June 14, 2023
A daily multivitamin boosted memory skills in older adults, according to a large new study. The findings, from researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Columbia University in New York, underscore the potential benefits of good nutrition in helping to maintain brain health as we age.
“Cognitive aging is a top health concern for older adults, and this study suggests that there may be a simple, inexpensive way to help older adults slow down memory decline,” said study leader Adam M. Brickman, professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The study looked at more than 3,500 cognitively healthy adults over age 60 who were randomly assigned to take either a daily multivitamin supplement or placebo for three years. The multivitamin was a Centrum Silver, one of many brands of over-the-counter supplements that contain a range of vitamins and minerals tailored to older adults. The authors say that any high-quality multivitamin would likely have similar results.
At the end of each year, study participants completed a series of online assessments to test their memory and thinking skills. The tests were designed to assess age-related memory loss.
Compared to those in the placebo group, participants who were taking the multivitamin performed significantly better on the memory tests after a year. The benefits were sustained across the three years of follow-up. The researchers estimated that those taking a multivitamin had brains that were the equivalent of 3.1 years “younger” compared to the placebo group.
The benefits appeared to be greatest in those with a history of heart and vascular disease. “There is evidence that people with cardiovascular disease may have lower micronutrient levels that multivitamins may correct, but we don’t really know right now why the effect is stronger in this group,” said Dr. Brickman.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, echoed the results of a similar multivitamin study conducted in the previous fall. In that study, of more than 2,200 older men and women, taking a multivitamin improved overall cognition, memory recall and attention compared to a placebo. Those taking a multivitamin had a 60 percent slowing of cognitive aging compared to those taking a placebo.
“The findings that a daily multivitamin improved memory and slowed cognitive decline in two separate studies is remarkable, suggesting that multivitamin supplementation holds promise as a safe, accessible and affordable approach to protecting cognitive health in older adults,” said study author Dr. JoAnn Manson of the Brigham’s Division of Preventive Medicine.
“Most older adults are worried about memory changes that occur with aging,” added study author Lok-Kin Yeung of Columbia. “Our study suggests that supplementation with multivitamins may be a simple and inexpensive way for older adults to slow down memory loss.”
About 40 percent of older American adults take a multivitamin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But studies have shown mixed results on whether multivitamins or other supplements promote brain health.
This study was large and well designed, a “gold standard” study in which participants were randomly assigned to receive either a supplement or a placebo. The findings underscore that healthy nutrition is critical for brain health and that cognitive function can suffer without it. “Our study shows that the aging brain may be more sensitive to nutrition than we realized,” said Dr. Yeung.
Multivitamins contain B vitamins, vitamin D and other nutrients known to promote nerve and brain health. But experts stress that taking supplements is not a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. “Supplementation of any kind shouldn’t take the place of more holistic ways of getting the same micronutrients,” added Dr. Brickman. “Though multivitamins are generally safe, people should always consult a physician before taking them.”
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: Lok-Kin Yeung, Daniel M. Alschuler, Melanie Wall, et al: “Multivitamin supplementation improves memory in older adults: A randomized clinical trial.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 24, 2023