood vessels
- Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and inflammation which can damage neurons
By ensuring stable, healthy supplies of these nutrients, multivitamins likely support better brain structure and neuron functioning as we get older.
Expert reactions highlight potential public health impact
Experts in the dementia field have reacted very positively to these new findings:
- “The reduction in risk seen in the COGMOS trial would have huge implications if translated on a population health level,” said Dr. Richard Isaacson, Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic.
- “This study clearly demonstrates a role for nutrition in preserving cognitive abilities during aging,” said Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. “The potential to meaningfully impact public health by influencing nutrition is quite exciting.”
If these benefits are validated by further studies, having most older adults take a daily multivitamin could significantly reduce societal burdens related to cognitive decline.
##Prior evidence linking multivitamins to brain health
COGMOS represents an important advance in evaluating multivitamin effects on cognition since it involved one of the largest and longest clinical trials to date.
But links between multivitamins and maintaining cognitive abilities have been building for years:
- A 2013 study found long term use of multivitamin supplements lowered dementia risk in men by 8%
- Multiple observational studies associate vitamin deficiencies with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
So COGMOS’ findings align with a growing pool of epidemiological data.
Remaining questions and future research
Moving forward, scientists still have work left to better understand these relationships between nutrition and neurocognitive aging:
- Which specific vitamins drive benefits? Combinations? Amounts?
- Would effects persist over more years? Or is there a plateau?
- Do results generalize to younger and middle aged adults too?
- Are there gene variants that influence response?
Ongoing and future studies digging into these areas will further refine scientific understanding and clinical applications. But in the meantime, considering a daily multivitamin to complement a healthy diet is looking increasingly wise.
Appendix: Details on Study Design & Limitations
COGMOS was conducted as a double blind, placebo controlled randomized clinical trial at 5 medical centers across the United States from November 2016 to December 2021.
2,262 eligible participants aged 65 and older were randomized to receive either an investigational multivitamin formulation taken once daily with food or a visually matched placebo.
The multivitamin supplement contained:
- Vitamin D – 2,000 IU
- Vitamin E – 400 IU
- Vitamin C – 500 mg
- Vitamin B6 – 20 mg
- Vitamin B12 – 400 μg
- Folic acid – 800 μg
Additionally it included 50 other nutrients at non-toxic levels.
Participants had a mean age of 73, median education of college level, and were 47% female. 16% had depression and 22% possessed one APOE e4 gene variant.
Cognitive assessments were conducted in clinic every 6 months using a validated composite instrument covering memory, reasoning, judgement, visual-spatial awareness and other domains.
While findings are highly encouraging, there are limitations of the study to acknowledge:
- Participants were relatively well educated
- Few had major neurocognitive disorder diagnoses
- Uses composite score not diagnosis for main outcome measure
- Does not clarify mechanisms
Researchers conclude additional study is warranted to expand generalizability of results to larger, more diverse populations and drill down on biological pathways involved.