Multivitamins May Provide a Memory Boost

February 7, 2024

A multivitamin may be good for the aging brain. Those are the results of a new analysis that found that in people over 60, taking a daily multivitamin slowed declines in memory and thinking skills by about two years.

The findings were the latest in a trio of related studies suggesting that a multivitamin may help to slow cognitive aging in older adults. Together, the studies looked at more than 5,000 participants, including a new subgroup of more than 500 people who underwent in-person memory assessments over two years. The studies were well designed “gold standard” trials in which participants were randomly assigned to receive either a supplement or a lookalike placebo pill.

For the new subgroup, researchers looked at 573 men and women aged 60 and older who took either a multivitamin or a placebo for two years. Study volunteers underwent detailed in-person tests of memory and thinking skills at the start and end of the study period. In the two earlier studies, participants completed cognitive tests via the phone or online. 

The latest study found that taking a multivitamin provided modest protection against some types of memory loss. Taking a multivitamin, for example, seemed to help people recall lists of words provided to them during testing. But there was less benefit for executive function skills such as counting backward or naming a list of animals during a set test period.

The researchers also pooled data from all three studies, allowing for a larger study population that provided more robust statistical results. That analysis found strong evidence that a multivitamin had benefits for both global cognition, including the ability to reason, plan and pay attention, as well as episodic memory, or the ability to learn, store and retrieve information about everyday personal experiences. 

“The meta-analysis of three separate cognition studies provides strong and consistent evidence that taking a daily multivitamin, containing more than 20 essential micronutrients, helps prevent memory loss and slow down cognitive aging,” said study author Chirag Vyas of Massachusetts General Hospital. “Cognitive decline is among the top health concerns for most older adults, and a daily supplement of multivitamins has the potential as an appealing and accessible approach to slow cognitive aging.” 

The multivitamin used in the studies was a Centrum Silver, one of many brands of over-the-counter supplements that contain B vitamins, vitamin D and other nutrients known to promote brain and nerve health. Experts say that any high-quality multivitamin would likely have similar results. 

But they also stress that taking supplements is not a substitute for a healthy diet. It’s uncertain which specific vitamins and minerals may be most important for brain health, and eating a range of heart-healthy foods is the best way to get a wide variety of nutrients. Other studies have shown that eating a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables helps to reduce Alzheimer’s risk.

Multivitamins appear to be safe when taken long-term. But let your doctor know if you are taking a multivitamin, as they may interact with certain medications. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The research was part of a larger body of research called the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study, or COSMOS, involving tens of thousands of participants from across the country. The COSMOS trial looked at whether taking a daily cocoa extract or an over-the-counter multivitamin reduces the risk for developing heart disease, stroke, cancer or other diseases of aging.

“The finding that a daily multivitamin improved memory and slowed cognitive aging in three separate placebo-controlled studies in COSMOS is exciting and further supports the promise of multivitamins as a safe, accessible and affordable approach to protecting cognitive health in older adults,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who oversaw the trial.

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University. 

Source: Chirag M. Vyas; JoAnn E. Manson, Howard D. Sesso; et al: “Effect of multivitamin-mineral supplementation versus placebo on cognitive function: results from the clinic subcohort of the COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) randomized clinical trial and meta-analysis of 3 cognitive studies within COSMOS.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 18, 2024


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