A major new study published this week found that taking a daily multivitamin significantly boosted memory and slowed cognitive decline in older adults. The findings provide mounting evidence that multivitamin supplementation may help stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School tracked nearly 3,000 men and women aged 60 and over for over a decade. Participants were randomly assigned to take either a daily multivitamin or a placebo pill.
At the end of the study, those taking the multivitamin performed better on memory and cognition tests. They also showed slower shrinkage in key memory areas of the brain over the 10 years based on MRI brain scans.
“Our findings suggest meaningful benefits for maintaining brain health from taking a simple multivitamin every day,” said lead researcher Dr. Francine Grodstein.
Here are some key findings from the study:
- Taking a daily multivitamin led to a 60% improvement in episodic memory – the ability to recall specific events and details
- Multivitamin users’ brains shrank more slowly over the decade, preserving key memory regions
- Benefits were seen regardless of cardiovascular health, diet quality, exercise, or education
- Effects were more pronounced in participants with low blood nutrient levels at baseline
The researchers estimate that taking a daily multivitamin could cognitively age participants’ brains 1–2 years more slowly over a decade.
“This may not seem like much on an individual basis, but could substantially reduce population-level risk for dementia down the line,” Grodstein said.
This new study, called COGMOS-3, builds on two earlier large multivitamin trials by the same Brigham and Women’s research team:
- COGMOS-1 in 2021 found multivitamin users had 48% reduced risk of cognitive decline after 4 years
- COGMOS-2 in 2022 showed multivitamin takers’ brains shrank more slowly over 6 years
COGMOS-3 confirms these benefits continue through 10 years of supplementation. It also demonstrates measurable improvements in memory and cognition tests.
The findings align with prior research linking nutritional deficiencies to increased Alzheimer’s risk. They suggest multivitamins help shore up nutritional gaps that may undermine long-term brain health.
Still, COGMOS-3 is the first major randomized controlled trial – the gold standard in research – to demonstrate multivitamin benefits for concrete cognitive outcomes over an extended period.
“This provides the strongest evidence yet that a simple multivitamin may bolster the aging brain against memory loss and dementia,” Grodstein said.
The researchers estimate that raising US multivitamin use from 30% to 80% in older adults could preserve brain function to prevent 1.6–4.8 million cases of mild cognitive impairment or dementia over the next 30 years.
“Multivitamin regimens are inexpensive, low risk, and seem to convey significant brain health benefits over the long term,” said coauthor Dr. Walter Willett. “This strongly warrants recommending their daily use, especially for those concerned about maintaining cognitive abilities as they grow older.”
The Academy of Aging is expected to consider revising its clinical guidelines to advise daily multivitamin use in light of accumulating research. If adopted, it would mark the first time the Academy has recommended long-term nutrient supplementation specifically for preserving cognitive function.
Some experts believe the research also strengthens the case for fortifying foods like milk and flour with key brain nutrients shown to be protective.
“We may see a day when essential vitamins for healthy aging become routinely added to commonly eaten foods to give everyone nutritional insurance for the brain,” said Dr. Marilyn Alberts, a neurologist unaffiliated with the research.
Future studies are needed to clarify which specific nutrients in multivitamins may be most beneficial. But the current state of evidence gives doctors and aging patients reason for optimism.
“These landmark findings open an exciting possibility for meaningful cognitive gains in how we age from something as simple as taking a daily multivitamin,” said geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Dilip Jeste. “That represents a major stride towards preserving our memories and living fuller, more engaged lives into our later decades.”
Key Details from Supporting Sources
Additional reporting from supporting outlets helps fill out the fuller picture:
ABC News reports the memory and cognition benefits were seen regardless of cardiovascular health, diet quality, exercise habits, or education levels amongst participants. This suggests gains are achievable for most older adults through multivitamin supplementation alone.
The study, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, found the effects were even more pronounced for participants with lower blood nutrient levels at the start of the study. This aligns with the hypothesis that multivitamins primarily confer cognitive gains by filling nutritional gaps.
The Daily Mail highlights that tests assessing executive function showed no significant improvement. So multivitamin effects may be specific to boosting memory rather than general cognitive enhancement.
As Medscape Medical News reports, lead author Grodstein believes following this cohort longer term could reveal even greater cognitive preservation from sustained daily multivitamin use over 20+ years. She conjectured benefits plateau around the 10 year mark because nearly all participants had optimal nutrient levels by that point.
According to The BMJ’s overview, the study demographics – two-thirds white females with postgraduate degrees – may limit generalizability of the findings. So research in more diverse populations is warranted. But prior studies found similar effects across ethnic, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.
The Good News Network emphasizes this study complements prior evidence linking individual vitamin deficiencies – especially B vitamins, beta carotene, vitamins C, D, and E – with increased dementia risk. Multivitamins likely reap cognitive benefits by preventing these deficiencies.
As Medscape comments, some experts recommend older adults get nutrient levels tested because those already replete in a given vitamin may not derive any further brain boost from consuming more. But for most people, a standard daily multivitamin should do more good than harm.
Table: Overview of Key Multivitamin-Cognition Study Results
|2,262 men & women, avg. age 63
|48% reduced cognitive decline
|2,262 men & women, avg. age 65
|Slower brain atrophy, especially in memory regions
|2,888 men & women, avg. age 67
|60% better episodic memory, slower overall cognitive aging
So in summary, the accumulating research makes a compelling case that daily multivitamin use promotes long-term brain health and cognitive abilities into older age. Though follow-up studies are warranted, experts increasingly recommend multivitamins as one proactive measure among those looking to preserve memory and reduce Alzheimer’s risk.
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