Can Adults Take A Daily Multivitamin To Help Stave Off Memory Loss?

ABC News

Recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition sheds light on the potential cognitive benefits of a daily multivitamin regimen. The study, conducted among older adults, indicates that those who supplemented with a basic multivitamin experienced a noteworthy slowdown in cognitive decline, with some suggesting a delay of up to two years in cognitive aging

These findings, while promising, don’t immediately translate into a broad recommendation for everyone. While statistics reveal that over a third of U.S. adults incorporate multivitamins into their daily routines, experts remain cautious about universally advocating for their use solely based on this study.

Dr. Pieter Cohen, an internal medicine expert at Cambridge Health Alliance in Boston, emphasizes the need for further investigation. While the study presents compelling evidence of cognitive benefits associated with multivitamin use, questions linger about its real-world effectiveness in preventing cognitive decline or conditions like dementia.

In essence, while the study underscores the potential of multivitamins in mitigating cognitive aging, more comprehensive research is necessary before advocating widespread supplementation for this purpose.

“In my opinion, these findings aren’t enough to start recommending that everyone take a multivitamin as a way of maintaining or improving memory,” Dr. Cohen then added.

Dire Need for Safe and Affordable Interventions for Brain Health

Laura D. Baker, PhD, a professor specializing in gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, emphasized the pressing necessity for safe and affordable preventive measures against dementia and cognitive decline, given the widespread impact of these conditions globally.

This imperative drove the inception of COSMOS (COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study), a comprehensive nationwide endeavor. COSMOS is a randomized trial designed not only to investigate the potential of cocoa extract and multivitamin supplements (Centrum Silver) in mitigating cognitive decline but also to explore their impacts on other prevalent ailments such as heart disease and cancer.

To date, the findings from the study, as reported by the authors, have not indicated significant benefits for any of the conditions under investigation. However, there exists an intriguing exception: the multivitamin supplement has demonstrated a noteworthy association with improved cognition, a result somewhat unexpected within the study’s scope.

Newest Study Used In-Person Assessments of Cognition

In order to enroll in the COSMOS study, prospective participants were required to meet specific criteria: women had to be 65 years of age or older, while men had to be 60 years or older, and none could have a prior history of heart attack, stroke, or cancer (excluding skin cancer) diagnosed within two years prior to the trial’s commencement.

In the latest phase of research, scientists employed thorough, face-to-face cognitive evaluations on a subset of COSMOS participants known as COSMOS-Clinic. This approach differed from previous studies, which relied on telephone or online cognitive assessments.

The findings revealed a modest yet discernible advantage associated with multivitamin supplementation compared to a placebo over a span of two years. Specifically, there was a statistically significant improvement in episodic memory among those taking multivitamins, although no notable enhancement was observed in executive function and attention.

These new published findings mark the third report of the positive effects of multivitamins on a person’s cognition. “The fact that similar multivitamin benefits were observed in three different groups of people enrolled in the same parent trial increases our confidence that daily multivitamin supplementation holds promise as a strategy to support cognitive health in older adults,” Dr. Baker said.

Meta-Analysis Estimates How Vitamins Could Slow Cognitive Aging by 2 Years

In a comprehensive meta-analysis encompassing three distinct studies, each involving non-overlapping participants from the COSMOS dataset and lasting between two to three years in treatment duration, researchers unearthed compelling evidence showcasing the advantages of multivitamin supplementation on both overall cognition and episodic memory. Their analysis yielded an intriguing revelation: multivitamins appeared to decelerate the rate of cognitive decline, effectively stalling the aging process by an estimated two years when compared to a placebo.

However, despite the methodological rigor and thorough execution of the study, not all experts are fully convinced by these findings. Hussein Yassine, MD, an esteemed associate professor of neurology and medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, voices a note of caution. He points out that while the study was indeed robust, the observed positive effects were relatively modest. According to Yassine, this suggests that although some individuals may derive benefits from multivitamin supplementation, the overall impact might not be substantial for everyone.

“Future research needs to define who is likely to benefit,” said Dr. Yassine. He was not part of the research.

Cohen cast doubt on the assertion that the multivitamin could delay cognitive aging by two years. He pointed out that the researchers reached this estimate by averaging test results and then comparing the multivitamin group’s performance to the average scores for each age group.

“I’m not sure that method has ever been used or validated before, so it’s unclear that the differences found here would give the ‘real-life’ slowing of cognitive aging that the authors suggest,” he said.

Cohen emphasized that in order to ascertain tangible real-world advantages spanning months or years, it is imperative to conduct a randomized trial featuring a placebo group alongside individuals taking multivitamins. This trial should track participants over several years to determine whether those who take the supplement exhibit a reduced likelihood of dementia diagnosis or an extended ability to live independently.

The Number of Dementia Patients Expected to Double by 2050

Dementia, as defined by the National Institute on Aging, represents a decline in cognitive abilities such as thinking, memory, and reasoning to the extent that it disrupts daily functioning. Recent studies indicate a growing prevalence of dementia worldwide, largely attributed to factors like increased lifespan and prevalent risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and elevated blood sugar levels.

A study featured in the Lancet Public Health forecasts a significant surge in dementia cases in the United States by 2050. The projected figures suggest a doubling of the current population affected by dementia, soaring from 5.2 million individuals to 10.5 million. This underscores the urgent need for heightened awareness, research, and support mechanisms to address the escalating challenges posed by dementia on a global scale.

How or Why a Multivitamin Preserves Memory or Cognition Remains Unclear

It’s important to think about why a multivitamin might have the benefits suggested here, Cohen said. “What’s the potential mechanism of action for helping with memory or cognition? How does this make sense?”

Multivitamins stand as the prevailing dietary supplement choice in the United States, with over one-third of adults reporting regular intake. The study utilized Centrum Silver, a multivitamin boasting 24 essential vitamins and minerals.

Experts Agree that More Evidence Is Needed for a Daily Multivitamin for Brain Health

The consensus among all three doctors is that it’s premature to advise patients to begin taking multivitamins to maintain cognitive function.

While the combined results from three smaller studies within the COSMOS trial contribute to the growing evidence of memory advantages associated with multivitamins, Baker emphasized the significance of recognizing that the demographic studied predominantly comprised white, well-educated individuals.

“We do not know about efficacy and safety in underrepresented, minoritized groups that are at higher risk for cardiovascular and other comorbidities. If our goal is to serve the health needs of all people, then we are not ready to make widespread recommendations for daily multivitamin use,” she said. Investigators are planning to start a new trial that is designed to look into this issue, she added.

Cohen acknowledges the necessity for further investigation to validate or invalidate the signals proposed in the study through real-world outcome studies. He stated, “Currently, I’m not advising my patients to use multivitamins as a method to enhance or sustain their memory.”

For those aiming to safeguard their brain health, Yassine suggests incorporating daily exercise into their routine, along with a balanced diet comprising unprocessed foods abundant in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and complex carbohydrates, while minimizing intake of simple sugars.

“The choice to recommend supplements is better personalized. We still need more research to understand who may benefit from supplements,” he said.