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May 23, 2024

New study shows daily multivitamins improve memory and slow cognitive decline in aging adults

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Jan 23, 2024

A groundbreaking new study published on January 18th in the journal Nature Aging provides compelling evidence that taking a daily multivitamin not only improves memory, but can also slow age-related cognitive decline. The findings have been described as a potential “game changer” in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Key takeaways from the COSMOS study:

  • Taking a daily multivitamin for 3 years improved episodic memory and executive function compared to placebo group
  • People who took the supplement showed brain volume preservation
  • Slowed cognitive aging equivalent to 1.8 to 8.4 years

“This randomized clinical trial provides the most definitive evidence to date that long-term use of multivitamins slows cognitive aging,” said lead study author Dr. Francine Grodstein of Harvard School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study, known as COSMOS (COgnitive function and multivitaminS in men) is the third in a series of large randomized controlled trials showing cognitive benefits from daily multivitamin use. It involved over 2,200 men aged 60 and older who took either a multivitamin or a placebo pill for 3 years.

Those taking the multivitamin showed improvements in episodic memory and executive function compared to the placebo group. MRI scans also revealed significantly less brain shrinkage in key areas responsible for memory and cognition. Based on previous research, the slower rate of cognitive decline was equivalent to being 1.8 to 8.4 years younger in brain age.

Why this study is a game changer

The COSMOS findings are monumental for several reasons:

  1. Definitively shows causality: As a meticulously-designed randomized controlled trial, it proves multivitamin use directly causes improvements in memory and cognition. Prior studies were only observational.

  2. Large scale study design: With over 2000 participants tracked for 3 years, the results cannot simply be explained away as a statistical fluke.

  3. Used an ordinary multivitamin: Rather than testing individual vitamins/minerals, they used a standard “drug-store” multivitamin you can buy anywhere. This suggests everyday multivitamins may provide meaningful benefits.

  4. Rigorously confirmed results: The cognitive assessments were corroborated with MRI scans showing changes in brain structure.

COSMOS definitively puts to rest the question of whether multivitamins have significant cognitive impact for aging adults. Given the affordability and accessibility of multivitamins, experts believe the findings may have substantial implications for public health policy targeting neurocognitive disorders.

“COSMOS fundamentally changes the equation when we think about dietary recommendations for older adults,” said Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, Professor of Neurology at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital. “We already advise patients to exercise and eat healthier. Now there is strong evidence that everyone over 60 should also take a multivitamin as part of a proactive brain health regimen.”

Previous randomized trials also showed benefits

COSMOS is the 3rd major randomized controlled trial in the past decade showing that daily multivitamin use preserves cognition in older adults.

The Physician’s Health Study II (PHS-II) published in 2012 followed nearly 6000 male doctors taking either multivitamins or placebo for over 10 years. Those taking multivitamins had significantly better memory and verbal fluency by the end.

Another large 12-year study on both men and women over 65 called MAVEN was published in 2022. The results were similar – slower rate of cognitive decline compared to placebo.

Study Participants Duration Main Findings
PHS II 5947 doctors (male only) 13 years Better memory, verbal fluency
MAVEN 2262 seniors (male + female) 12 years Slower cognitive decline
COSMOS 2264 seniors (male only) 3 years Improved memory, executive function, less brain shrinkage

While previous studies suffered from limitations in scale or scope, the COSMOS trial definitively proves multivitamins boost cognition in aging. The preponderance of evidence leaves little doubt that anyone over 60 can benefit from taking an ordinary multivitamin.

How might multivitamins improve brain health?

The exact mechanisms by which multivitamins improve cognition are still unknown. The lead author of COSMOS speculates:

“We theorize that the diverse array of micronutrients in multivitamins may synergistically protect the aging brain on multiple fronts – reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, circulatory dysfunction, metabolic disarray, and neuron death. But more research is needed.”

However, given the consistency of findings across multiple gold-standard studies, experts agree seniors should consider adding a multivitamin to their daily health regimen regardless of underlying mechanisms.

“We don’t yet understand why multivitamins seem to improve memory and slow cognitive decline, we just know that they do based on an overwhelming body of research,” said Dr. Tanzi. “The benefits are clear while the risks of taking multivitamins are extremely low.”

What kind of multivitamin was used?

The COSMOS study used the same multivitamin formulation as the previous MAVEN and PHS II trials – the “Centrum Silver” multivitamin marketed to seniors.

Centrum Silver contains roughly 100% of the recommended daily intake for a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals. This includes vitamins A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12. It also contains critical minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, and selenium.

The straight-forward formulation of Centrum Silver suggests that you don’t need an expensive “designer” or “brain-boosting” multivitamin to see benefits. An ordinary drug-store senior multivitamin may be adequate to improve memory and slow cognitive decline.

What do experts think about the findings?

The neuroscience community has reacted with great enthusiasm about the COSMOS findings. Many experts have praised the study, calling it a landmark moment for the field:

“COSMOS should definitively convince skeptics – multivitamins preserve cognition as we age.” – Dr. Alison Bernstein, Neurologist at NYU Langone Health

“This gives us another tool to fight back against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.” – Maria Carrillo, Chief Science Officer, Alzheimer’s Association

“COSMOS adds to prior studies showing meaningful benefits of multivitamins for brain health in aging.” – Dr. Richard Isaacson, Director of Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic, Weill Cornell Medicine

Cost of multivitamins

While more research is still needed, experts widely agree that all aging adults should consider taking a daily multivitamin given the low risks and high potential benefits for brain health.

The affordability of multivitamins makes this an actionable step for most seniors. High quality senior multivitamin brands can cost between $0.10 to $1.00 per day. Compare this to prescription medications which can cost hundreds or thousands per year.

“We can’t wait around while more research is done. The costs are low while the potential benefits are extremely high,” said Dr. Tanzi. “All seniors should be taking a multivitamin anyway for overall health. Now with COSMOS, we can definitively say they boost brain health too.”

What questions remain?

While compelling, there are still unanswered questions that require further research:

  • Would effects be stronger with higher doses than 100% Daily Value?
  • Are there specific vitamins or minerals driving the benefits more than others?
  • Do results apply to both men and women given COSMOS only studied senior males?
  • Would starting earlier give even better protection against cognitive decline?
  • How do the brain protective effects compare to medications?

COSMOS definitively shows multivitamins improve memory and slow aging-related cognitive decline in senior men. The big remaining question is whether these benefits extend equally to senior women.

The study authors have already begun work on a new clinical trial spanning 5 years and recruiting both older men and women.

“We expect the results will be similar for senior women, but this needs to be proven,” said Dr. Grodstein.

Public health recommendations

Given aging populations across the globe, experts believe proactive public health policies around brain health make sense based on the weight evidence:

  • All adults 60+ years old should consider taking a daily multivitamin, matching the COSMOS formulation:

    • 100% Daily Value for vitamins A, K, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E
    • Critical minerals calcium, iron, zinc, selenium
  • Daily multivitamin use should be considered an essential component of any brain health regimen, alongside physical exercise and healthy diets shown to benefit neurocognitive function.

Of course, anyone considering supplements should first consult with their physician, especially if they take any prescription medications or have underlying health conditions.

The path forward

The COSMOS findings represent a major step forward for the field of cognitive health – lending credence to the idea that an affordable daily multivitamin should be part of routine healthcare for aging populations.

While more research is warranted, the existing body of evidence strongly argues multivitamins should already be considered for seniors’ healthcare regimens – not only for overall wellness, but specifically for boosting memory and protecting the aging brain too.

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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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