Slow down cognitive aging: Major study finds daily multivitamin improves memory in older adults


A study involving more than 3,500 seniors found that supplementing daily with multivitamins can slow age-related memory decline. The effect was particularly strong among those with cardiovascular conditions. Research underscores the importance of good nutrition for aging brain health, although supplements should not replace a balanced diet and advice from a doctor should be sought before starting a regimen.

Taking a daily multivitamin may help slow age-related memory decline, according to one study.

More than 3,500 adults ages 60 and older participated in the study, taking a daily multivitamin or a placebo for three years. The results showed that those taking multivitamins experienced memory improvement equivalent to about three years of age-related memory decline.

Taking a daily multivitamin supplement may slow age-related memory decline, finds a large study by researchers at Columbia University and Brigham and Women\’s Hospital/Harvard.

Cognitive aging is a major health concern for older adults, and this study suggests there may be a simple and cost-effective way to help older adults slow memory decline, says study leader Adam M. Brickman, PhD, professor of neuropsychology at[{\” attribute=\”\”>Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Many older people take vitamins or dietary supplements under the assumption that they will help maintain general health. But studies that have tested whether they improve memory and brain function have been mixed, and very few large-scale, randomized trials have been done.

Study methods

In the current study, more than 3,500 adults (mostly non-Hispanic white) over age 60 were randomly assigned to take a daily multivitamin supplement or placebo for three years. At the end of each year, participants performed a series of online cognitive assessments at home designed to test memory function of the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is affected by normal aging. The COSMOS-Web study is part of a large clinical trial led by Brigham & Womens Hospital and Harvard called the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS).

By the end of the first year, memory improved for people taking a daily multivitamin, compared with those taking a placebo. The researchers estimate the improvement, which was sustained over the three-year study period, was equivalent to about three years of age-related memory decline. The effect was more pronounced in participants with underlying cardiovascular disease.

The results of the new study are consistent with another recent COSMOS study of more than 2,200 older adults that found that taking a daily multivitamin improved overall cognition, memory recall, and attention, effects that were also more pronounced in those with underlying cardiovascular disease.

There is evidence that people with cardiovascular disease may have lower micronutrient levels that multivitamins may correct, but we dont really know right now why the effect is stronger in this group, says Brickman.

Good nutrition important for aging brain

Though the researchers did not look at whether any specific component of the multivitamin supplement was linked to the improvement in memory, the findings support growing evidence that nutrition is important for optimizing brain health as we age.

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, says Lok-Kin Yeung, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in Columbias Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimers Disease and the Aging Brain and first author of the study.

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, says co-author JoAnn Manson, MD, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Womens Hospital.

Supplementation of any kind shouldnt take the place of more holistic ways of getting the same micronutrients, adds Brickman. Though multivitamins are generally safe, people should always consult a physician before taking them.

Reference: Multivitamin supplementation improves memory in older adults: A randomized clinical trial by Lok-Kin Yeung, Daniel M. Alschuler, Melanie Wall, Heike Luttmann-Gibson, Trisha Copeland, Christiane Hale, Richard P. Sloan, Howard D. Sesso, JoAnn E. Manson and Adam M. Brickman, 24 May 2023, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.05.011

Authors: Lok-Kin Yeung (Columbia), Daniel M. Alschuler (New York State Psychiatric Institute), Melanie Wall (Columbia), Heike Luttman-Gibson (Brigham and Womens Hospital/Harvard), Trisha Copeland (Brigham and Womens/Harvard), Richard P. Sloan (Columbia), Howard D. Sesso (Brigham and Womens/Harvard), JoAnn E. Manson (Brigham and Womens/Harvard), and Adam M. Brickman (Columbia).

Dr. Manson and Dr. Sesso are co-leaders of the parent COSMOS trial.

The study was supported by grants from Mars Edge, a segment of Mars Inc., and the National Institutes of Health (AG050657, AG071611, EY025623, and HL157665).

Multivitamins were supplied by Pfizer. Dr. Sesso reported receiving investigator-initiated grants from Pure Encapsulations and Pfizer and/or travel funds for lectures from the Council for Responsible Nutrition, BASF, NIH, and the American Society of Nutrition during the study.

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